An attractive, rugged Android-based 7-inch tablet designed for computing, connectivity, communication and data collection in the field (by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Getac US introduced the Z710 in September of 2012 as a rugged Android tablet created specifically to perform in extreme work environments. It has a 7-inch display, good connectivity and functionality, plenty of features, and it can handle spills and bumps and more. Sporting projected capacitive multi-touch and a sleek, elegant design, the Z710 is definitely both a timely product and a product of the times:
A full-function Android tablet, but a rugged one with scanner and RFID
The business case for the Getac Z710 is clear: over a hundred million Apple iPads have been sold, and tens of millions of Android-based tablets as well. Add to that Microsoft's renewed push in the tablet market, and it's obvious that the tablet form factor is successful and here to stay. And it's equally clear that a good many customers, especially in enterprise and industry, need something a bit (or a lot) more rugged than your standard consumer media tablet. It's not totally clear what OS platform will eventually win, but Android is clearly successful enough for established rugged computing manufacturers like Getac to enter that market. Hence the Z710.
But what should such as ruggedized, enterprise-oriented tablet look like, and what size should it be? The 7-inch and 10-inch form factors are, for now, the most successful and so Getac chose to start with a handy 7-inch device that's small and light enough to go almost anywhere. The picture to the right shows how the Z710 compares to an iPhone 4 smartphone.
For tech specs, Getac selected a popular 1GHz Texas Instruments OMAP ARM processor with integrated graphics, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution on a scratch and damage-resistant capacitive multi-touch display that can also be used with gloves, high quality dual cameras, an industrial-grade scanner, micro-SD and SIM card slots, integrated Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS, and also optional 3.5G mobile broadband, RFID and Smart Card reading.
Design and construction
It's not easy to come up with a distinct tablet design in an era where tablets are supposed to consist of a minimalist, slender rectangular display and nothing else. That works for consumer tablets, but not so much for more rugged designs that are expected to survive spills and bumps, and also have the ports and controls needed on the job. Yet, customers have made it abundantly clear that they want the sleek iPad look and feel, and not old-style Tablet PCs. What's a rugged manufacturer to do?
Well, Getac came up with a tablet that combines contemporary looks with the practicality and common sense design of a tool for the job. There's projected capacitive touch, the technology that makes effortless tapping, panning, pinching and zooming possible. There's the flat glass that extends past the size of the actual LCD so that fingers don't bump into a distracting frame. The bezel is a bit wider than on consumer tablets because this rugged tablet weighs a bit more and needs a firmer grip, so there needs space for thumbs without triggering screen action. The tablet must be able to survive falls, and so there's protective rubber overmolding. Ports and buttons must be waterproof. And all the necessary ports and integrated modules add a bit of thickness. And this is what it all looks like:
On the left side you can see the covers to the microSD card and SIM card slots, and a tether holder for the stylus. Note that the microSD card cover can be secured with a small Philips head screw. On top are the lens for the bar code reader, the power button, the volume controls, and a scanner trigger button. Along the bottom are the power jack, two (optional) RF antenna pass-throughs for GPS and WWAN, a docking connector, a micro-USB host connector and a standard USB client connector.
The Z710 has a distinctive look with its black and dark yellow coloring, it's easy to hold and operate, and it feels absolutely rock-solid. The rubbery finish, unlike the slippery cases of most consumer tablets, provides a good, secure grip.
A look inside
As usual, we decided to take a peek inside the device, and doing so with the Getac Z710 requires a Torx wrench to open the eight screws that secure the two halves of the tablet together. Now you can see that the housing material, a very tough plastic, is in fact bright orange and that accounts for the orange trim on the outside. The tablet looks to be black with orange trim, but it's actually orange with extensive rubberized black overmolding.
For sealing, Getac is using a tongue-and-grove system where the tongue consists of a rather intricate O-ring seal (shown in the picture to the right) that goes around the entire perimeter with many twists and turns. The O-ring is lightly glued on and then fits into the groove on the back cover. That makes for a reliable seal as long as the O-ring properly sits in its groove. But if it's twisted or pinched anywhere, water can potentially get in. That's a good reason to leave servicing of the Z710 to the pros.
