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Tech Gets Tough

Whether you work in the field, spend time on the road or are just one of those clumsy types, you’ll find that many of today’s devices are designed for those who require tougher tech.

From droppable computers to rugged mobile phones to protective cases for cameras and camcorders, manufacturers are catching on and cashing in on the demand. But are these tough tech tools ideal for you and your business?

“Ruggedized tech is designed to take knocks that a conventional device cannot,’’ explains Carmi Levy, senior vice president for strategic consulting at AR Communications, a Toronto-based technology solutions firm. “A traditional laptop dropped from your desk will likely break the case or trash the hard drive. In other words, something’s going to give. But a rugged laptop is designed to take greater abuse.”

So, what can you expect from rugged laptops such as Panasonic’s Toughbook line or Lenovo’s ThinkPad products?

  • Shock-absorbent hard drives These sturdy hard drives protect your data in case the laptop is dropped.
  • Magnesium frames These tougher materials are designed to withstand some bumps.
  • Moisture- or dust-resistant LCD keyboard and ports. These features keep water, dust and other debris from getting inside the PC.

Is rugged tech right for you?
Whether you need these sturdy devices depends on your work environment and the care you take with your equipment. “You don’t need to be an engineer in the oil sands in order to justify a rugged piece of gear,” says Levy. “If you’re a frequent traveler, your phone or laptop will likely take a few knocks here and there, so a more robust product is a good idea.”

If your equipment is exposed to the environment, extreme temperatures and rain, rugged devices make sense, says Gary Chen, a senior analyst with the Yankee Group, a technology research and consulting firm. But if you are an average business traveler simply moving from the office to plane to hotel, you might find that normal devices are equipped with enough tough features, says Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at the New York-based Jupiter Research IT firm.

Trade-offs with rugged tech
Investing in a tougher computer, cell phone or rugged camera has its durability advantages, but there are trade-offs. Consider these before you take the plunge:

  • Rugged tech products are generally heavier, which might not be as appealing if you are a mobile user who needs extra protection. “Pound for pound, ruggedized products are heavier than non-ruggedized ones -- just like how a mountain bike weighs a lot more than a road bike,” says Levy. “At the end of the day, you have to decide if it’s worth it to you.” For example, the Olympus 1030SW digital camera -- which is waterproof, freezeproof, shockproof, crushproof and dustproof -- weighs 6.1 ounces, compared to a similar-sized Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T70, which weighs just 5.5 ounces.
  • Rugged tech tends to cost more initially, but evaluate what you might spend over the long run. “You have to balance the cost of ruggedizing with the risk of damage and downtime, and the inconvenience, such as less choice, weight and bulk,” says Chen. For example, the Panasonic Toughbook Y7 computers typically start at $2,300, while a comparable non-rugged laptop from Dell costs $899 and up.
  • Tough tech usually doesn’t have the latest cell phone features or laptop technology, says Levy. “These products typically take longer to bring to market, so they don’t often have the latest technology -- which might be fine for those who place a higher priority on durability than bleeding-edge performance.”

Whether or not you need rugged tech doesn’t only depend on the application and environment but also on the oops factor. If you consider yourself the klutzy type, and you’ve sent more than one cup of coffee cascading over a laptop, it’s worth exploring rugged tech options.

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