GammaTech Durabook CA10|
Semi-rugged Intel Atom-powered 10.1-inch tablet computer for light field duty
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
On January 4, 2013 GammaTech Computer Corporation, which is the North American/Latin American sales and marketing arm of Taiwanese Twinhead, introduced the Durabook CA10 semi-rugged ultra-mobile tablet PC. It's a 10.1-inch design geared towards utility workers, public safety employees, fleet managers and other mobile-oriented service industries.
With consumer tablets selling in the tens of millions, companies like GammaTech find themselves guessing how to best fill the rapidly growing demand for somewhat more rugged tablets with just the right combination of price, ease-of-use, performance, size, weight and features. Definitely not an easy task.
So what approach did GammaTech take with the new CA10? Overall, the CA10 is more an evolved version of a traditional vertical market Windows Tablet PC than a ruggedized implementation of a consumer media tablet. GammaTech stayed with Windows rather than trying Android, which meant using a processor that could power Windows at an acceptable pace without pricing itself out of the market with an expensive Intel Core processor. On the other hand, Gammatech went with a 10.1-inch screen and wide-format 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, both more modern than the the typical 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768 on 8.4-inch screens that were the norm for rugged tablets for many years. And while GammaTech didn't go with the projected capacitive touchscreen technology and its effortless tapping, panning, zooming and pinching, the resistive touch screen of the CA10 does support two-point multi-touch. Which is enough for the majority of multi-finger operations.
In terms of looks and design, the CA10 is modified old-school, i.e. it looks like a serious PC tool for the job rather than a sleek, slender slate off glass and metal. Nothing wrong with that. The CA10 measures 10.6 x 7.8 inches, which is about an inch longer than an iPad but not much wider. Bumpers, dual batteries and an entirely different design philosophy mean it's thicker, too, than a consumer tablet, but just over an inch is still remarkably svelte by rugged computing standards. It does weigh just about three pounds, though, and that's twice the weight of an iPad, plus.
For technology, GammaTech relies on the dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Atom N2600, probably the best general purpose Atom chip so far. It means reasonable performance, both for computing and graphics, at reasonably low power consumption. There's up to 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and up to 128GB of m-SATA solid state disk. SSDs can be stupidly fast and they're much less vulnerable to impact than rotating media, so good choice there. And there's also an SD card slot.
Tablets generally don't excel in conventional connectivity, but the CA10 does quite well. You get two full-size USB 2.0 ports, an RJ45 LAN jack, and even a legacy serial port. On the other hand, no HDMI or micro-USB. As the picture below the specs in the righthand column shows, GammaTech offers a bolt-on MSR in addition to optional 1D/2D scanning and an RFID reader. A 1.3mp webecam is standard, but the 5mp rear camera with LED illuminator is optional.
GammaTech calls the Durabook CA10 "semi-rugged," which is one of the less easily defined terms out there. As is, the new tablet can handle 4-foot drops, which is quite respectable. But sealing is only at the IP43 level, where the "4" means solid objects won't get in, but dust can. And the "3" means it's protected against water spray head-on. That's better than nothing, but we're not talking real outdoor protection here. Unfortunately, GammaTech, with the exception of a reference to MIL-STD-810G and ASTM vibration protection, doesn't supply other ruggedness data. Which is too bad as the CA 10 certainly looks like a serious machine for business out there in the field.
What about price? (Relatively) good news there. The Durabook CA10 starts at US$1,299, a veritable bargain in the realm of rugged computing machinery where customers are far more interested in the long-term total cost of ownership than the initial purchase price. Which is another reason why it'd be good to know the full extent of the CA10's semi-ruggedness as that could be the difference between a relatively inexpensive tablet and a real bargain.