Rugged Android Devices vs. Consumer Android Devices

Shiv Sundar

March 22, 2021

Many people assume rugged Android devices are built for ultra-tough conditions, like energy, public safety, or manufacturing. The term “ruggedized” may even carry mental associations of ultra-rugged handheld computers with limited functionality beyond warehouse scanning or data capture. While handheld mobile scanners and ultra-tough tablets for outdoor workers are definitely examples of rugged Android, they’re not the only durable options to consider.

The rugged Android device category includes a surprising range of device types and potential use cases, including hardware that’s incredibly sleek and lightweight for hospitality, retail, education, and healthcare. In this blog, you’ll learn how rugged Android stacks up to alternative devices and how to know which type of hardware is best for your use case.

What are Rugged Android Devices?

Rugged Android devices include tablets, smartphones, and other hardware that is built for resistance to moisture, dust, temperature, and other tough conditions with a long-lasting battery life. Rugged devices must pass unbiased military-grade tests for durability, such as the IP rating, as proof of their sturdiness and performance in varying conditions.

Rugged Android devices come in many different form factors and designs, including smartphones and tablets that are remarkably lightweight, intelligent, and sleek. While rugged Android vary, they can include built-in resistance to:

  • Moisture, from just a few drops to complete submersion.
  • Dust, from large coarse particles to small fine particles.
  • Temperature, both high and low.
  • Impacts, including:
    • Impacts from falls.
    • Impacts from objects.
    • Pressure from externals sources, such as vehicles.
    • Scratches.
    • Wear and tear due to excessive use.
  • Extended battery life.
  • Compatibility for use with PPE, such as gloves.

Industry Use Cases for Rugged Android

Ruggedized devices aren’t just for manufacturing, energy, or public safety. They’re a viable option for many enterprise use cases where devices are used heavily by members of the public or exposed to drops and spills. Rugged devices are designed to prevent failure rates, which makes them an ideal choice for any mission-critical scenario where availability and performance matters.

Logistics and Transportation

Rugged devices can offer programmable push-to-talk buttons for instant communications between logistics workers. Some rugged Android are even equipped with CBRS, a license-free wireless band for short-range data communications.

Transportation and delivery workers can benefit from always-on data connectivity due to 4GF LTE capabilities and better readability in varying light. Rugged Android is an ideal choice for customized transportation ELDs – locking tablets to multi-app Android kiosk mode can minimize distractions while maximizing driver communications and productivity.  

Hospitality

Hotel and hospitality staff can dispatch guest services in real-time by using location tracking capabilities to understand staff location and dispatch services in real-time. Mobile hotel staff can appreciate full access to smartphone and tablet apps, including guest databases, for better customer service on-the-go. Finally, it’s possible to use the high-quality, auto-focus cameras on rugged Android tablets or smartphones to capture visual evidence of maintenance requests.

Rugged Android are also an ideal choice for guest-facing mobile for self-service check-in or room tablets with durability features like anti-microbial, shatter-proof screens. 

Retail

Retail associates can provide seamless service to customers with mobile devices that can connect to external monitors and keyboards for PC-like capabilities from the register. Rugged devices are an ideal choice for Android mPoS with a stylus pen for capturing customer signatures and card reader capabilities. Retail associates can also answer inventory questions and place orders in real-time, thanks to devices with NFC capabilities to populate data on inventory in proximity to the smartphone or tablet.

Ruggedized Android tablets and kiosks are ideal for customer-facing device use cases, since they’re resistant to drops, spills, accidental loss, and theft. 

Education

Rugged Android offers built-in biometrics and compatibility with thermal temperature scanners to keep school staff and students safe in an uncertain public health climate. Also, ruggedized tablets can have antimicrobial, shatter-proof screens to help students keep learning safely from school or home. With 4G LTE data communications and decreased device failure rates, ruggedized Android tablets can improve the outcomes of remote student learners. 

Healthcare

Ruggedized devices can help hospital and clinic staff work more productively, thanks to auto-focus, high-res cameras for capturing visual report evidence or mobile data scanning. 

Ruggedized tablets and smartphones are often equipped with anti-microbial screens and coatings to support frequent exposure to liquid disinfectants and use by staff, patients, or a combination of users. 

What are the Alternatives to Rugged Android Devices?

The rugged Android category includes both enterprise and consumer-grade hardware which is built for resistance to heavy usage or varying conditions, and has validated performance based on military-grade tests or IP rating tests.

Some consumer-grade Android devices are IP-rated and therefore ruggedized. Not all enterprise-grade Android devices are ruggedized. And, to make matters even more complex, some Android devices are marketed as “durable” or “waterproof” when they’re not truly tested for ruggedization and may not be sufficiently sturdy for your use case.

The enterprise mobility market globally is projected to expand at a 29.3% CAGR between 2020 and 2027.  Android is also gaining market share as the leading enterprise mobile operating system since it’s highly configurable, cost-effective, open source, and there’s broad global adoption of Android. The result is more hardware choices than ever for the enterprise. Ruggedized devices can be the right choice for many businesses, since the devices are subject to unbiased ratings and performance testing. 

How are Rugged Devices Tested?

Rugged devices are tested based on 29 definitive hazard areas and then given a rating based upon an Ingress Protection (IP), also known as International Protection, rating. These tests are used to put a device through its extremes until it passes, or it breaks. This gives an exact measurement of durability under certain conditions.

