A rugged Windows tablet with a 10.1-inch wide format screen, capacitive multi-touch, and plenty of I/O (by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
On October 30, 2012, DAP Technologies introduced the rugged MT1010 tablet computer with a 10.1-inch wide-format capacitive multi-touch display. This newest addition to DAP's growing lineup of tablet computers represents a n option for enterprise customers who need a modern technology tablet solution that can survive heavy use in challenging environments and seamlessly fits into existing networks and Microsoft infrastructures.
What makes the MT1010 special? It proves that hardened, fully rugged tablets do not have to be thick, heavy and bulky. With a footprint barely larger than that of a Microsoft Surface tablet, the very considerably tougher DAP device is still only 0.8 inches thick and weighs under three pounds. That's quite an accomplishment. And it also shows that DAP has their corporate finger on the pulse of the buying public. Thin is in. Just look at all those ever more slender smartphones, tablets, iMacs and giant flatscreen TVs. Below you can see how remarkably thin this rugged tablet is (shown without the ports' protective covers):
But let's describe what the DAP MT1010 is and what it can do. First, it's a companion product to DAP's recently introduced M9700 elegant semi-rugged tablet (see our analysis of the M9700). Second, it runs Windows 7 for the large contingent of corporate and enterprise users who need to stay within the Microsoft software platform. But it's not just another legacy rugged tablet. Its wide-format, 16:9 aspect ratio display gives it a modern look and feel, and it has 1280 x 800 pixel resolution to go with it. That may not sound like a lot in this day and age of retina displays and super-high resolution everywhere, but it's more than the original iPad and the iPad 2, and suitable for advanced applications.
Intel Atom N2600 inside
As far as technology goes, the MT1010 is again a progressive, yet wholly rational link between traditional rugged tablets and state-of-the-art consumer media tablets. It's an x86-based tablet that can run full Windows, but it doesn't need a fan. While our preview model had a resistive touch screen, the final version has capacitive multi-touch. While Intel is now touting the Atom Z2760 as the go-to chip for business tablets, the dual-core N2600 is the best overall Atom chip for mobile devices that we've tested yet. The processor works in conjunction with the Intel NM10 chipset, a known quantity already used with prior generation Atom chips. The base version of the tablet comes with a 64GB solid state disk, and a 128GB option is available as well.
The table below shows CrystalMark benchmark tests of the N2600-powered MT1010 and a variety of devices in our benchmark database with other Atom processors. This provides a rough overall idea of the N2600's performance. Note that HDD performance depends very much on whether a device has a hard disk or a usually much faster solid state disk. Also note that graphics benchmarks are notoriously difficult to interpret. Early Atom-based devices were essentially unable to play back HD video whereas our preview MT1010 played back 1080p video flawlessly. The overall benchmark figure, however, is a good indicator of overall performance, both subjective and objective.
Thermal Design Power (TDP)
Note: while the MT1010 is fanless and uses the device itself as a heatsink to dissipate thermal load, the MT1010 does get warm. Not hot, but warm. Further note that according to DAP, the MT1010 is compatible with Windows 8, but there are also reports that the "Cedar Trail" platform, which includes the Atom N2600, does not currently have drivers that can display the Windows 8 "Metro" interface.
The MT1010's standard battery is an externally accessible rectangular affair that's only a quarter of an inch thick. Which means limited capacity, in this case just 31 watt-hours.
That would be more than adequate for an ARM-based consumer tablet, but the MT1010 is a much more complex machine with significantly more functionality. So while the standard battery allows for the tablet's remarkably slender profile, the battery is only good for up to four hours. DAP knows that may be marginal, and so also offers an extended battery that packs triple the punch, but adds thickness and weight. The battery has four LEDs that, upon push, show the charge level. Two friction gliders hold the battery in place, and there's even a lock that blocks the sliders. This battery will never be removed by accident (and even if it should, the MT1010 has a 3-watt-hour bridge battery).
In our Batterymon testing, the MT1010 drew as little as 8.5 watts in Windows Power Saver mode and with the display brightness at minimum (which is actually still quite bright). Given its 30.5 watt-hour standard battery, this translates into about 3.6 hours, in line with DAP's "up to 4 hours" spec. In Windows High Performance mode we saw a minimum of about 11.5 watts, or a theoretical 2.7 hours. From that, we draw two conclusions.
First, those interested in this tablet need to decide whether to go with the standard battery that provides limited battery life but means a slender lightweight tablet, or to opt for the much more powerful extended battery that will add thickness and weight, but results in almost three times the battery life.
Second, the 8.5 watt minimum power draw we observed in our preview unit is fairly high. We've seen other Atom-based devices and even Intel Core-based units with lower draws, and it's quite possible that DAP hadn't completely optimized power conservation in our preview unit yet.
And now the usual qualifier: Real world battery life depends on usage patterns and power conservation settings.
