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Compact rugged 1.5 lbs. Windows tablet with capacitive multi-touch
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

On May 22, 2012, DRS Technologies, Inc. announced that its Tactical Systems division has expanded its product portfolio with two new, thin, lightweight tablets. The new ARMOR X7ad and ARMOR X7et tablets look almost identical and both have 7-inch multi-touch displays, but they are actually quite different: the X7ad runs the Android OS that dominates the smartphone market and is making inroads in tablets, whereas the X7et is based on the more enterprise-friendly Microsoft Windows platform. On this page, we're discussing the X7et Windows version.

First, how do the new tablets relate to the existing DRS ARMOR X7? Primarily in that both are lighter and thinner than the ultra-rugged X7, and that they use the projected capacitive multi-touch technology now deployed in hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets. In essence, the new tablets split the difference between a traditional vertical market industrial tablet computer and a new-style media tablet. That's actually a big step as makers of rugged outdoor-usable computers initially rejected the hugely popular capacitive touch technology that allows effortless tapping, panning, pinching and zooming because the technology was not designed for use with gloves or in the rain.

And why did DRS introduce two new tablets, one for Windows and one for Android? Because it makes good business sense to cover the bases. As of mid-2012, no one knows whether the primary competition to the Apple iPad will come from Android-based tablets or from tablets running either the current or next version of Microsoft Windows. Fo now, offering both makes sense.

So let's take a look at the Windows version, which for now supports either the embedded or the Professional or Ultimate version of Windows 7. The ARMOR X7et measures 8.6 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches and weighs a pound and a half. That's thinner and lighter than virtually all traditional tablet PCs. There is a micro SD card slot, a mini USB port, an HDMI port, and a 3.5mm audio jack. The tablet is based on the same frugal 1.5GHz Intel Atom Z670 processor that's also powering other recent Windows-based "new-style" tablets such as the Motion Computing CL900, the Fujitsu Stylistic Q550, and the DLI 9000. The device has a gigabyte of DDR2 RAM and a 40GB Intel mSATA SSD (mSATA stands for mini-SATA, which is a space-saving, lower voltage SATA connection standard). We did not see any specifics on the battery other than its 3,700mAH capacity and stated 6 hour battery life.

The X7et's display measures 7.0 inches diagonally and has the 1024 x 600 pixels resolution seen in tens of millions of netbooks. That makes for a wide 17 : 10 aspect ratio and, one a 7-inch display, for a very sharp picture. DRS also stresses the virtually perfect 178 degree horizontal and vertical viewing angle that's always a great plus in tablets. The transmissive display is protected by the light and tough Corning Gorilla Glass (see Gorilla Glass page), has a 400 nit LED backlight, and DRS considers it outdoor-viewable, which means it has anti-glare and anti-reflective optical treatment.

The X7et comes with 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth version 2.1, GPS, and there's an optional Gobi 3000 multi-carrier mobile broadband module. There is also an automatic light sensor and a G-sensor. The device also includes a 1.3 megapixel webcam and a 5 megapixel documentation camera.

In terms of ruggedness, magnesium/ABS plastic construction let the X7et survive 4-foot drops, the kind of shocks and vibration encountered on the road, and operating temperatures of -4 all the way to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The device is also sealed to IP65 specifications, which means it's totally protected against dust and also protected against low pressure jets of water (albeit with limited ingress permitted, which we never like to see). That's much tougher and much more rugged than the iPad or any consumer or business media tablet.

We don't know about pricing yet, and we haven't had hands-on with the DRS ARMOR X7et, but this small, no-nonsense Windows tablet should easily fit into the field operations of numerous enterprise systems and applications. Windows 7 itself is not optimal for touch but most of these tablets will likely run touch-optimized custom applications, and the very touch-friendly Windows 8 is just around the corner.

How do the Windows and the Android versions differ other than in the OS? Well, the Windows-based tablet is a little larger and thicker than the Android version. It's only 0.2 pounds heavier, but the bit extra in all dimensions adds up to 46% more volume. In some applications, the lower resolution (1024 x 768 vs. 1280 x 800) and lower battery life (6 vs 8 hours) compared to the Android version may come into play. The Windows version, however, offers 40GB of storage versus just 16GB in the Android tablet.

Below is DRS Technologies' intro video for the two new tablets:

Specifications DRS ARMOR X7et
Status Added 05/2012, updated 05/2013
Form-factor Compact rugged tablet
Processor Intel Atom Z670 with 512KB L2 cache
CPU Speed 1.5 GHz
Chipset Intel SM35 Express
Standard/Max RAM 1GB DDR2 800MHz onboard RAM
OS Microsoft Windows Standard 7 Embedded, Windows 7 Pro or Ultimate
Disk/drive 40GB Intel mSATA SSD
Card slots microSD card
Display type Transmissive LCD with LED backlight, 400 nit, 178° viewing angle horizontal and vertical, Gorilla glass
Display size/res 7.0-inch/1024 x 600 pixel
Digitizer/pens Projected capacitive multi-touch
Keyboard/scale Onscreen and optional external
Input Touch, 4 programmable buttons
Drop spec 4-foot drop (MIL-STD-810G, Method 516.6 Procedure IV)
Sealing IP65 IEC60529-2001
Operating temp. -4° to +140° Fahrenheit (-20° to +60° Celsius)
Humidity 10 to 95% RH, non-condensing
Altitude unknown
Vibration MIL-STD-810G Method 514.6 Procedure I, Cat. 24, Fig. 514.6E-1 & E-2 ASTM 4169-99 Truck Assurance Level II, Schedule E
EMC CD / FCC Class B
Safety UL60950-1 / EN60950-1
Housing Magnesium and ABS composite
Size (WxHxD) 8.6 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches (218 x 137 x 27 mm)
Weight 1.5 lbs. (700 grams)
Power 3,700mAh "6 hrs."
Camera 1.3 MP front-facing webcam, 5.0 MP rear-facing camera
Sensors Light sensor, G-sensor
Interface USB-mini, dock, power, HDMI, 3.5mm audio
Wireless 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR, GPS; optional integrated Gobi 3000 WWAN module
List price Inquire
Brochure DRS ARMOR X7et brochure