Best business-class tablets for the front office and factory floor

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The R11 has an industrial case of semi-hard plastic, and has a touch screen that we found harder to use—although screen resolution is higher. The tougher screen is offset by the responsiveness, which is good--- and it’s powered by an Intel i5- 4200 series processor and was delivered with 8GB of memory and 128GB hard drive. Moving the screen from portrait to landscape (e.g. turning 90 degrees) isn’t very smooth, but this may be a function of Windows 7. There’s an internal GPS (external antenna possible). An app, VisualGPSView, is included.

The screen is all but impossible to read outdoors, due to surface glare. Indoors, it’s the near equal of the Thinkpad 10. The Durabook R11 had the largest display of the units we compare here, and indoors, it’s very good and its contrast is easy to understand.

We found the Durabook to be more industrial than most, yet not as balanced as it’s heavy, and a bit awkward at 2.75 pounds. No rear-mounted holder or other device was found, although there are bottom screw mounts—and a connector for a docking station/keyboard, which weren’t tested. It’s heavy enough not to sail cleanly off a forklift, and stayed put. Its surrounding bezel was tough enough, and the screen keyboard could be used by fat fingers.

There were two apps included, one that ties an external GPS to the R11’s internal camera—which we surmise is for insurance adjusters, site surveyors and the like. The other app is a handwriting recognition app that needs training, and a stylus—not good for fingertips. There’s an optional barcode scanner available, but it wasn’t included. There’s also an optional Near Field Communications module available, too.

We like the fact that this unit has a removable/replaceable battery that is changed quickly and easily. Under our load test, the battery discharged comparatively quickly—speed requires power—and for multi-shift operations, additional batteries (uses a proprietary casing) must be purchased. Nonetheless, it’s a huge advantage to have spare batteries at all. There is a single function key on the top right corner of the case, and it’s normally used to trigger the camera in the camera’s default mode.

The Durabook has protective port covers made of harder plastic, but we felt like we might be breaking the covers and opening them wasn’t smooth. Fat fingers will have trouble with them. Two full-sized USB3 jacks are included, along with an SD card slot, and a SIM card slot. It can be used with 3G/4G/LTE, but this wasn’t tested.

There’s also a Kensington-compatible security lock on the case. The power buttons and volume buttons have more tactile feedback than any of the other tablets tested. There’s also a fan on the bottom to cool the R11’s i5 CPU lest you burn a hole in your lap or desktop.

The R11 also has a 4G SIM slot, and an optional mag-stripe reader. The Durabook is also the only tablet we tested that supports Wi-Fi over 802.11 a/b/g/n/AC.

The R11 is industrial. It’s likely better for fixed positioning, as it’s large and wide. We applaud the removable battery—this device keeps on ticking (if needing a reboot when we changed the battery), and it has a professional industrial appearance. That said, at just 3hrs, 34min, you’ll need three charged batteries per shift at full tilt.

How we tested business-class tablets

We used each tablet on a 802.11g/n network, weighed them on a postal scale, and measured them with a ruler. We tested by using the Javascript browser benchmark found at here which measures various math and array functions via Javascript, using network only to fetch applications, and does not measure and is not affected by network speed. We tested three times and used the first set of measurements, averaged found consecutively within a standard deviation of 3%.

We tested power consumption by monitoring power down of the tablet under test, either visually, or by recording the device, and using the video recording’s timer to valuate the test overnight or during unattended testing, and averaged three drains.

Tom Henderson is principal researcher and Brendan Carlton is an intern researcher for ExtremeLabs, Inc., of Bloomington. You can reach them at kitchen-sink@ extremelabs.com.

This story, "Best business-class tablets for the front office and factory floor" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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