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Laptops and Handheld Computers

Mission-critical environments demand reliable remote devices, such as mobile laptops and handheld PDAs, to allow law enforcement and public safety personnel to perform their jobs more effectively. Because conditions in the field are often unpredictable, these devices are subjected to a fair amount of abuse. This has led to a new generation of rugged mobile computers that are built to last. Subject to electro-technical, immersion, and military standards, these devices must be able to operate efficiently and withstand the harshest environments.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) sets the international standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies. IEC Publication 529 describes the standard Degrees of Protection of a product’s enclosure to withstand environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and shock. Rugged computers are rated by the IEC based on their level of protection against these elements.

Ingress Protection Ratings are also used to specify the environmental protection of electrical equipment. Generally, the rating has two numbers, the first one indicating the level of protection against solid objects, the second against liquids. For example, an IP67 rating would break down as follows: 6 = totally protected against dust; 7 = protected against the effect of immersion between 15cm and 1m. The breakdown for IP54 certification is: 5 = protected against dust limited ingress (no harmful deposit); 4 = Protection against water sprayed from all directions—limited ingress permitted.

The MIL-STD-810F series of standards is issued by the U.S. Army’s Developmental Test Command. Environmental tests simulate conditions that a particular item will encounter in the field, and rates its performance in various categories, including altitude, temperature, leakage, fungus, rain, and vibration. Compliance with these standards is essential to guarantee optimal effectiveness of any rugged computer.

The following companies produce and/or distribute rugged computers for use in a number of industries. The focus of this article will be on products designed specifically for mobile law enforcement.

American Reliance (AMREL)

A mid-sized company that offers both the knowledge and experience of a large corporation with the responsiveness of a small one, AMREL is committed to providing the ultimate in customer service. Its highly trained representatives located throughout the U.S. and Canada work closely with the customer to ensure the best possible solution. AMREL’s rugged computers offer the technological flexibility for customization, and its COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) program allows easy integration for specific applications.

AMREL recommends the Rocky In-Vehicle system for law enforcement applications. The MK-1 model is certified to MIL-STD-810F and IP54 to resist dust, rain, shock, and vibration. Equipped with a built-in heater for -20º C operating temperatures, this rugged PC features an anti-reflective readable screen and rugged backlit keyboard. With wireless capabilities and DVI interfacing, the MK-1 comes with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 1 GB built-in mini PCI LAN card.

In addition to in-vehicle laptops, AMREL also manufactures a full line of industrial rugged notebooks, tablet PCs, and PDAs. All are MIL-STD-810F and IP54 certified and offer a wide variety of communication interfaces. Each product offers its own unique solution for a variety of applications and needs.

The Stanislaus County, CA Sheriff’s Department has been using AMREL laptops since 1999 and praises the quality of its products and the company’s outstanding customer service. Put to the test in California’s Central Valley, the laptops are exposed to hot, dry, and dusty conditions in the summer and a number of foggy, damp days in the winter. According to Sheriff Adam Christianson, in the nine years since purchasing the laptops, only two have not functioned after a vehicle accident, mainly due to being submerged for a long period of time. The ability to function in this type of climate makes AMREL laptops an ideal solution for this particular police agency.

The Nye County, NV Sheriff’s Office finds AMREL’s rugged computers to be durable and reliable. Since first purchasing the units in 2001, the department has been very pleased with their performance and praises AMREL’s customer service as “second to none.” Even when the department experiences occasional problems with an unreliable software application, AMREL steps in to assist.

Lieutenant Jack W. Hennigan points out that “AMREL has bent over backward to attempt getting the computers to work as they have been designed.” If a computer has to be sent back for repairs, AMREL corrects the problem and promptly returns the computer. According to Hennigan, “AMREL has stood behind the service agreement one hundred percent.”


