Quick Guide to Buying a Rugged Device

Originally published by The Capterra Field Service Management Blog

Scope creep. In business, it’s the reason that a job starting out as a filter replacement can turn into a total overhaul of an HVAC system. It’s also the reason you walk out of the store with a laptop that can be used as a flak vest when all you went in looking for was one that could get a little wet.

Buying a rugged device is a minefield of terminology and temptation. Laptops that can be dropped from eighteen stories, phones that can survive in the Mariana Trench, and tablets for subarctic temperatures are all awesome. Put it all in one package and you’re even better off, right?

Before you go spending three months of your field service business’s income on an overly complex and needlessly protected piece of ruggedized equipment, take some time to understand which features are must-haves and which you can pass over.

Made military tough

The military is notoriously tough on its equipment. To make sure that it’s taking only the best into the field, it developed a series of requirements for what meets military standards. MIL-STD-810 is the tagline used by the US Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC).

The guidelines are available for anyone to use, but there’s no body in place to test them. That means companies can say that something meets MIL-STD-810 standards without ever having put the product in front of the military for review. It’s not a perfect system, but for consumers it’s kind of the only game in town.

MIL-STD-810 covers everything from operation in low-pressure environments to how the product reacts to being transported by train. Not everything is going to be applicable to your plumbing company’s laptop purchase.

If you just peruse a listing of any rugged tablets, you’ll see that some standards are more common than others. The three biggest — in my opinion — are impact resistance, water resistance, and dust protection.

Impact testing

Impact — called shock by the military –tests eight different kinds of impacts. Many of tests don’t apply to rugged handhelds or laptops, so you’ll usually only see a few kinds of testing. The most common will be the test for “transit drop.”

This is where you find out that your phone can fall out of a plane and survive impact. To pass the MIL-STD-810 test, the product will need to be dropped 26 times — once on each face, edge and corner — from a height of four feet.

Manufactures will often go beyond these standards and call out the results. I’m looking at the page for Dell’s 12-inch rugged laptop, for instance, and it tells me that the device survived falls from four, five, and six feet.

Water resistance

Water resistance comes in five different flavors in the military. You’ve got contamination by fluids, rain, humidity, salt fog, and immersion.

In summary, contamination is how a product deals with things like acid, kerosene, or oil. Salt fog covers the device’s ability to function even when it gets salty with that sweet sea air. This is important if you work on the coast — less so if you’re based in Idaho. The humidity and rain tests usually — not always, but usually — just end up being a weaker version of the immersion test. It’s often enough.

Immersion is where you get claims about waterproof depths. Like all of these, don’t be swayed by a huge number just because it’s huge. Figure out if you really need to have items that can be submerged for a long period of time. In all likelihood, you’ll be fine with a tablet or laptop that can sustain some rain here and there.

Sand and dust protection

The last big military test for consumer devices covers operation under dusty or sandy conditions. This evaluation is meant to determine if blowing material over a device will wear down important parts, clog functional parts, or seep into the product’s innards.

This is an especially important test for devices that are going to be used outdoors. You don’t want your new tablet falling in the sand and suddenly breaking. Again, there’s a range of usefulness here. If your business keeps you in office buildings all day, maybe sand isn’t a big deal. Just because you can get it doesn’t mean you need it.

Non-military grading

In addition to the guidance from ATEC, you’ll often see a note about Ingress Protection (IP) from the International Electrotechnical Commission. These are more straightforward designations, telling you how big a thing can get into the device. For objects, the range runs from non-protected through dust-tight. For liquid, non-protected through protect from continuous immersion.

IP codes are common on international devices where the MIL-STD-810 standard is less well-known.


It’s tempting to get the most impressive piece of kit every time you make a purchase, but it’s not always required. First, determine your most common working environment to figure out what you need protection from. I’ll tell you right now — a strong glass screen is going to help. There are a whole bunch of options out there, with Corning’s Gorilla Glass being one of the most common.

Once you know what you need, figure out whether you need to protect the device using built in durability, or if you can rely on something like an OtterBox, which can be a great, low-cost alternative to a fancy, military-grade phone.

The final step is to do your research. Before you make any sort of invest, find a solution that will work on the phone plan you have, that will support your clients and employees, and that can manage all the mobile apps you’re already using in the field. If your custom app is on the iPhone, buying a bunch of bullet-proof Androids isn’t making things easier for you.

With all that in mind, you should be set to wander out into the world and make your phones indestructible — or at least slightly less prone to destruction. For more tips and insights into your service business, check out the Capterra field service blog.