The Pros and Cons of tablets for police vehicles
The Trend from Laptops to Tablets
By: Susan Geoghegan
Mobile devices are used for a broad range of applications, such as issuing e-citations, accessing police files remotely, and filing incident reports using RMS software. They also provide access to criminal justice databases for instant identification of individuals detained for probable cause. Officers in patrol cars were the first to benefit with laptop computers that allowed them to perform their daily functions in the field and do instant motor vehicle checks.
The development of the notebook, a slimmer and lighter version of the laptop, offered greater portability for use both inside and outside the patrol car. The tablet PC, however, is quickly gaining ground as a cost-effective computing solution for mobile law enforcement applications. Even fully rugged tablets are now compact and lightweight enough for mobile use, going beyond the patrol car to include officers on motorcycle, bicycle and foot.
However, opinions differ on whether any current tablet PC is capable of performing as well as a fully rugged mobile workstation. While tablets are equipped with specialized software systems for increase productivity and performance, they do not have the capacity to fully integrate with in-vehicle systems, such as video and scanners. Many agree that the tablet is a cost-effective solution that provides extended battery life and enhanced connectivity, but has limited functionality for the requirements of a mobile data terminal in a typical patrol car. To assist agencies in choosing the computer solution best suited to their needs, we asked industry leaders for their insight into the benefits and drawbacks inherent in both tablet and notebook/laptop PCs.
Tablet, Notebook or Laptop?
As the National Sales Manager for Panasonic Systems Communications Company of North America, Marc Taylor described the rise of the tablet as “meteoric,” and noted that this trend is being reflected across the private and public sectors. “In law enforcement, we are seeing a high degree of interest in tablets, especially from younger officers who are natives to the digital world and are accustomed to having real-time data at their fingertips wherever they are.”
Taylor said that a tablet offers greater portability than a notebook or laptop, making it ideal for officers who spend the majority of their time in the field. “Tablets can lead to greater efficiency, which not only helps officers do their jobs better but also can lead to improved officer safety. For example, completing an accident report on a tablet can help an officer work quicker and reduce the time spent at roadside.”
Brite Computers has also seen growing interest in the use of tablets in mobile public safety environments. With more rugged tablets running on the Windows 7 operating system, the company believes that the tablet will have a prominent place in mobile computing for police, fire and EMS. “In this environment, they can readily use the tablet in their vehicle and easily take it with them. This will make them more productive in the field, eliminating the need to return to their vehicle or office to complete their reports,” said Director of Marketing Tanya Babcock.
According to Babcock, tablets offer lightweight rugged mobility and design, embedded cellular communications, and the same power and OS as current laptops and notebooks. This allows officers in the field to run all of their current and future CAD/RMS and PCR programs. She also noted that the MIL-STD 810G units, such as the Fujitsu Q702, are significantly less costly than the traditional fully rugged laptops. “The Fujitsu Q702 is certified MIL-STD 810 G for shock, drop, and vibration. Only units that meet these stringent standards should be deployed in the public safety mobile environment.”
Robert Escalle, Director of Product Management and Private Broadband Devices for Motorola Solutions, agreed that tablets are quickly replacing laptops and notebooks for mobile law enforcement applications. But while the tablet PC is viewed as a highly portable and cost-effective solution for in-field operations, agencies considering the switch should be aware that it runs on different operating systems than a laptop.
However, most application providers are addressing this issue by equipping their new tablet products with Web-based capability. Escalle said the key to producing a tablet suitable for law enforcement environments is to find a balance between versatility and ruggedness. “What you want to avoid is equipping the device with an overabundance of rugged features that makes it impossible for the officer to carry.”
While Motorola currently does not offer a tablet specific to law enforcement and public safety, the company is strongly committed to a tablet strategy that will offer products conducive to those applications in the near future. According to Escalle, Motorola’s enterprise-class ET 1 Tablet is rugged enough for deployment in some public safety operations.
The ET 1 Tablet is MIL-STD 810 G and IP54 certified against drops, spills, and extreme temperatures, and features ultra-strong Gorilla® Glass that makes it virtually impervious to damage. The 7-inch capacitive display is 30 percent thicker than most consumer displays and recessed to provide extra shock protection. However, Escalle pointed out that the demand is still strong for rugged mobile computers in more challenging environments, such as their MW810 Workstation.
According to CEO James Bland, Datalux Corporation has seen increased interest in tablet use by the public safety market, but little adoption of the technology thus far. “We believe that demand and specific requirements are still evolving and that the current environment is not suitable for large-scale adoption,” Bland said.
Datalux is currently working on a ruggedized Tracer Tablet scheduled for release in 2014, which will incorporate many of the features suggested by their customers. Because of the key benefits of the tablet—extended battery life, enhanced connectivity, and lower weight—Bland believes that the tablet will have a place in specific public sector applications. However, he feels these benefits are offset by a number of other factors specific to the public safety market.