Founded in 1990, Datalux Corp. is a leading manufacturer of compact, rugged computer products. Its engineering staff produces custom-built systems for mobile computing environments in a variety of industries. For the public safety market, Datalux recommends the Tracer, a purpose-built notebook designed specifically to withstand rigorous conditions in the field.

The latest version of the Tracer features an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Microsoft Windows Vista, a removable hard disk drive, and increased memory and data storage capacity. The features of this 12.1-inch all-in-one include 1) an enhanced LCD display for easy viewing in daylight conditions, 2) an internal mechanism for heat dissipation, 3) thermal protection that shuts down the computer when left in high heat and 4) an optional severe-duty hard disk drive for extreme low temperatures.

For in-vehicle policing, the Tracer is mounted on a stable articulation arm that allows the computer to easily swivel away from the dash for better access and comfort. The backlit keyboard is easily dimmable and sealed against liquid spills. It can be detached from its central position and clipped into the steering wheel for user convenience.

When the Hoover, AL Police decided to upgrade their entire mobile policing system, they opted to invest in rugged computers. Specifically looking to install in-vehicle computers, they researched and tested a number of products and chose the Datalux Tracer system. To date, the company has exceeded the department’s expectations in resource and time management.

Since its officers have a large area to cover, much time was wasted driving back and forth to the station. With more than 100 Tracer computers now installed in their vehicles, officers have the capability to perform their jobs in the field. The use of e-mail for non-emergency communication has saved time and resources, and access to criminal databases effectively gets suspects off the street. In fact, one officer’s Tracer allowed him to get a murder suspect into custody.

After stopping a motorist for a traffic violation, he ran a query through the system, which came back without a match. The next day, a murder warrant that had just been issued came through on his Tracer, and it was the same person involved in the traffic violation. He pulled up the current information in his computer and immediately called for backup to apprehend the suspect in his home.

The department also discovered that the Tracer does not interfere with airbag deployment when an officer totaled his vehicle in an accident, and the computer was not harmed. Before dismantling the patrol car, the Tracer was seamlessly removed and reinstalled into a replacement vehicle, still in perfect working order.

Installation of the Tracer computers took about a week, during which time officers attended training classes for the new technology. This made for a smooth transition for the entire police force, many of whom were apprehensive about the change. Knowing how quickly technology changes, the Hoover Police chose the Tracer system for its scalability. While conceding that the upgrade was a major expense, they realize that their long-range approach has saved them money, and more important, lives. The Datalux Web site also provides links to organizations that can be contacted for grant information.

Dell Computer

Committed to providing cost-effective technology to the public sector, Dell uses a case-by-case approach to meet the requirements unique to each agency. Customers can avail themselves of a wealth of professional services to assist with assessment, design, implementation, deployment, training, and asset recovery.

Dell’s fully rugged Latitude XFR D630 is a tough, reliable notebook built to withstand the most extreme temperatures, moisture, altitude, and shock / drop. With Dell’s patent-pending XFR thermal management system, this rugged notebook has the capability to run the most demanding applications. Design features include LCD DirectVue anti-glare display, optional resistive touch screen, integrated GPS capability, next-generation Draft-n Wi-Fi and mobile broadband and multi-factor user authentication and data encryption options to keep data secure.

Another Dell option for demanding work environments is the Latitude ATG D630. A tough, all-terrain grade semi-rugged laptop, it offers many of the same benefits as the XFR model. Tested to meet MIL-STD-810F standards, the ATG model is covered with a highly durable, textured paint that provides extra protection against scuffs and scratches. Like the XFR, it is equipped with an Intel Core Duo 2 processor and operates on either Windows XP or Vista.

DRS Tactical Systems

DRS Tactical Systems provides a full line of rugged COTS-based hardware for military and federal / industrial applications. Its commercial off-the-shelf products offer easy implementation into existing systems, eliminating the need for customization. Designed specifically for first responders, the ARMOR rugged mobile computers are MIL-STD-810F certified and IP54/66 rated.