While the plastic alone provides substantial rigidity, the Z710 also has an internal magnesium chassis/frame onto which are mounted the batteries, the system board, a number of subsystems, and on the other side, the LCD. The two images below show the inside of the bottom cover of the Z710 (left) and what the interior looks like once the cover has been removed (right).
The Z710's system board itself is very small, just about 4 x 2.5 inches. We didn't disassemble the unit further as that would have required peeling off the extensive internal shielding. As is, you can see some of the unit's subsystems, such as the GlobalSat EB-5318RF GPS module above the upper left corner of the top battery. It uses the SiRF Star IV chipset and is designed for speed, low power usage, and high sensitivity (see user manual). To the left of the upper battery sits the tablet's camera module. It is tiny, only about 3/4 by 1/3 of an inch, yet includes all the functionality needed to provide webcam service on one side and 5-megapixel still pictures and up to 1080p video on the other (shown to the right).
As is always the case in today's devices with all their radios there's plenty of RF shielding to keep interference at a minimum. Everything inside the tablet is neat and clean, with antenna, speaker and other wires having their own guides. Wires and connectors are securely held in place with tape.
The interior layout of the Z710 is dominated by the battery assembly which at first sight appears to be two rechargeable Lithium-Polymer blocks, each packing 14.8 watt-hours, but is actually a single 7,600mAH smart battery. The battery is fairly easy to get to and has a connector rather than being soldered in, but replacing the battery is probably still a service item. And especially so because of the way the unit is sealed with the intricate o-ring sealing system.
The picture above shows the bottom of the Z710. On the left you can see the dock for the supplied stylus. The yellow rectangle in the middle contains the optional RFID module.
Choice of processor
For the better part of a decade, Intel and then Marvell XScale PXA processors ruled the handheld device CPU arena, pretty much to the extent of a monopoly. PXA255, PXA270 and then PXA300/310/320 processors were found in virtually every PDA, industrial handheld and small tablet. Those days are gone now, and Getac, like most others, selected an alternate processor design, in this instance a 1GHz TI OMAP 4430. This chip ("OMAP" stands for "Open Multimedia Applications Platform") is also found in other contemporary products such as the Kindle Fire, B&N Nook, BlackBerry Playbook, Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and Toshiba Excite consumer tablets, industrial tablets from Winmate and Motorola, ruggedized smartphones from Handheld and Motorola, as well as numerous consumer smartphones.
The 4430 is part of TI's 4th generation OMAP platform, using dual ARM Cortex-A9 as well as two ARM-M3 cores. The chip also includes a PowerVR SGX540 integrated 3D graphics accelerator that runs at a clock speed of 304 MHz, and a multimedia hardware accelerator with a programmable DSP that makes 720p 3D and 1080p 2D HD and multi-standard video encoding/decoding possible (see TI's OMAP 4 page). Since the 4430 can run at speeds up to 1.2GHz and TI also offers the somewhat more powerful 1.5GHz OMAP 4460 Getac might have opted for one of the quicker alternatives, but as always there are the trade-offs between cost, speed, and power consumption, and the Z710 is quick enough as is. Note: On April 16, 2013 Getac announced the availability of Android 4.1 for the Z710. Since Android 4.1 offers dual-core support whereas the older 2.3.5 didn't, overall performance will be significantly improved.
Operating system and software
The Getac Z710 comes with Android 2.3.5, and this warrants some discussion. That's because as of early 2013, the question as to what operating system platform to use in tablets remains unclear. In smartphones, the race has pretty much been run, with Apple's iOS and Android dominating the market to an extent where it's difficult to see Microsoft's Windows Phone becoming much of a factor anytime soon. In tablets, however, Android has had a much harder time establishing itself as the clear alternative to Apple's iPad. That's primarily because Microsoft Windows runs on tablets, and the argument to stay with Windows on tablets for continuity and compatibility's sake remains strong. And that despite the fact that Windows has never been a tablet-friendly operating system. The advent of Windows 8 makes the decision even more difficult as that latest version supports both "legacy" Windows as well as the new touch-friendly Metro interface. And while as of early 2013, it doesn't look like Microsoft got much traction with its ARM-based, fully touch-oriented (but also wing-clipped) Windows RT, Microsoft is also pushing Windows 8 on its "Surface" tablets.