Like Escalle, Bland points to the potential problems in working with differing operating systems. “While iOS, Android, or Windows 8 devices are certainly capable of interfacing with legacy software, there are few tablet apps currently available. This leaves the officer attempting to navigate an emulate screen on the tablet that has not been designed for a relatively small touchscreen.”
Despite the mobility offered by a tablet, some view it as just another piece of equipment for the officer to carry around. “In our surveys of police departments that have deployed laptops (and a few that have deployed tablets), the majority of officers rarely remove the computing device from the vehicle regardless of how light or easy it is to remove,” Bland said.
Director of Rugged Mobility Marketing for Dell Rugged, Patrick Seidensticker, sees a general trend toward overall mobile capabilities that are able to withstand conditions in the field, especially for public safety customers. While he acknowledges that tablets have their place, they generally serve as a complement to more ruggedized notebooks in law enforcement applications.
“Dell’s rugged Latitude XFR and semi-rugged Latitude ATG notebooks can join tablets to bring complete, state-of-the art computing capabilities to harsh field environments,” Seidensticker stated. “This is a need Dell has anticipated and integrated into its tablets, especially when combined with peripherals that help to ruggedize the devices, in order to support customers who need to operate in field environments.”
Although tablets enable unified, coordinated communication among team members, allowing real-time information sharing, Seidensticker pointed out that the factors supporting the device require special attention. This includes the type of back-end environment currently supporting an agency’s IT infrastructure, the amount of required content creation, and the conditions the device will be exposed to.
“Dell tablets serve as endpoints that access powerful back-end infrastructures, including storage, connectivity, analytics and collaboration. The device becomes even more powerful given the various computational tools in addition to the tablet hardware—enabling public customers to access more data.”
Paul Kim, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for GammaTech, attributes the increase in tablet use to various factors. “Tablets have a better touch interface, longer battery life, better power management, and are easier to handle and carry versus a notebook that doesn’t have a handle.” Kim said that GammaTech’s rugged tablets are suitable for challenging conditions, such as weather, environment, and working with gloves. Even in non-challenging environments, accidents such as drops, water spills, in-car vibration can occur that warrant the use of a rugged tablet.
Director of Marketing for GETAC, John Lamb, has also noticed an upsurge in interest regarding rugged tablets in the public sector. A tablet’s compact, lightweight design and overall lower cost are just a few features that make it an attractive alternative to a notebook or laptop. “Tablets have a built-in advantage (if designed to be rugged) in that they do not contain a hinge. Slate tablets can also be made more economically than a traditional or convertible laptop. [Another] benefit in the sectors that are trending toward tablets, such as the military, is the significant weight reduction,” Lamb said.
However, the one issue that continues to be a sticking point is the lack of a standard input device, i.e., keyboard. While some agencies are beta testing tablet and external USB keyboard solutions, GETAC’s traditional clamshell notebook remains the practical deployment. Lamb said that since tablets are predominantly built for consumer use, they are often not rugged enough for public safety applications. “GETAC specializes in rugged electronics and thus our tablets are built to withstand some of the most demanding environments from temperature, drop, shock, vibration and more.”
Jim Plas, Vice President of Marketing for Xplore Technologies, is seeing increased adoption of the tablet across the board, especially by in-field personnel in the public sector. “In the public safety arena, especially among first responders, unified communications is making it possible to stay in contact with all parties engaged in a situation, whether they’re on UHF/VHF radios, Telephony, or over IP.
The tablet has the unique capability of bringing all that together in one device making it that much easier to be in communication and up-to-date,” Plas said. In addition, a rugged tablet can be completely docked on a vehicle without the worry of breakage or damage, which increases mobility and efficiency in the field.
Xplore’s new RangerX rugged Android tablet was built in response to customer requests for a more cost-effective, lighter weight device to deploy to a larger population of their field force. Xplore opted to use an Android operating system that provides increased flexibility in configuration deployment and management, allowing IT departments to develop and manage internal apps more cost effectively.
“Overall, rugged computing greatly lowers total cost of ownership for companies. Devices are built to withstand challenging environments, so they outlast consumer tablets and laptops alike. We wanted to create a device that really met the needs of our customers, so we based the design for the new RangerX rugged Android tablet largely on customer feedback and business needs,” Plas stated.
The Latest in Rugged Tablets
The Brite Mobile Office is an all-in-one tablet and printing solution that combines an innovative computing platform with full-size printing capability for the mobile worker. Designed with a Fujitsu Q702 Hybrid Tablet PC, the system is certified MIL-STD-810G for temperature, shock, vibration and humidity.