The ARMOR C12 Rugged Convertible Notebook is a mounted in-vehicle computer that converts to a tablet. With complete mobility, this lightweight computer comes with Intel processing technology and built-in wireless LAN. Features include large 12.1-inch touchscreen LCD and full-size back-lit keyboard, fingerprint recognition security sensor, sealed magnesium casing, outdoor-readable in bright sunlight and IP54 rating.

Equipped with DRS’s ShutOut sealing technology and housed in an aluminum DuraCase chassis, the ARMOR X10 Rugged Tablet provides unparalleled protection in the harshest conditions. It offers flexible communication options, such as integrated Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth, and the 10.4-inch LCD monitor uses backlight technology for optimum indoor and outdoor viewing. With DRS’s exclusive QuickBack Data Recovery System, valuable data is protected.

General Dynamics Itronix 

For more than 20 years, General Dynamics Itronix has provided a full range of integrated rugged computing systems for the mobile workforce. With offices worldwide, the company offers innovative, customized solutions to fit the needs of each facility. GD Itronix project teams can assist with planning and management and third party integration. All laptops, notebooks, and tablet PCs are covered under a three-year warranty and include ongoing maintenance support.

In 2007, GD Itronix introduced DynaVue display technology that uses a light-filtering technique for enhanced viewing in daylight conditions. This patent-pending design is available in the GoBook series of notebooks, which are ideal for police and public safety personnel.

The fully rugged GoBook XR-1 is a state-of-the-art wireless notebook designed to survive the most rigorous field operating conditions. Equipped with the Intel Core Duo processor for maximum performance, it offers unparalleled wireless connectivity (WAN, WLAN, and Bluetooth). This power-efficient computer features both DynaVue technology and a NiteVue “glow-in-the-dark” keyboard.

Weighing in at a mere 2 pounds, the GoBook MR-1 is a compact, lightweight computer that meets all standards for drop, temperature, and vibration. With an IP rating of 54, this award-winning rugged device can withstand 26 drops from a 36-inch level as per MIL-STD-810F. Other features include a powerful 1.2 GHz Intel Core Solo U1400 Processor, local and worldwide wireless mobility, and an embedded GPS system. Its 3- and 6-hour battery life options can be supplemented with GD Itronix’s Power Saver utility.

Recently, the GoBook MR-1 was put to the ultimate test—surviving a trip to the highest point on earth. When Altitude Junkies, a company that organizes mountaineering expeditions to peaks in China, Tibet, Nepal, and Pakistan, was given the opportunity to take the MR-1 to the summit of Mount Everest, company director Phil Crampton was skeptical. Two other rugged computers he had taken on previous climbs could not withstand the harsh conditions and experienced hard drive failure. According to Crampton, altitude performance is the benchmark for any rugged computer used on an expedition.

Buried in snow, chipped out of a frozen block of ice, dropped onto rock talus, and smeared with food and sunblock, the GoBook MR-1 performed dutifully throughout the entire expedition. It was tested at four different camps, at altitudes ranging from 19,685 feet to 26,085 feet. Praised as durable and reliable by all members of the expedition team, the GoBook MR-1 became the first rugged notebook to send an e-mail from the 29,035-foot summit of Mount Everest. General Dynamics Itronix also offers a trade-in solution for the public sector with its exchange / sale program.

GammaTech Computer Corp.

With 21 years of experience in the manufacture of portable notebook computers, GammaTech’s DuraBook products are designed for the rigors of field work. The 14-inch D14RY notebook is the most widely used by police agencies today and is both durable and cost effective. Encased in a magnesium alloy case, it is 20 times stronger than plastic, minimizing potential failure from shock, vibration, and spills. Its features include Intel Core-Duo mobile technology, Windows Vista Business / Home Edition, a 14.1-inch XGA TFT display, USB 2.0 Connector x 3, integrated 10/100/1000BaseT LAN (router) and wireless 802.11 a/b/g (Internet protocols).