A well connected device
Connectivity is always an issue with rugged mobile computers. On the one hand there should be as much onboard connectivity as possible. On the other hand, ports add size and weight, and also make it more difficult to seal the machine against the elements. In the MT1010, DAP has done a remarkable job in covering all the connectivity bases while still ending up with a slender tablet with IP65 sealing. There is a full size USB 2.0 port, a mini-USB port, a mini-HDMI port, an RJ45 LAN jack, and a standard DB9 serial port for connecting with legacy peripherals. More is available via an expansion connector (two USB and one RS232), and DAP also offers "backpack" expansion modules including a Smart Card reader, an RFID reader, wireless USB, and more.
In the sidebar to the right is a closer look at the left and right side of the MT1010, and in this picture you can see the protective rubber covers.
Also of note: the I/O block is on a separate circuit board that's not part of the motherboard. This means that DAP will probably be able to offer different I/O configurations.
All of the MT1010's ports have sturdy protective plastic cover with rubber lip seals that need to be firmly pushed into place. There aren't any latches or snaps or locks, so users must be careful in securing all those ports before exposing the tablet to the elements. All doors are screwed onto the bottom part of the housing and can easily be replaced.
Imaging and scanning
Integrated imaging capabilities, which can be very helpful in documenting work on the job, are often a weakness in rugged handhelds and tablets, but the MT1010 seems well-equipped. It has a 2-megapixel front-facing camera for video conferencing, and a 5-megapixel read-facing camera with autofocus and an LED flash.
The MT1010 can accommodate an optional integrated 1D/2D scanner. The one installed in our preview device seemed to be an Intermec EA11 standard-range 2D CMOS imager that has a reputation for good decode speed and exceptional motion tolerance. The scanner is operated via a small dedicated scanner hardware button on the upper left of the tablet.
Slim, but very tough
DAP describes the MT1010 tablet as ultra-rugged, and the tablet indeed feels quite invulnerable. Environmental specs include a -4 to 122 degree Fahrenheit (-20 to 50 degree Celsius) operating temperature range, the ability to survive a 6-foot drop, IP65 sealing where the "6" mans the tablet is dustproof and the "5" that it can withstand low pressure water jets from all directions (albeit with limited ingress permitted), MIL-STD-810G vibration testing, ESD protection, and more. Overall though, given that this is a rugged device, we'd like to see more details and specifics in the ruggedness specs.
There is at times a discrepancy between the specs of a rugged computer and how rugged it actually feels. That's not an issue with the MT1010. Despite its slender profile, it looks and feels an exceedingly sturdy device. The intricate case is made of magnesium alloy, both the top and the bottom (secured together by 18 Philips head screws), and inside is a magnesium alloy chassis that provides a very solid foundation for all electronics and also superior protection for the LCD assembly. You generally find this kind of elaborate magnesium case and chassis only in larger and much thicker devices. And just a brief peek inside the MT1010 show that this is an exceedingly well designed, engineered and manufactured package.
Despite the complexity of this design and an interior crammed full of electronics (compared, for example, to the single tiny circuit board inside an iPad), the MT1010 looks like a service-friendly device. The two halves of housing come apart very easily, components are all accessible, and service or repair should not be difficult for an experienced technician.
There's an access door at the bottom of the unit to the tablet's mSATA slot (populated by the solid state disk) and what looks like a mini PCI-e slot for WWAN expansion. Storage is provided by a 64 or 128GB extended temperature Apacer SATA series SSD using the 3Gb/s SATA II interface, an mSATA connector, and the Mini PCI-e form factor. The module is secured with two screws to guard against vibration. In the image below you can see the two slots as well as the battery locking mechanism (lower left), the camera lens and LED illuminator (top center), and the backpack surface mount connector (upper right).
The real-world usefulness of a tablet depends on many factors, and among the most important is the viewability of the display when used outdoors and in sunlight. Consumer media tablets are notorious for the reflections on their glossy, almost mirror-like displays. We compared the DAP MT1010 with a third generation Apple iPad, and below you can see the results. Head-on in a shady spot on a bright day, both screens are plenty bright enough, but the high-gloss iPad screen has distracting reflections. The MT1010 display shows none.
Viewed from an angle, the iPad screen becomes even more reflective. There are no reflections on the DAP tablet's screen, although there is a bit of the diffusion that often comes with anti-glare treatments (our pre-production model did not have the final version's Gorilla Glass 2, which may well take care of the glare). Overall, the MT1010 offers a far better viewing experience outdoors.
Note that computer displays have not yet reached perfection. There is always a degree of reflection, and it's up to the manufacturer to determine the balance between eye-popping indoors (but high gloss) and reflectionfree outdoors (but sort of dull and matte). DAP struck a good compromise here.
With the MT1010, DAP Technologies has introduced the type of tablet a lot of enterprise customers have been waiting for. It's tough and rugged, but much lighter and thinner than traditional rugged tablets. It is fully compatible with existing Windows 7 (and prior) software and infrastructures, but offers a modern capacitive multi-touch interface, a contemporary wide-format display, and the high resolution required for mapping and other complex applications.
Above and below are closeups of the tablet's left and right side. On the left side are up/down keys, on the right side left/right keys.
Above: for a clever detail, note how the camera lens (above) is actually angled towards the center of the tablet so that the user does not have to make an effort to look into the lens instead of being able to concentrate on the image on the screen. Very smart.
Below: Note the microphone and ambient light sensor (top) and the integrated fingerprint reader (bottom).