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Best rugged Android tablets money can buy

Update: check out our 2016 edition of best rugged tablet list

From luxury to commodity to absolute necessity, being able to connect to the web while on the go and carrying your work with you far and wide have taken new meanings in recent years, as conventional PCs lost steam and ultraportable alternatives rapidly gained traction.

Best Rugged Android Tablet

Tablet construction site

And whereas most smartphone and tablet owners nowadays still fall in the light to moderate user categories in regards to their productivity and range of tasks completed, there are those who take gadgets very seriously, depending on them not to entertain and amuse, but put bread on the table.

These power users are not the same so-called power users that Apple or Samsung usually address with fancy new iPhone, iPad or Galaxy launches. They are real-life, modern John McClanes, who rock Casio Commandos, Kyocera Torques or Cat B15s as “daily drivers”, not because they make them feel manlier, but because a bendable 6 Plus or GNote 4 couldn’t get a through a workday without cracking under pressure.

They’re not heroes, they just like things done a certain way. They work in tough outdoor conditions but never complain. Even in their spare time, they love hanging out in the wild, with nature’s strengths and shortcomings.

Panasonic Toughpad

They’re not afraid of a splash of water, dust, dirt, extreme temperatures, altitudes or things like radiation or vibration. Some can even take a bullet without blinking. Each and every one of them however need survival tools, and a good starting point are the rugged Android smartphones we recommended a while back.

Next step? A solid yet compact and portable, secure, smooth and powerful ruggedized Android tablet. Yes, we know, Windows has the upper hand for the most part in this grossly overlooked niche. But if you look hard enough, here are some of the best Google-powered options you’ll be able to find:

Fujitsu Stylistic M532 – available at $358 on Amazon

Just so we don’t scare you right off the bat, we’ve decided to start the countdown of the best rugged Android tabs with possibly the world’s cheapest. Obviously, the M532 is thus not the most robust ultraportable money can buy.

On the bright side, it’s fairly thin and light, at 8.6 mm and 560 grams respectively. And given the wasp waist and low price, the 10 incher is no featherweight, withstanding extreme conditions such as high altitude, shocks, vibrations and minimal or maximum temperatures, courtesy of MIL-STD-810G certification.

Fujitsu Stylistic M532

The Stylistic can also remain whole after being dropped a few times, though it’s best to protect it from violent contacts with hard surfaces. Above all, the M532 is a business-oriented slab, offering a host of security add-ons and data protection methods, and ergo being a better fit for an enterprise environment rather than a construction site or war zone.

Last but not least, the thing runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, packs quad-core power, 1 GB RAM and 32 GB internal storage.

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-A1

Just so you know, the Android “Terminators” are arranged in no particular order, as they’re simply too different to rank. Clearly, pitting the Toughpad FZ-A1 against the Stylistic M532 would have been comparing apple to oranges.

Toughpad FZ-A1

That said, deciding between the two is pretty easy. Fujitsu’s option is better for enterprise, this thing “dares to go where no tablet has gone before”. Meaning you definitely want to put on a protection helmet while on duty as, say, a contractor, but this baby can handle any and all environments by itself.

Yes, it’s that tough. It even comes with an extended 3-year warranty to show you how durable it is. And Panasonic may not list bullet resistance as one of the slate’s features, but honestly, this is your safest best for a war comrade.

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-A1 back

It’s massive, at 2.1 pounds, it can handle repeated drops from dizziness-inducing heights, and it’s of course MIL-STD-810G certified. The carcass is encased in magnesium alloy, the corner guards are made of elastomer, and you get all kinds of hardware encryption methods, the highest degree of password security, root and anti-virus protection.

Panasonic Toughpad JT-B1 – available at $1,486 on Amazon

Does $1,500 feel a little too rich for your blood? We get where you’re coming from, and don’t blame you, but believe it or not, the JT-B1 is even stronger than the other Panasonic Toughpad. Aside from complying with all military standards for everything from extreme temperatures to rain and freeze, this compact little 7 incher sports a sealed “all-weather design”.

Toughpad JT-B1

And the raised bezel increases the LCD impact protection. Translation: you can drop the JT-B1 on its face over and over again, and it won’t crack. The craziest thing is the device’s weight, 1.2 pounds, although the 8-hour battery life is a close second.

Getac Z710 – $1,495

This is the last uber-expensive tab we’re going to list, we promise. And perhaps we’d never have recommended it in the first place, especially as it doesn’t come from a big-name manufacturer, but the Z710 breathes strength through its every pore. Maybe more than the Toughpad rivals.

What we like the most at Getac’s design approach is they knew from the get-go their target audience couldn’t care less about style and elegance. There are no aesthetical bells and whistles here, just a 7-inch tablet small enough to hold in one hand and “built to survive”.

Getac Z710

Six-foot drops, extreme temps, solar radiation, you name it. Oh, and the screen is perfectly readable in the most difficult lighting conditions, plus glove-friendly. A barcode scanner is inbuilt for obvious reasons, and 3G connectivity is not an option, it’s standard.

Guaranteed to last you at least three years of constant abuses, the Z710 runs Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and packs 1 GB RAM, as well as 16 GB internal storage.

Xplore RangerX – $1,391

1,400 bucks is still a lot of money, but not only is the RangerX a little cheaper than our previous two recommendations, it’s also larger, at 10 inches, and thus more productive. Needless to stress this can also take a loooot of abuse, specifically repeated drops on every edge, corner, plus directly on its face, including on concrete from heights of up to 4 feet.

rangerx

Then you have all the extreme conditions that don’t affect the usability of the big guy in the least, which include -4° F to 140° F temperatures, blowing rain, 95% humidity, functional shock, 15,000 feet altitudes, fluid contamination and solar radiation.

As for security options and neat add-ons and features, Xplore Tech equipped this beast with Gigabit Ethernet, CAC and Smart Card Readers, a Kensington lock slot and optional Verizon 4G LTE among others. Just beware of the vague, fishy Amazon listing and maybe go over to Xplore directly for a quote depending on your exact needs.

Motorola ET1 – $1,246

Bet you didn’t know this thing still existed, huh? Well, it has amazingly survived Motorola’s rise and fall, its retreat from the tablet market and successive buyouts from Google and Lenovo. Of course, it’s no longer widely available, but Amazon sells it directly, and the price isn’t so bad… all things considered.

Keep in mind that Moto put Jelly Bean on the 7 incher a while back, so the software at least should be silky smooth. The hardware, not so much, as that dual-core TI OMAP 4 processor is horribly outdated. Not quite as indestructible as some of the above contenders, the ET1 remains a top choice for enterprise users, with its manageability, security and decent durability.

Motorola ET1

The spec sheet includes a bar code scanner, phenomenal 8 MP rear camera, 1 GB RAM and protection for 4-feet drops, thermal shock, humidity, etc., etc.

Before wrapping up, we’d like to remind you the Android universe is an extremely volatile one, so keep your eyes out for alternatives yet to come. Like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab Active. Not recommended for the most extreme wild conditions, the $700 KitKat-loaded 8 incher will nevertheless fight water and dust, plus remain operational after dropped from 4-feet high… in theory. It’s your call now, so choose wisely and stay safe.