All of the above means that it's completely unclear what non-Apple OS will come out on top in tablets, or if perhaps both Windows and Android will co-exist on tablets, albeit perhaps in different markets and applications. The issue is so unclear that several manufacturers are offering both Android and Windows versions of their tablets. Getac itself still sells its older Windows-based E100 and E110 tablets. Rival Panasonic recently introduced a Windows-based Toughpad tablet to go along with its earlier-announced Android Toughpad.
Like everyone else, Getac probably thought long and hard about how to proceed, and the Z710 is their initial bet on the market going in the Android direction. Like everyone else, Getac is smartly hedging its bets, but that's only good business sense. And the Z710 is definitely a solid and eminently workable product.
So what does the Android market for tablets such as the Z710 look like? Like Windows, Android has its own challenges. Android suffers from version fragmentation, incompatibilities due to the very large variety of hardware the OS runs on, and lack of the centralized platform control iOS and Windows benefit from. But the sheer number of Android users and Android developers means easy access to programming tools and expertise, and a vast number of inexpensive downloadable apps in numerous categories and for numerous applications.
As for the particular version of Android used for the Z710, some may wonder why Getac chose 2.3.5 "Gingerbread" instead of the latest 4.0.x "Ice Cream Sandwich" or 4.2.x "Jelly Bean" version. There are some good reasons. Among them that fact that a good half of all Android-based devices ever made still run "Gingerbread," meaning very substantial programming support. And while the latest versions have some nice new features, there's really nothing fundamentally new that would render "Gingerbread" obsolete.
We used the Debug Monitor of the Android SDK to grab a number of screen captures that show some of the functionality and apps installed on the Z710. First the standard Home screen (below left), and the standard Launcher screen (right) that you can customize with whatever background you want and populate with whatever app icons or widgets you want.
Below left is one of the views of the Android File Manager. You can navigate, select, move, copy, paste, etc. Below right: As a voice and data device, the Getac Z710 can be used as both a tablet computer as well as a phone. The phone app itself provides all the standard phone functionality we've come to expect, with direct access to contacts, a call log, favorites, etc. You can, of course, also install Skype (we didn't try it).
Below left: With its GPS module, the Z710 is a capable GPS/GIS device. The device comes with a GPS app that shows an e-Compass, satellite position and satellite information. To the right you can see the Getac Barcode Config utility.
Most (but not all) apps on the Z710 can be used in either landscape or portrait orientation. To the left is the browser. You can use your fingers to pan around as well as effortlessly zoom in and out. The 1024 x 600 resolution that was never quite enough on early netbook computers works perfectly well on the Z710. In the middle a look at the Google Play store (the current Z710 is not configured for direct downloads), and to the right the e-Compass.
What all that means is that users of the Android-powered Getac Z710 have instant access to far more apps and utilities than were available for small tablets of the past. And virtually all apps are attractive, well designed and very functional.
Note that Getac's April 16, 2013 announcement of the availability of Android 4.1 for the Z710 means that the device will be able to access Google Play.
Display and usability
Mobile computers — be they handhelds, notebooks or tablets — live or die by the quality of their displays, especially if they are designed to be used outdoors. How does the Z710 display do?
The good news is that the Z710 screen is sharp, bright, and it has perfect viewing angles from all directions. There are no color shifts whatsoever as you change the angle from which you look at the screen. There is also no flickering or shimmering at all. You don't realize how important that is until you work with an older or less competent notebook or tablet with color shifts and narrow viewing angles.
But what about the 1024 x 600 resolution? WSVGA was widely panned as insufficient in netbooks because most Windows software assumes a minimum of XGA (1024 x 768 pixel). And more and more tablets and even smartphones now have 1280 x 800 or even higher resolution. Apple gets much marketing mileage from its "retina" displays. Where does that leave the Z710's 1024 x 600 screen?
It actually works well. The original iPad display had 132 dots per inch and no one ever complained about its quality or resolution. Well, the Z710 display offers 170 dots per inch. It's not iPad "retina" resolution (264 dpi), but it's plenty sharp. Also note that screen resolution of an Android tablet cannot be compared to screen resolution of a Windows notebook. On the Z710, if something is too small to read, you simply zoom in. You can't do that on most notebooks, at least not easily.