Let’s take a look at some of the tests that rugged devices endure.

Temperature

Not only are devices tested in temperatures ranging from 0c-50c, but they are also tested using temp shocks, where the device is exposed to those extremes suddenly.

Moisture

Moisture is an area that covers many different forms that all involve liquid ingress in some fashion. Whether it be exposure to simulated rain, immersion in tanks of water, sprayed with hoses, or just left to sit in high overall humidity.

Fungus

With moisture comes fungal growth. Seals can fail under the influence of microbial growth from these lifeforms.

Small particle

Small particle tests cover the effects of dust, sand, and salt fog upon a device’s seals.

Light

Machines are given extreme exposure to solar radiation (sunshine) to ensure they will endure the most common outdoor long-term environmental hazard.

Acceleration

Many devices have sensors that detect orientation, position, and other movement-related inputs. Inflicting intense accelerations allows testers to determine if these delicate systems could be damaged from a fall or other accelerated motion. 

Vibration

This factor is rarely considered when a person uses a piece of equipment. Electronics, screens, and even housings can be cracked, loosened, or outright broken if there is no protection against variable shock protection.

Most people do not need to be knowledgeable in these tests due to the IP rating scale’s availability. A clear understanding of the scale serves as the best source of information on how rugged a device is. 

Generally, the most rugged devices are rated as IP 67 or 68. This is broken down into two parts. The first number is solid / particle ingress. The second is liquid ingress—the higher each number, the better the overall ruggedness and specific resistance to solids, particles, and liquids.

If a device was strong against particle ingress but not waterproofed, it may have a rating of IP 60-63. Likewise, if the opposite were true, the rating would be IP 08-38.

A rating of IP 00 is a base of no protection against particle ingress and no protection from liquid ingress.

What Are The Benefits Of Ruggedized Android?

The benefits of rugged devices depend entirely on the environment and usage patterns for your use case. Rugged use cases aren’t the only good reason to select ruggedized Android, since employees and customers can expose devices to drops, spills, and germs through routine use. 

As mentioned above, different ratings indicate different abilities. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of ruggedized Android devices.

Benefit #1 – Longer Lifespan

Ruggedized devices tend to have a longer lifespan and enjoy a much longer usage cycle than consumer-grade devices under equal conditions. Off-the-shelf equipment is retired regularly by device manufacturers. Ruggedized devices, however, are given usage cycles of many years, which can mean fewer months or years of manufacturer updates and support. You should only have to replace the device every 5-10 years.

Benefit #2 – Longer Battery Life

Since they are designed to be used out in the field, ruggedized devices are typically built with much longer battery life. This gives users a longer window of usage, increasing efficiency and productivity. It also allows savings on portable charging equipment or spare batteries if you have many devices in your operation. As a final benefit, ruggedized Android hardware batteries are generally easy to replace. 

Benefit #3 – More Extras and Features Available

Usually, ruggedized devices are enterprise-grade. Enterprise-grade Android hardware can offer enhanced features that, when used correctly, lead to noticeable increases in productivity, enhanced performance, and superior device security.

Ruggedized devices usually have extreme versions of standard features. A biometric scanner on a regular device may need to be used in full light at a certain angle, at room temperature without running into scanning errors. A ruggedized device can be built to accurately scan biometrics in dark lighting or cold temperatures.

Other enhanced features include push-to-talk options for warehouses, logistics, transportation, or any other use cases where it benefits employees.

The number of customizations increases when you expand the scope to different industries. A warehouse device may need impact resistance and low light scanning abilities. A hospital may need anti-microbial screens and synced thermometers. Public safety employees may need liquid resistance and sunlight resistance along with shock tolerance. Retail may need all of the above, especially if the devices are going to be used by customers.

Benefit #4 – Enhanced Commercial Support

This depends entirely on where you contract the production of your device. Different manufacturers will offer other warranties and support depending on the device. One company may provide extended protection for all devices. 

Generally, with ruggedized devices, the standard warranty and support cover between 3-5 years is usually considerably longer than the shelf models.

Benefit #5 – Superior Screen Reading

Many rugged Android devices have advanced screen technology for better readability in any lighting or conditions – even darkness or bright sunlight. Rugged Android can offer better readability and ergonomic design for a variety of users in any lighting. Sunlight-readable screens can be a benefit for devices that are used outdoors or create a better screen reading experience for customers and employees in any lighting. 

Are Ruggedized Android Devices Right for You?

Picking the right Android hardware for your use case can speed up your mobile transformation road map. Generally, if you have any kind of activity that involves regular use of an Android device, some form of ruggedization can benefit your company. Rugged Android hardware is available in countless different form factors and designs, and it’s the right choice for a surprising number of use cases in healthcare, education, retail, hospitality, and more. 

Esper is the industry’s leading solution for seamless configuration and deployment of rugged Android devices – and all other Android devices with Android operating system (OS) versions 4.4 / 6.x+, as detailed in Esper’s requirements documentation. Esper’s complete set of cloud tools for Android DevOps can lower the total cost of ownership for Android ruggedized hardware and other devices with powerful tools to remotely deploy, monitor, and manage your fleet. 
To learn more, check out Esper’s list of validated and enhanced Android devices, or click here to start a conversation.