Rugged gadgets for tradespeople - a roundup

Tradespeople have unique needs when it comes to gadgets.

You spend your days working in environments that are not necessarily friendly to the average mobile phone or laptop, but you still need to communicate. Luckily, there is a small but slowly expanding market in durable electronics designed for these demanding applications.

What is ruggedness?

When searching for durable electronics you are likely to come across the phrase ‘rugged’. In this context the word is used to denote items that have been subjected to a series of standardised tests known as the Ingress Protection Ratings.

Ruggedness is indicated by the code IP, followed by either two or three numbers. The first number shows the level of protection against solid objects on a scale of 0 to 6; the second number shows the level of protection against liquids on a scale of 0 to 8; and the third number shows the level of protection against mechanical objects, on a scale of 0 to 6. Most rugged items only use the first two numbers.

We have compiled a list of hard wearing gadgets and protective items to help you on your search.

The smartphone

Although the range of smartphones has increased in recent months, it remains a relatively small field. All of the major players run the Android operating system, and therefore boast access to thousands of useful apps.

Amongst the most popular in the pack is the Motorola Defy+, with its 1GHz processor and 5 megapixel camera. Also available is the Samsung Galaxy Xcover which, although slightly lower spec, is also slightly cheaper. Both of these phones are sealed to IP67 standard, and both run Android 2.3.

Meanwhile at the higher end of the price spectrum a number of smaller manufacturers make phones designed specifically for demanding work environments. AdvanMobile, for example, make a small range of highly rugged handsets that, while more expensive, could provide a solution for particularly tough conditions.

The basic handset

Many people, however, simply don’t need a smartphone in the workplace. Some prefer to take a simple, reliable handset that performs basic functions while offering protection from the elements.

Of these, amongst the most popular is the Samsung Galaxy Immerse. This handset offers 3G service while many of its competitors only provide 2G. It also has a 2 megapixel camera, and is IP67 certified.

The phone protection

Rather than buying a new handset, you might prefer to buy protection for an existing phone. There is a huge range of protective cases available to fit major handsets, including the iPhone. Of these, the most popular include the Otterbox range and the G-Form series.

There are several different types of material from which protective cases are made. Each of these materials has a different set of properties that render them more or less useful for certain applications. For example, some manufacturers use multiple layers of simple plastics, while others use their own foam materials. As such, it is important that you consider your requirements carefully before making a decision.

The laptop

Rugged computing is a reasonably well-established field now, with a range of products available at a range of price points.

Perhaps the best known rugged laptops belong to Panasonic’s Toughbook series. These are available in different degrees of ruggedness, from ‘business-rugged’ to fully rugged, with gradations in price according to toughness and the technical specifications of the computer itself.

Panasonic are not the only firm offering sturdy laptops. Dell, one of the biggest manufacturers of computers in the country, also offer a range of rugged computing solutions in varying technical specifications and at varying price points. The Latitude E6430 is its latest offering, and is pitched at those who work both in and out of the office. Alternatively the E6420 is designed to provide protection in particularly high risk environments. Other options are available from smaller manufacturers.