As Rugged and Mobile we’ve been talking about smartphone ruggedness for years now, however whilst some of the principles stay the same, some ruggedness topics change over the years. So what changed? What still applies? This guide is designed to bring it all back up to speed and into the year 2016.
You know we have a great super blog about ruggedness that probably answers that question far better than I can re-write here. Our general guide to ruggedness covers off all the standard things a rugged smartphone (or tablet for that matter) needs to be to take on our standard seal of smartphone ruggedness!
So if you read our guide to ruggedness then you’ll have the basics downs, but things also change in the world of rugged devices so the rest of this article brings up some more food for thought.
Micro USB connectors
Probably one of the biggest debates we have had over the years has been about the mighty USB connector. In the consumer world, Mini and now more recently Micro USB have been the standard, whilst to be a rugged device we’ve often banged on about how you need a proprietary connector to gain full ruggedness. The truth is that mini-USB was awful, it had a really low connect/disconnect rating, it was inherently poorly designed for ruggedness and it also did not let enough charge through to charge those huge batteries that rugged devices carry about.
Step in Micro-USB and we saw vast improvements in all areas, with a massive uptake in it’s usage from many rugged device manufacturers. It also forms part of the standard Android SDK so if you’re device is Android based like 80%+ are these days, chances are it’ll have a Micro-USB connector.
However the connector continues to need a little care to not damage it but that argument is getting weaker and weaker these days. So how do you tell a good micro-USB connector and a bad one?
Look for these design cues:
If you look at our Raptors, their connectors are hidden deep in the case, not surface mounted and surrounded by the casing of the device. So if you wiggle your USB lead then all the force is not on the connector that will break. This is the number one issue we see with damaged USB connectors here.
Sure even Samsung devices have a nano coated waterproofing system these days, but if the connector is exposed with no rubber cap then it is not rugged in our opinion! Why? Well if there’s no rubber cover, then flush, debris and also the actual IP rating of the device is changed because elements of 1 mm or more can enter the connector. This can corrode or short the device out as things get stuck and cross connect the connectors.
The term “rugged” is becoming very overused and many people think water proofing means rugged. However when you look at the stats that VDC and our very own repair centre produce, you’ll see that only a fraction of repairs come in that were down to water or dust when compared to issues caused by dropping a device. So look for a device with a drop spec but also look for a device that’s designed to withstand them too.
Rubber and plastic will fair a lot better than even the best toughened glass when being dropped onto a concrete floor so look for a device that has plenty of casing and plenty of protection.
Corning Gorilla glass debate!!
This brings us on to the LCD glass debate. Now i’m not going to slate those guys making corning gorilla glass, by any means. The development they’re doing is fabulous and i’m all for a Star Trek like future where everything we use is a thin piece of glass like material and I hope that i’m eating my words on this one in 2020. But, your business is not in the future, its in the now and you need know whats best when it comes to smartphone ruggedness.
We’re always worried about gorilla glass here. In fact believe it or not, we don;t all Raptor R5’s in our personal lives!! No I am literally taking delivery of the new Samsung Note 7 today, colleagues here have everything from HTC to iPhones and they’re all “glassy” and they’ve all smashed them at some stage unless they have a case. The point is that we’re yet to see a glass that can take the stress and strains of every day Enterprise smartphone life. The glass is either to scratchy or too weak against impact and whilst it is a wondeful idea, as a business you need to stick to what works.
So what works? Her’es my tips on glass and that LCD screen
- An LCD that is removed from the touch screen, which means you drop the device and crack the touch screen and the likelihood is that the LCD will survive. Not only does this mean a cheaper repair but it often means the device still works and you can have it repaired when the time is right for you.
- Plastic covered touchscreen. Whilst this means you won’t quite get the beuatifil experience that a £700 smartohone gives you, it does mean that the touch screen is slightly flexible and if it does crack, the glass will be contained.
- Use a screen protector. Change it when it needs changing and you’ll have a device that not only works really well throughout it’s life but you’ll have a stab at it being worth something when you come to change it out. We often give a small rebate on used devices here at Raptor and the number One thing looked for in a devices condition is if there are scratches on the screen. Gorilla glass isn’t going to stop that over 2-3 years.
You can even see here in this latest Samsung Galaxy Note 7 scratch test how the debate about glass is still alive and kicking.
Plastic Vs Glass
I final note on glass is that in many enterprise/business scenarios it is simply not a debate. Glass is simply not allowed and this is on e of the main reasons our Raptors have a plastic covered LCD. if you’re going to be anywhere near food for example then glass is a no-no. I’ve seen years ago when a food warehouse suffered a smashed barcode scanner window and they had to effectively get rid of everything in the warehouse due to glass contamination.
Wear and tearability
One thing people forget about is that Ruggedness is for life, not just for the first day you buy a device. What I mean by this is, that will the device still be in a good condition in 1 or 2 years time, still being able to withstand drops and abuse? Things to look out for here are:
Are the buttons sealed and covered in tough rubber, a little difficult to press perhaps? If the answer is yes then perhaps this smartphone has a shouting chance of still being rugged in 12 months time.
Are the cases grippy, easy to hold and designed with ergonomics in mind fitted with things like a hand strap? You;re probably not going to even drop this device so it’ll inherently last longer.
Can you do this with an iphone or Samsung?
Batteries are also a real consideration if your using mobile devices for your business. Despite batteries generally getting larger over the years, so have the features of mobile devices gotten ever more power hungry so the basic principles of batteries remains the same so look out for the following main issues.
Can you replace your battery?
If not then what do you do if you run out of juice during the day?
How do you dispose of your devices in an ethical and environmentally friendly manner if the batteries are sealed inside?
What happens if you get a faulty battery. if it’s replaceable you probably have some spare already, but you’ll also be able to get hold of new ones fast. If it’s an integral part of your device then your whole device is knocked out. Not very rugged!
How big is your battery?
There’s consumer big, like the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 with its poultry 3200mAh size. Or there’s big like Raptor R5 6000 mah designed for business. Consumer devices have to be svelt, look lovely and shiny and they aren’t suited for business use. Enterprise devices are focused on what businesses need. I think enough is said on that one!
Repairs and spare parts
The last area of ruggedness that is not necessarily about the device but about how quickly and cheaply you can sort things out. Throughout my life i’ve found that the mission critical world is constantly balanced between the expensive, “never goes wrong” item and the cheap, “just buy 3” side and we see this trend recurring all the time. First it was IBM AIX mainframes and HPUX was the young pretender. Then microsoft turned HPUX into the old expensive solution and we see it now. IN fact we ask the question oursleves on why you’d spend £1000 on a rugged smartphone at all when you can have 3 Raptors for that!!
The truth is that everything goes wrong, what matters is what happens when it does.
So look for inexpensive and fast repairs. It’s no good buying a device when a screen crack is going to set you back £300 – £400 and take 4 weeks to repair.
Can you get hold of spare parts quickly, easily and cheaply? We have seen countless times where a simple screw or rubber cover got lost or damaged and because it was either too expensive or difficult to fix, it slowly became the reason why a whole device failed beyond repair. Why can;t a screw get sent out for £10? Why can;t things like this get repaired automatically and for free durung a routine repair? Why is no-one else looking after you? Probably because you didn’t pay them to or because they don’t care.
So hopefully that brings thing up to speed. Of course there’s plenty else to talk about, almost every thing on a mobile device can be a cause of debate when it comes to smartphone ruggedness. So tell us all about your trials and tribulations because we just just might be able to help!