The custom-designed fanfold carrying case incorporates a Brother PocketJet 6 Thermal Bluetooth® Printer and up to 50 sheets of letter-size thermal paper for on-the-spot report or citation printing. Weighing only 1.87 pounds, the Brite Mobile Office features an 11.6-inch backlit, anti-glare display with wide viewing angles. Advanced communications are provided with Cellular, Bluetooth, and WiFi capabilities.
GammaTech’s Durabook TA10 is a rugged and durable tablet PC designed to withstand the harshest field conditions. Equipped with Bluetooth® and Intel® WiFi wireless connectivity, the TA10 weighs less than five pounds and features a 10.4-inch XGA LCD display with resistive multi-touch panel. It is MIL-STD 461F-certified, meets MIL-STD-810G specifications for shock and fog, and has an IP65 rating for dust and spill resistance. The TA10 comes with either an advanced Intel Ivy Bridge i3-3217UE or i7-3517UEprocessor, and can be equipped with 320GB to 750GB storage capacity. With its unique and exclusive quick-release HDD storage capability, users can inter-swap HDDs with a simple click of a button.
GETAC’s Z710 is a fully rugged 7-inch tablet that features a Texas Instruments® OMAP 4430 Dual Core 1 GHz processor and runs on the Android 4.1 operating system. Weighing in at a mere 1.77 pounds, the Z710 is MIL-STD-810G and IP65 certified against shock, vibration and drops. LumiBond™ optical bonding and damage-resistant Gorilla® Glass provides enhanced sunlight readability and increased screen durability. The capacitive touchscreen display provides exceptional touch sensitivity, even while wearing gloves. Equipped with the SiRFstarIV™ GPS chipset, E-compass, and 3-axis accelerometer, the device offers quick and precise location information to users in the field.
Panasonic’s rugged Toughpad FZ-G1 is MIL-STD-810G certified and IP65 rated for protection against drops, dust and moisture to meet the challenges found in demanding environments.
Touted as the world’s thinnest and lightest fully-rugged 10.1-inch Windows® 8 Pro tablet, the Toughpad FZ-G1 measures 10.6 inches (L) x 7.4 inches (W) x 0.8-inch (H) and weighs only 2.5 pounds. The display features an HD daylight-readable 10-point touch and digitizer screen, an ambient light sensor, and automatic screen rotation. Powered by a third-generation Intel® Core™ vPro™ Processor, the Toughpad FZ-G1’s wireless capabilities include WiFi, Bluetooth®, and optional 4G LTE or 3G Gobi™.
Xplore Technologies recently introduced its first fully rugged Android tablet that provides powerful performance in the most demanding environments. The RangerX is a lightweight 10.1-inch tablet with the largest storage capacity on the market, making it ideal for a broad range of applications. MIL-STD-810G and IP65 certified, the RangerX features a vibrant outdoor-viewable display with multi-touch capability.
It comes with an integrated communications suite that includes WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth 4.0, and a full complement of input and output connections. With a battery life of up to 10 hours, one charge lasts for a full working shift, allowing mobile workers to maximize their time in the field. The RangerX lowers total cost of ownership and increased overall operational efficiency, and comes with a standard three-year warranty.
Mobile Workstation Solutions
The Datalux Tracer T5 is a space-saving all-in-one computer with a universal mount that positions the display screen front and center, and a keyboard that tilts and swivels for both driver and passenger comfort. It is equipped with a sunlight-readable five-wire resistive touchscreen with LED backlighting, and is fully dimmable with front panel controls that include an “Instant Off” feature.
The Tracer T5 is the fifth generation of Datalux’s public safety mobile computers that features a second-generation Intel® i5 of Core™ i7 processor. It comes with a removable shock-mounted disk drive or an optional Solid State drive, and provides the ergonomics and processing power required for demanding mobile environments.
The Dell Latitude™ 10 combines the convenience and mobility of a Windows 8 touch tablet with the productivity of a PC. Enhanced security is provided with Intel® Platform Trust Technology or Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2), a lock slot, and an optional fingerprint and smart card reader combo. For demanding public safety conditions, the Latitude 10 is available with an optional Griffin® Survivor case that provides additional protection. The Latitude 10 with Survivor case has been independently tested to MIL-STD-810G for shocks, vibration, dust, sand, wind, and rain, and can withstand repeated drops to a concrete floor from a height of 6 feet.
Motorola’s MW810A is a powerful, ergonomic mobile workstation that features a flexible three-piece design for multiple configurations of the CPU, keyboard and monitor. Ruggedized beyond MIL-STD-810G and IP54 standards, it can withstand heat, cold, moisture, dust, and vibration. The CPU can be installed in either the trunk or passenger cabin and can run “headless” for use in specialized applications. The removable backlit keyboard allows users to type comfortably, and a built-in trackpad eliminates the need for a separate mouse. Other features include an ultra-bright, glove-friendly touchscreen, user-friendly controls and programmable buttons, and exceptional wireless connectivity.
Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Fla. She can be reached at email@example.com.