Rugged Android devices are built for a variety of ultra-tough conditions. While handheld mobile scanners and ultra-tough tablets for outdoor workers are prominent 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 including tablets, smartphones, and even sleek and lightweight hardware for hospitality, retail, education, and healthcare. 

What are rugged Android devices?

Rugged Android devices include tablets, smartphones, and other hardware built for resistance to moisture, dust, temperature, and other tough conditions. Rugged devices must pass unbiased tests for durability, such as the IP rating (Ingress Protection rating), as proof of their sturdiness and performance in varying conditions.

While rugged Android hardware comes in multiple shapes and sizes, it often has enhanced drop protection, more robust and even glove-compatible touchscreens for protective gear, extended batteries for long field service life, and more. 

While there are varying levels of protection, durability, and enhanced functionality, you can loosely expect most of the following from rugged Android hardware:

  • Liquid and water protection, from just a few drops to complete submersion
  • Dust resistance, from large coarse particles to small fine particles
  • Higher and lower maximum and minimum device operating temperatures 
  • Resistance to:
    • Impacts from falls
    • Impacts from objects
    • Pressure from external sources, such as vehicles
    • Scratches and gouging
    • Wear and tear due to excessive use
  • Extra large battery
  • Compatibility with PPE, such as gloves

Rugged device testing criteria

Rugged devices are tested based on 29 definitive hazard areas and then given a rating based upon Ingress Protection (IP) tests performed by a third party lab. Tests are performed to technical specification and duration defined by the IEC.

  • Temperature: Devices are tested in temperatures ranging from 0c-50c, including temperature shocks, where the device is exposed to thermal extremes suddenly.
  • Moisture: Whether it’s simulated rain, immersion in tanks of water, sprayed with high-pressure hoses, hot water jets, or just left to sit in high overall humidity.
  • Fungus: With moisture comes fungal growth. Seals can fail under the influence of microbial growth.
  • Small particle: Small particle tests cover the effects of dust, sand, and salt fog (marine ruggedization) upon a device’s seals.
  • Light: Extreme exposure to solar radiation (sunshine) ensures durability for long-term outdoor environmental hazards.
  • Acceleration: Many devices have sensors that detect orientation, position, and other movement or magnetic inputs (with sensors like a Gyroscope, or a Hall sensor for magnetism). Intense accelerations allows testers to determine if these delicate systems could be damaged from a fall or other extreme motion. 
  • Vibration: Electronics, screens, and even housings can be cracked, loosened, or outright broken if there is no protection against variable shock, or vibration.

Understanding rugged device IP ratings

Generally, the most rugged devices are rated as IP 67 or 68. This rating 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.

Rugged device use case by industry 

Ruggedized devices aren’t just for manufacturing or construction. They’re a great option for many enterprise use cases where devices are used heavily by members of the public or regularly exposed to challenging conditions like drops and spills. Rugged devices are designed to greatly reduce failure rates, which makes them an ideal choice for any mission-critical scenario where availability and performance matters above all else.

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 and better readability in varying light. Rugged Android is an ideal choice for customized transportation — 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 tablets 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 with mobile devices that can connect to external monitors and keyboards for PC-like capabilities. 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 with robust and ruggedized handheld scanners.

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 devices offer 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 wireless 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. Rugged 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. 

Rugged device checklist

Deciding whether you need rugged devices in your business can be a challenge. Often, these devices are more expensive than their non-ruggedized counterparts, so cost certainly plays a role here. But regularly replacing non-rugged devices broken beyond repair is much costlier, so carefully weighing your use cases is crucial. 

To help pinpoint the need for rugged devices over less-robust options, we put together a quick checklist. 

How often do you want to replace your devices? 

Many rugged devices come with a longer replacement warranty than their non-ruggedized counterparts, so they’ll have a longer lifespan. Where you might have to replace consumer-grade devices every two to three years, a rugged device could last upwards of five years. Similarly, some manufacturers offer extended technical support on their rugged devices.

Will your devices run for extended periods on battery power (i.e., off AC)? 

Many rugged smartphones or tablets have extra large batteries, heavy software optimizations to promote improved battery life, or both. If your devices will be used heavily on battery power for extended periods, a rugged option may be better suited for your needs. 

Will your devices regularly be used where it could get wet or dirty? 

Think about the situations in which these devices will be used. Will they get wet? Will they be used in dusty or generally dirty areas? What are the chances that they could get dropped or otherwise banged up? A tablet locked to stand all the time may not benefit as much from being rugged, while a handheld scanner that will be used both indoors and outdoors would strongly benefit from being more ruggedized.

How many people will use your devices daily? 

Will a single employee use the same device each day? Or will it be customer-facing so dozens or hundreds of people interact with it every day? Each situation will vary, but the more people touching your devices, the more likely the chance of it getting damaged. 

Should I buy a rugged case instead of a full rugged device? 

Many cases do a good job of protected devices from drops or falls, but they offer few other forms of protection. For example, most cases don’t add any sort of water or dust resistance to a device (dust and sand can easily jam buttons and ports, leading to device failure)). In most situations, a device with a case on it won’t be an acceptable replacement for a rugged device. If anything, a case is a good choice for devices that don’t need to be rugged just to add a bit of extra protection. 

Are rugged 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.