What we didn't like so much is the glossiness of the Z710 display. The picture above shows the Z710 side by side with a Google Nexus 7. The Z710 does better, but not by that much. Unfortunately, glossiness is pretty much the default in procap tablet displays, and so the Z710 is prone to reflections outdoors. It's no worse than the reflections on an iPad, but also no better. That's a bit surprising as Getac says it's using the same QuadraClear anti-reflective, anti-glare treatments that work so well on its notebooks. On the plus-side, the Z710 is bright enough to be used outdoors. It's not super-bright, but bright enough for most uses.
Note that the Z710 comes with a stylus. Projected capacitive touch generally doesn't work all that well with styli due to the large, fuzzy tips required to make them work. Well, the Z710's stylus, while its tip is also large, works a whole lot better than most. The rounded tip feels like a little rubber boot and makes fairly precise operations possible. The stylus is a bit over four inches long, it's made of metal, and it's actually magnetic. It sticks to metal like a refrigerator magnet, and thus doesn't need the usual stylus "garage." Instead, you can safely park it in an indentation on the back of the tablet. I had to get used to this magnetic concept as I always thought you should stay away from electronics with magnets.
Getac emphasizes that the touch screen is "glove-friendly," which can be a big issue for applications where users must wear gloves. In our experience, the Z710 screen works amazingly well with some gloves, not so well with others, and for the most part, there's no multi-touch with gloves, which isn't a big deal.
Cameras area bit of an issue in mobile computing devices. They've been around since before the advent of actual digital cameras, but despite the huge advances in digital imaging, the cameras built into most rugged handhelds and tablets are quite marginal. This has never really made sense to us. Rugged devices are professional tools with a price to match. As such, all of their subsystems and components should be professional quality also. Given that regular consumer smartphones can do excellent high-res images and HD video, one should expect at least the same and certainly no less from industrial handhelds and tablets.
The good news here is that the Getac Z710 has very decent imaging capabilities. The rear-facing document camera can shoot pictures at QVGA, VGA, 1MP, 2MP, 3MP and 5MP, all in 4:3 aspect ratio. They can be saved in super-fine, fine and normal quality. You can also set white balance, add location data, use the flash or torch, and even apply some filters and effects. There's also digital zoom up to 8X. Video can be shot at QVGA (320 x 240), VGA (640 x 480), WVGA (800 x 480), 720p (1280 x 720) and 1080p (1920 x 1080), and you can also set white balance.
How well does it work? Better than expected. While the Z710's camera does not replace a dedicated digital camera or even a good smartphone, it can shoot usable pictures and video. And that is more than can be said of all too many cameras in rugged devices. Yes, the Z710's camera can be used for documentation. What's more, you can use the torch feature to shoot sharp and reliable picture in locations without any light at all. Even a flash camera can't always do that.
And video? Also good news. Video in most rugged devices is bad, very bad. It is often so sluggish as to be totally useless. The Z710, on the other hand, can actually record in full 1080p video without falling behind.
That is remarkable. The sample video clip to the right shows that the video quality is perfectly acceptable for field service work and documentation. A service person could easily use the Z710 to record conditions before and after a repair, or, if need be, record pictures and/or video and transmit them to the home office for assistance or lookups. Note that while the clip to the right was recorded in 1080p, the YouTube upload somehow only displays in up to 360p.
The only caveat about the Z710's video is that it records in .3gp file format, which is something specifically developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project for smartphone mobile broadband applications. Which means you'll need a player on your PC or Mac that can run those files. Still, the Z710's imaging capabilities are well above average for this type of device.
Getac is in the business of selling rugged mobile computing devices, and the Z710 tablet is definitely rugged. While the tablet is light and elegant and doesn't sport the heavily armored look of some rugged designs, as soon as you pick it up it's instantly clear that this is indeed a tough tool for tough jobs. It feels substantial, there's no bright metal that looks like it could easily get scratched or bent, and there isn't anything that could break off.
