Tablets are also being designed to be lightweight. Most range around four or five pounds. Handheld boasts the lightest, with its Algiz 7 weighing in at 2.4 pounds, including both batteries. “For somebody who is carrying it around all day long, having a light weight unit makes a difference at the end of the day,” says Kyle.
Built tough: Rugged
Law enforcement computers need to be able to work in a variety of places, which is why manufacturers design public safety computers as rugged. To be classified as rugged, tablets have to fit exacting standards. The most common standards used are the new MIL-Spec 8.10G and Ingress Progression 65. These standards revolve around tests involving particulates, extreme temperatures and shock. Basically, they test for anything bad that can happen to a computer, especially a mobile one.
“A department needs to look at the shock and impact to a mounted computer,” says Lamb. “The kind of vibration [the Getac V100] will encounter makes it rugged. Officers don’t always drive nicely, and that is hard on the computer. Here in California we deal with potholes, speed bumps and the little gifts that end up in the road. With that level of impact, you don’t think about what it’s doing as far as the computer is concerned.” Another important issue is whether a tablet can be dropped and how far. This is important not only because of normal wear and tear but also for officer safety. “There are 1000 hours of engineering time into the ergonomics of this,” says Poulin of the H1 Field. “It is designed for officer safety in ergonomics. It can be dropped if I need to. It doesn’t inhibit officer safety. It’s a Toughbook and that means it’s a fully rugged. Traditional (drop) standards are 30-36 inches, but this is 72 inches. You don’t have to be afraid to actually take it outside and use it.”
One prohibiting factor, especially in today’s economic climate, is the cost. Most tablets run around $3,000 each. This can be a hefty price tag for any agency. The one thing manufacturers want public safety managers to consider is the whole picture when it comes to cost. “Because the tablet has to do the job of multiple devices,” Gilbert says, “we are bringing down the cost on the back end. It’s one device and we can save you money on the life-time of a product.” Lamb, who also works as a reserve officer agrees, “Four years ago, my Lieutenant told me our cruisers cost around $42,000. If the computer is hard-mounted and it goes down, that car is down. It will be out of commission until the computer can be fixed. With the V100, a hard drive can be swapped out with a spare and keep the car in service. To have to go down due to a computer would be embarrassing.”
Poulin also justifies the cost stating, “In and of itself, it has to be part of a solution. In dollar signs, at a police department, it’s going to be in saved time, increased productivity, increased moral and increased citizen satisfaction. If you can do those things for any given problem, you will get a positive return on your investment.”
Tablets and convertible notebooks are becoming more common. Manufacturers designed them to work efficiently in many different environments and under extreme conditions. Departments justify the cost due to mobility and versatility. “When all these things seemed to get easier for officers,” explains Gilbert, “it was a good thing. Dell married these things up and it was impressive.” Considered an ultra mobile PC, the Algiz 7 Kyle finds it lives up to its name, and officers love them as well. “When we first got them, overall, there were wrestling matches over who got the car with them in it,” says Longacre.
Panasonic first started serving the law enforcement community 15 years ago to fill a need no one was serving. The evolution into tablets has been a logical move from there. “Consumer grade laptops were being put in the car and they were failing miserably, so we designed a purpose filled computer for that environment,” says Poulin. “We are filling a dream and it is a reality, because they are working and stay working. Think outside the patrol car.”