GammaTech prides itself on providing customized solutions for its customers. Because different applications are needed in different markets, a one-size-fits-all product may not offer features appropriate to a specific industry. GammaTech can work directly with the public service agency or suggest one of its federal resellers for service and support. Their goal is to ensure a smooth and seamless transaction, while providing quality products built to withstand rugged environments.


For nearly 20 years, GETAC has provided custom solutions for a number of applications, including military and public safety. In the field of law enforcement, the company recommends the V100 convertible laptop and the B300 laptop.

The V100 consists of a mountable tablet and a separate rugged keyboard. This two-piece design offers the same flexibility as the older three-piece laptops that have a separate display, CPU, and keyboard. The V100 is a fully operational computer for both in-vehicle and mobile applications. Rapidly becoming a best seller in the public sector, the fully customizable B300 has a small-footprint display ideal for mounting in vehicles with limited space. This rugged laptop is equipped with a fingerprint scanner, connectivity options that include Bluetooth and GPS, and 12 hours of battery life.

Protecting a population of 207,000 over a 30.7-square-mile area, California’s Glendale Police recently decided to upgrade from their fixed-mount in-vehicle computer system to GETAC’s rugged laptops. With a docking station for easy removal, GETAC’s M-Series laptops allow officers to write reports from inside or outside their vehicles. These rugged computers are used for e-mail, criminal records checks, CAD, and accessing fingerprint databases. Currently two patrol cars are equipped with plate recognition cameras, with 32 more being outfitted with in-car video cameras.

With their sunlight readable technology, GETAC laptops can be viewed in direct sunlight with over 600% greater contrast ratio than other rugged computers. They also offer features that cannot be found among their competition, such as optional night vision and salt fog protection. All GETAC products are designed and manufactured in house. GETAC offers custom solutions to fit every type of industry. Its ProCustom team consists of more than 50 experienced engineers in software, hardware, thermal, and mechanics can build a rugged mobile platform tailor made to specification.

Handheld US

As a distributor of rugged tablet PCs and PDAs, Handheld US and its partners offer complete mobility solutions to a number of industries. Amy Urban, director of marketing, recommends two products well-suited to police agencies: the M3 Mobile and the Algiz 13.

The M3 Mobile is a slim, lightweight PDA that can withstand drops of 5 feet to concrete. This 9.5-ounce device offers both voice and data communication and has a built-in digital camera. Equipped with a 520 MHz processor, the M3 also has integrated Bluetooth and 802.11b/g wireless, allowing for easy synchronization with other devices. See

For harsh outdoor environments, the Algiz 13 rugged laptop is built with a tough magnesium casing for maximum protection. Like the Recon, it meets military standards for drops, dust, and water, as well as extreme temperature ranges. Weighing 8.38 pounds, the Algiz 13 has a shock-mounted 120 GB 2.5-inch hard drive. It runs both Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and Windows Vista Business, and offers a number of security features for network protection. See

With Handheld’s MaxCare comprehensive service plan, customers are offered three levels of warranty service: Silver, Gold, and Platinum.


Designed specifically for the military and public safety sectors, the Motorola’s ML910 is built to withstand the harshest environments. This rugged notebook features the first 13.3-inch widescreen display, allowing users to view multiple applications at a higher resolution. Optional built-in modules allow connections to both private and public data networks, eliminating the need for external cards.

The ML910 meets the U.S. Military Spec 810F standards for tolerance to dust, water, and sand, and offers advanced security options. Additional features include an optional built-in GPS, dedicated video processor and video memory for quick screen updates, and Intel Core Duo processors.

When Chester County, PA experienced a 7% growth rate from 2000 to 2004, administrators decided to streamline the county’s police, fire, and EMS departments with an upgraded mobile data solution. With 45 law enforcement departments and 58 emergency response agencies, it was crucial that all responders could view the same information at the same time.