As far as environmental specs go, the Z710 is impressive. The device is sealed to IP65. The first "6" (the highest rating) means total protection against dust. The second number, the "5," means the device can handle low pressure water jets from all directions, with limited ingress permitted. Given the Z710's good onboard connectivity with not only ports but also externally accessible card slots, that level of sealing is about what's practically achievable.
Getac lists a very wide operating temperature of -4 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 to +50 Celsius). That means the tablet can be used in virtually any operating environment, including commercial freezers.
The device also carries a 6-foot drop spec as tested in accordance with the MIL-STD-810G procedures. Getac claims that this makes the Z710 the first Android device to be certified as being able to survive drops from that height (the rugged Android tablets from Panasonic, DRS, Harris, Motorola in the RuggedPCReview.com database indeed only list drops specs between four and five feet).
The special damage-resistant Corning Gorilla glass (see Gorilla glass page at Corning) has become almost an industry standard for durable, impervious display surfaces in better smartphones and tablets, and the Getac Z710 has it. That's good to know as the shiny, large glass surfaces of modern tablets always look vulnerable, With Gorilla glass, they aren't.
Bottom line: Getac Z710 rugged Android tablet
The Z710 is Getac's first entry into the potentially huge market for ruggedized Android tablets. It's an attractive and very functional design measuring just 8.6 x 5.6 inches and weighing well under two pounds. It's thicker than consumer media tablets (a bit over an inch), but that's because it offers much more onboard connectivity and because it's almost infinitely tougher than any consumer product.
Based on the "Gingerbread" version of Android, the Z710 has a bright, solid and crisp 7-inch wide-format 1024 x 600 pixel screen with capacitive multi-touch. That means it offers the effortless tapping, panning, pinching and zooming of all those hundreds of millions of consumer smartphones and tablets, but in an industrial-grade version. And Getac's implementation of capacitive touch also works with most gloves — important for devices used on the job. The supplied stylus isn't required for operation, but it works better than most procap styli. The device is rugged enough for almost any application, with an impressive drop spec, good sealing, and a wide operating temperature range.
Any caveats? The glossy display is somewhat reflection-prone outdoors, and some customers may require more than 1024 x 600 resolution for their applications. Neither are dealbreakers, but simply something to be aware of.
The Getac Z710 can do everything Android-based consumer media tablets can do and it can also be used as a phone, but this tablet also offers industrial-grade scanning, RFID and contactless smart card reading. And its internal cameras are good enough not only for video conferencing, but also for documentation quality still images and HD video. Overall, the Getac Z710 is an attractive, well conceived and executed product that should be on the short list of anyone seeking an enterprise-grade Android tablet device.
Note: On April 16, 2013, Getac announced that the Z710 would now incorporate Android 4.1. This means better performance due to dual-core support, an improved user interface, additional security, and access to the Google Play store.-- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, February 2013
Getac Z710 Specifications
Rugged Android tablet
Added 03/2012, full review 02/2013
Dual core Texas Instruments OMAP 4430
Thermal Design Power
Android 4.1 (prior to April 2013 Android 2.3.5)
7.0-inch/1024x600 pixel TFT LCD with scratch- and damage-resistant Gorilla Glass ("LumiBond" with Getac QuadraClear sunlight-readable technology integrates Gorilla Glass, a capacitive touch sensor and an LED panel)
"Glove-On" capacitive touchscreen usable with special stylus (included)
onscreen or optional external
1 micro-SDHC (upt o 32GB)
Plastic with rubberized overmold, magnesium sub-frame, and sealed ports
8.6 x 5.6 x 1.08 inches (218 x 142 x 27 mm)
1.75 lbs. as tested, with batteries
-4° to 122°F (-20° to 50°C)
26 drops from 6-foot
7,600mAH internal rechargeable Lithium-Polymer ("up to 10 hours")
HD webcam, 5mp camera (can do 1080p HD video)
1 x USB Host 2.0, 1 x micro-USB client 2.0, microphone, 2 x external antenna, dock
802.11b/g/n WiFi, Class 2 Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR; optional: 3.5G WWAN (HSPA+/UMTS/GSM/GPRS/EDGE), GPS (SiRFstar IV), 1D/2D CMOS imager; optional 13.56MHz RFID and Contactless Smart Card Reader
Starting at US$1,499; 3G version starting at US$1,799