Panasonic Toughpad

4 tablets that would look good under the public-sector tree

With public-sector agencies incorporating smart phones into their enterprises and “bring your own device” catching on, the tablet form factor is gaining popularity in the enterprise. Tablets are becoming a mainstay in education and in some government agencies. As the old year rolls into the new, IT managers and users might be thinking about which tablet to get. Here’s a roundup of four new models with appeal for public-sector users.

Apple iPad mini

Apple started the new “tablet” form factor with the original iPad, which gained traction in the public sector. While the company wasn’t the first to bring out a mini tablet, it now offers a “mini” version of the iPad.

The iPad mini has many of the features of a regular iPad, but in a size that that fits in one hand. It measures 7.87 inches high by 5.3 inches wide by 0.28 inches thick and weighs a little less than 11 ounces. This size would allow people with average-sized hands to get at least a thumb and two or three fingers on either side, making it truly a one-hand device.

Although it doesn’t have the new Retina Display of its larger cousin, the iPad mini’s multitouch display is 7.9 inches. The reduced real estate may take some getting used to, but it is a good trade-off. Its dual-core A5 processor isn’t as powerful as the processor in the full-sized iPad, and it only has 512M of memory. But because iOS is optimized for low memory --  it is essentially the same operating system as in the iPhone -- it should be fine running most of the available apps.

The price of $329 for the Wi-Fi-only model with the minimum amount of storage seems reasonable compared to the regular iPad. But it is expensive compared to its competitors, as is the $459 starting price for a cellular-capable model.

The iPad mini might suit some government workers in the field rather well, as the one-handed grip gives users the flexibility to use the iPad mini in many different situations. And since a lot of agencies already are incorporating iPhones and full-size iPads into their networks, the mini could fit right in.

Panasonic ToughPad A1

Leave it to Panasonic, makers of the Toughbook line of notebook computers, to come up with the first Mil-Spec rugged device in the modern tablet arena. Since it was announced a year ago, government and military users had been chomping at the bit to get their hands on one of these.

The ToughPad A1 has the features expected in a tablet – a 10.1-inch multi-touch display, front and back cameras, video camera, Wi-Fi and optional cellular connections, and so on. However, what makes the A1 stand out is the fact that it is certified MIL-STD-810G rugged for vibration, temperature and shock. In addition, it has been given an Ingress Protection Rating of IP65, which means it is protected against the dust as well as water -- short of fire hoses and full immersion. Of course, this extra protection does make the A1 weigh 2 pounds, which is about a half pound heavier than a non-rugged one.

The A1 also has a variety of unique security features. The Marvell encryption module is to be submitted to the National Institute of Standards and Technology for FIPS 140-2 Level 2/3 encryption, which we take to imply full Level 2 compliance (for showing tamper evidence) and partial Level 3 compliance (involving actual physical resistance to tampering). The A1 also has a trusted boot feature that verifies the unique signature of the operating system it came with, prior to booting. If it senses foul play, it will halt the boot process.

The Panasonic is selling the secure, rugged ToughPad A1 through resellers starting at $1,299. Of course, that price doesn’t include cellular capability – that will cost about $400 more. But if you need a fully ruggedized tablet, it is pretty much the only game in town right now.

Military personnel, geological survey crews, emergency response teams or any government employee whose tablet is exposed to adverse conditions might consider the A1.

RIM BlackBerry PlayBook

The PlayBook  is the only tablet with the BlackBerry OS, so BlackBerry users would naturally find the PlayBook appealing. It has all of the security of BlackBerry device, but its 7-inch multitouch display lets users see and do more. And being a mini-tablet that measures 7.6 inches high by 5.1 inches wide by 0.4 inches thick and weighs 15 ounces, it easily fits in one hand.

The PlayBook’s 1.0 GHz dual-core processor and 1G of memory is more than enough to run any app. And with BlackBerry’s Balance feature in the forthcoming BlackBerry 10 operating system, the programs and documents created in a work profile are secure when the PlayBook is operated in a personal profile. And of course, the native security in the BlackBerry OS is top-notch.

With BlackBerry Bridge, users can connect the PlayBook directly and securely to a BlackBerry phone. This would let users respond on their Playbook to texts coming over their phone. In addition, the phone’s keyboard can act as an input device for the PlayBook. No other tablet more directly integrates with an associated smart phone quite like the PlayBook does.

Also, when BlackBerry 10 is adapted for the PlayBook, RIM will likely offer complimentary upgrades for current Playbook users. The improvements that BB10 offers will make the PlayBook even more government user-friendly. More details about this new version should come to light during RIM’s BB10 launch event on Jan. 30.

For agencies running BlackBerry Enterprise Server, or those considering adopting BB10, the PlayBook would be a good fit for users who need mini-tablets inside their facilities. Right now only models with Wi-Fi are available, starting at $149, which is a good competitive price. The cellular-capable model is supposed to be available soon, possibly coinciding with the release of BB10 for PlayBook.

Microsoft Surface with Windows 8 Pro

For those who can wait until after the holiday for their tablet shopping, Microsoft’s Surface with Windows 8 Pro might be worth the wait. It will be the first tablet to run an operating system that is built for a desktop system, as opposed to a mobile OS. It will be on the large end of the tablet form factor, at 10.81 inches high by 6.81 inches wide by 0.53 inches thick, and weighing a full 2 pounds. A slightly heavier battery can power a full version of Windows 8 for a reasonable amount of time.

The Surface will feature a 10.6-inch, 10-point multitouch HD display and will be one of the few 16:9 ratio widescreens of that size available. Its Intel Core i5 processor and 4G of memory will make it among the most powerful tablets. It will also come with a minimum of 64G of hard-drive storage —  the same as most tablets’ largest available hard drives. Of course, the Windows OS will require more resources than a typical mobile OS, so it makes sense that the Surface has that capacity. The best feature? A full-sized USB 3.0 port. No other tablet connects a USB device directly.
The major weakness of the Surface, which might keep it out of more government user hands, is there is no cellular capability planned. Surface will operate via Wi-Fi only.

When the Surface with Windows 8 Pro comes out in early 2013, it will be priced starting at $899. This is a decent price for a full-fledged computer in tablet form.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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