Rugged PDA - Rugged Design at the heart

Rugged PDA – Rugged Design at the heart

Continuing the ruggedness week series we’ve already looked at the 2 main formal methods of seeing how rugged a PDA is by looking at IP Ratings and Drop Tests, but here we’re going to start delving into some of the areas that only the experienced Rugged PDA Reseller can help you with!

I personally assess every single facet of a rugged PDA before we will offer it here and this includes looking at everything about the device, as well as the distribution channel being fair and the support offered.  The first thing we do here when we assess whether a Rugged PDA is good enough to sell is look at its overall design, its intended markets and then to assess how rugged we feel it really is!  On paper a rugged handheld can look very good but many of them, in fact most of them, have flaws you need to understand before you commit, especially if you want to keep your costs down.

The neglected parts!

First of all if you look at the drop tests and even MIL-STD’s closely you’ll see a lot isn’t covered and in fact this is when you find out that they are still not largely approriate tests for Rugged PDA’s.


LCD screens aren’t included in the test for instance so what happens if your IP67, MIL whatever gets dropped LCD first  on a rock or desk corner?  Well, it’s going to break.  Well some devices leave the LCD glass exposed, some have an extra skin, some we can fit tuffscreens to and some are just made of tougher stuff.  Also look for how recessed the screen is as a recessed screen protects the LCD more than you might think.

The Case

Some Rugged PDA’s simply have tougher cases.  This can be in the shape of rubber corners, thicker or better quality  plastic or even metal casing.

The Aerial and protruding parts

Its becoming less of an issue these days as most devices now have internal aerials but a lot still don’t and that little piece of plastic is just asking to be snapped off!!  Some are designed to break but can it be replaced easily, will it damage the casing if snapped and will the device work without it at all?  This also applies to anything protruding like boots, snap on accessories and even trigger/gun designs.

The buttons

How tough are the buttons?  Are they cheap soft PDA style ones or are they evidently tougher and built to last?

The barcode scanner

Check if it has moving parts like a rotating mirror or if it’s largely static.  2D scanners are tougher than 1D generally too.  Also that little scanner windows can break if its exposed.

The connections

Rugged PDA’s have proprietary connection sockets on them for a good reason.  Mini USB is just not rugged and the best Rugged PDA will be let down if it uses Mini USB.  The main reason is that Mini-USB is wired directly to the main board which means it’s often easy to damage the whole device when plugging your handheld in with big fat gloves on.  There are also water/dust considerations when using USB too, but most manufacturers get over this with decent rubber caps but if you lose them then you can clog up your sync & charging connector and even let water in.  Some devices are so inexpensive that they have to use Mini-USB and in the right environment its fine, but on more expensive devices just watch this one.  You would not believe the number of non rugged smartphones that end up with damaged MIni-USB ports.

Does it land on its feet!

Some devices are built and weighted to land back down so you minimise shock to the sensitive parts like the LCD or scanner windows.

Crevasses and gaps

Crevasses can harbour water and I’ve even seen devices left for a month in the wrong environment being covered with mould which has forced its way in under the LCD.  Semi rugged PDA’s also need to be careful with any gaps in their design where water can get in too.  There are plenty of IP54 devices out there that in my opinion have gaps big enough like speaker/MIC grills that just let water in.

Clever stuff!

New devices coming on to the market are starting to include sensors that can be used for a multitude of tasks.  Not only can you see how far a device might have dropped in order to prevent your users taking it up that 30m ladder but we’re already seeing applications that can be used to switch of and react to scenarios that look like the device has been dropped.  Very clever stuff indeed.

The Support History

I’ll go into support in more depth in the next post, but because we work closely with proper service partners rather than have our own repair facility it means we can keep open honest figures on repair statistics.  We’ll tell you how good a device has been and what its main Achilles heel’s are.


Topical in the smartphone world at the moment is how grippy your device is.  As Bruce would once said, “The best way to not damage a rugged pda is to not drop the rugged PDA in the first place…” or something like that anyway!

Some Rugged handhelds have nicer grippier coatings, some are just plain designed nicely with curves and cutouts designed for holding and some have rubber bits sticking out all over.  The fact is that some device


Holsters, screen protectors, tethers, belts etc are all things that make a device Rugged as if properly used they help keep your devices running.  If you’re up ladders then a spring-loaded tether (or even a bit of string!) might be all you need.  Also look a t how rugged the accessories are.  Some people balk at a vehicle charger costing £30 but they are usually rugged, with a rugged connector and built to last.

Last but not least…

Educating your users is also key so make sure you’re open to feedback, adopt new ways of working, commit to your business solution and view the device as helping you towards your business goals, not the aesthetic whims of your users who would all use iPhones if they had their way!  If you have issues then be open and ask for help from your reseller because we certainly know how to keep all the rugged PDA’s we’ve sold running, along with your business.

Tomorrow I’m looking into the Support element of a Rugged Device and why this is becoming more and more critical in deploying a “Rugged” solution.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

About The Author

Dave's one of the founders of Raptor, his rants are memorable, his thoughts are stimulating and his heart is set on helping, entertaining and making things like mobile, Android, ruggedness, 3D printing and IOT simple.

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