Using a $6 million grant, the county deployed Motorola ML rugged notebooks in every ambulance and police car, along with several notebooks in each fire department. The new rugged notebooks provide complete interoperability and serve as the main source of data transfer between the 9-1-1 call center and field users. Motorola’s ML910 rugged notebook was awarded the Best of FOSE (Federal Office Systems Exposition) award in its category for 2007.

Panasonic Computer Solutions

For state and local government agencies looking to improve services to their community, Panasonic Computer Solutions Co. offers its Toughbook line of rugged mobile computers. Panasonic Toughbooks remain operational longer than conventional laptops and require fewer repairs, making them a greater return on investment. By providing maximum efficiency in the most challenging conditions, Toughbooks technology allows law enforcement to better protect the public.

A wireless, fully rugged laptop that converts to a Tablet PC, the Toughbook 19 is ideal for mobile workers. Designed to survive 3-foot drops and withstand extreme temperatures, this laptop PC is MIL-STD-810F and IP54 compliant. Features include 1) an Intel Centrino processor technology with Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2) optional integrated Gobi 3G technology (for Sprint and Verizon networks), 3) 80GB shock-mounted removable hard disk drive and 4) sealed all-weather design in a full magnesium alloy case.

Panasonic’s Toughbook U1 provides even more mobility. This compact, yet rugged, handheld PC features a 5.6-inch LED touchscreen and a backlit Qwerty keyboard with zoom and scroll buttons. It can withstand a 4-foot drop and, like the Toughbook 19, meets all rugged condition standards. Integrated options include barcode and fingerprint readers, GPS, camera, and 3G mobile broadband. Equipped with a twin hot-swappable lithium-ion battery pack, The U1 can operate for nine hours with a battery charging time of seven hours off, 10 hours on.

When the Lee County, FL Sheriff’s Office revamped its mobile computing system, it chose the Panasonic Toughbook solution. Its durability in extreme conditions makes it ideal for the county’s Marine Unit, where sun, wind, heat, and rain are constant factors. Also deployed in squad cars, the Toughbook allows officers to spend more time in the vehicle as opposed to constant trips to headquarters to complete paperwork. Panasonic Toughbooks are now standard issue equipment in the Lee County Sheriff’s Department.

Several years ago, the St. Petersburg, FL Police were faced with a decrease in funding, forcing them to switch from their Panasonic Toughbooks to commercial-grade laptops as a way to cut spending. Unable to withstand the humidity, rain, and hot sun, the laptops required 127 service calls in the first two years after the changeover. Unable to remember even one service call for the Toughbook, the department quickly switched back to the Panasonic rugged computer. The Toughbook offers the reliability and durability required to survive Florida’s heat and humidity, and the threat of hurricanes.

Trimble-Tripod Data Systems

With more than 3,800 employees in more than 18 countries, Trimble has been a leading provider of advanced positioning solutions since 1978. Serving a large number of markets, the company offers several rugged handheld PCs for law enforcement.

The Trimble Recon is a rugged handheld device that can stand up to the most extreme conditions. This lightweight (only 17 ounces), waterproof, and reliable handheld offers maximum performance and conforms to military specifications for extreme conditions. With optional embedded Bluetooth and 802.11g wireless, the Recon features an Intel XScale processor, 64 MB of RAM, and data protection due to resets or power failure.

Various modules are available that offer such features as the Extended CF-Cap for large CompactFlash cards and the Optical CF-Cap for CF card digital camera. The Nomad 800XC model features a 2.0 megapixel digital camera, while the 800XE offers both a camera and a laser bar-code scanner.

The recently released Nomad 800x series offers three new models equipped with a high-speed wireless data modem and AT&T’s 1 EDGE Network. Features of the Nomad 800X include real-time data and SMS (short message service) transmission via a cellular network at speeds of up to 1 MB per second, easy access to Internet and e-mail, GPS capability to transmit field position, an IP67 rating and adherence to stringent MIL-STD-810F military standards and Windows Mobile operating system compatible to most software applications.

Since 2006, the Portland, OR Police Bureau has been using the Trimble Recon handheld computer for electronic ticketing and mobile e-citations. Before that, police officers wrote conventional paper tickets at the rate of 130,000 a year that were gathered and sent to the courts and then manually entered into the court’s computer system. Equipped with Bluetooth and GRRS wireless cards, the Recon is designed to save time, increase accuracy, and reduce paperwork. It also allows aggregate tracking of citations to determine future deployment of resources.

When an officer pulls a driver over, he can enter the license information into the handheld and transmit it to the motor vehicle database to check driving status (i.e. suspended or revoked license). In addition, queries can be submitted to criminal justice databases, such as the NCIC, to check for warrants or stolen property. It takes from six to 15 seconds for the results of the query, at which time the software auto-fills the information into the form fields. Once a citation is issued, a hard copy is printed using a Bluetooth-enabled mobile printer. The data is then transmitted from the handheld to servers for the police bureau and the courts.

For the Portland Police Bureau, these rugged handhelds have proven to be reliable and durable in the field. They can withstand drops, vibrations, and extreme temperatures and are sealed against dust and water. In addition to e-citations, the bureau runs its Computer Automated Dispatch (CAD) system on the Recon, making it an invaluable tool for effective policing.

Xplore Technologies

Since its inception, Xplore Technologies has consistently invested in research and market development to maintain its edge in the field of rugged mobile computing systems. For 10 years, it has been providing innovative products to a diverse group of industries. In the field of law enforcement, Xplore recommends the recently launched iX104C4 rugged Tablet PC.

This fourth generation tablet has been field tested and exceeds the most stringent military testing standards of MIL-STD 810F. In fact, Xplore’s drop spec states that its tablet can withstand a 4-foot drop onto concrete 26 times and remain operational. It is also protected from dust ingress, can handle pressured water streams at any direction, and functions in extreme heat and cold.

The iX104C4 offers several display options, 1) AllVue Xtreme that allows optimal screen viewing in outdoor conditions, 2) DualMode, which offers a combination of finger touch and stylus use and 3) DualMode AllVue that combines all the features of the above-listed options.

With applications for command and control, incident reporting, database query, and ticketing, Xplore’s rugged mobile computers offer an ideal solution for law enforcement agencies. Police personnel can perform a variety of functions that include 1) records search and crime data analysis, 2) online incident and crime scene reports, 3) central dispatch computer interfacing, 4) state and federal database access and 5) ability to issue and print citations.

The Rochester, NY Police introduced Xplore’s GeneSys tablet computers to their patrol force in 2002 and recently added 80 new iX104 rugged tablet PCs. Initially, the officers had several concerns about the new technology. They viewed the installation of the hardware in their vehicles as potentially cumbersome and were leery about going to mobile applications. However, the compactness of the equipment and the operational ease of the tablet PC allowed them to quickly adapt to the new system.

Using the Windows XP TPC operating system, officers have instant access to text messaging, policies and procedures, and geographical map assignments. More rugged than laptops, the tablets are designed to withstand extreme climates and conditions and have survived several vehicle crashes. According to Lieutenant Michael J. Kozak, the overall design of the Xplore tablet lends itself to successful further enhancements in the future.

Xplore Technologies has partnered with a number of system integrators and distributors to provide solutions to meet the requirements that are unique to law enforcement.


Since technology evolves at such a rapid rate, it is important to purchase products that can be easily modified and integrated into existing systems. The costs of rugged computers in particular warrant adaptability, and police agencies should consider the return of investment (ROI) before making a decision.

The St. Petersburg Police Department learned that going with a lesser product to adhere to budgetary restraints can end up costing more in the long run. When the time comes to upgrade technology, police administrators should research all their options by accessing company Web sites that provide in-depth product review and contact information.

Susan Geoghegan graduated summa cum laude from Florida Gulf Coast University with a B.S. in criminal justice. She has previously been published in LAW and ORDER magazine and can be reached at

Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2009

Rating : Not Yet Rated

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