Robust Tablet PC - exists?
February 10, 2010 4:32 AM   Subscribe

My laptop (an Acer Travelmate) just gave up the ghost after 3 years and a replaced (but still dodgy) hard drive. Any suggestions for laptops that can handle plenty of travel and being bumped around in bags?

So! Apparently I am in the market for a new laptop. I have been lusting after a tablet since about 2003 (write on the screen! woo!) but the iPad is disappointing and I don't know what's good anymore. I used to be a loyal Acer customer but am willing to branch out. My first university was filled with broken iMacs so I have a distaste for them (the only reason I even have an iPod is because I won it from MySpace). I am currently writing this from my partner's netbook, a Kogan running Ubuntu, which is pretty decent.

I'm mainly using it for office stuff, surfing the web, listening to music, and watching videos. Must have good wifi. Games - not too concerned, so long as I can play Flash games I'm good. I liked how speedy Ubuntu was and I don't mind Windows; I'll only consider a Mac if I REALLY have to. It'd be nice to be able to edit pictures but I'm not too worried about that.

Most of all, I'm after something *robust* - my first laptop ever survived 2 falls and everything unhinged, and it still worked for 6 years on 256MB and Windows 95. Newer laptops seem too fragile. Something that can handle international travel, being tossed around in a bag, and being moved around a lot would be great.

Any suggestions? Recs? Most of my laptops have been in the RM4000ish range (about US$1200?) so mid-range would be good. If anyone's doing a special, even better.
posted by divabat to Technology (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you want something that is REALLY robust while being transported (but not able to be abused much while in-use), get a Macbook Pro 13" or 15" and put it in a small Pelican hard shell case:

Pelican 1490CC1

The 1470 may also be possible with a 13" laptop.
posted by thewalrus at 5:24 AM on February 10, 2010

It's probably overkill for what you're looking for, but I work for a utility company, and we give our field guys those ruggedized Panasonic Toughbooks. you can knock those around something fierce--drop them, whack them against corners, punch them, whatever--and they just keep working. The down-side is that the rubberized keyboard is sort of annoying and they're really not designed to be awesome gaming laptops or anything.
posted by Jinkeez at 5:43 AM on February 10, 2010

Get whatever the heck you want and then pay for a personal articles policy from an insurance agent. I use State Farm and my macbook pro probably costs me $6/mo or something like that. It covers theft and accidents. When my wife put a scorch mark from chanukah candles in my old plastic macbook, they cut me a check for the original purchase price _and_ let me keep the old (but still functional) laptop.

FWIW, I'd personally recommend macs for laptops for their build quality and their awesome resale values. Feel free to run windows on it if you so desire.
posted by paanta at 5:44 AM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Motion Computing tablets sound right up your alley, except for the cost factor. You might be able to find a previous-year model on discount somewhere, or used perhaps. Some mobile field inspectors where I work use the Motion tablets and they're nice - quite hardy as well.

Dell makes a ruggedized convertible tablet but it's quite pricey too ($3,500 I think).

Honestly any truly ruggedized table is gonna be costly... Tablets are more expensive in general, as are ruggedized devices, so put the two together and it only makes sense that it's gonna be 'sensive.

Really, you need to consider how rugged it needs to be. If you get a newer laptop or tablet with an option for an SSD drive (solid state disk - not a spinning hard drive), that alone will help ensure drop protection. If you get a good solid case or skin for the tablet, you probably don't need to worry about the rest of it too much.

On the other hand, you may want to consider whether you're really in the market for a tablet at all, or if a laptop would be better. You said you've been lusting after one, but have you really used them for any extended period? Using Windows (or Ubuntu, etc) on a tablet interface isn't really fun. At all. It's an interface designed for high-precision mouse input, not kludgy, inaccurate finger poking.

I recommend spending some time with a tablet PC at a local store or a friend's, etc. Try actually using one for awhile, for all the things you normally would, and see if you find the interface frustrating. My bet is you will. There are some sweet tablet apps available (ArtRage comes to mind), but for me a point-and-click OS GUI on a tablet simply isn't the Future.

With that in mind, there are plenty of affordable, durable laptops available. Dell's Vostro series has magnesium allloy chassis and mylar screened keyboards, and can be configured with SSDs. My Vostro 1400 has been dropped innumerable times, including from ~5 feet onto it's spine onto hard concrete, as well as literally rolling end-over-end down a whole flight of stairs, then slamming into the door at the bottom (hard enough to leave a black imprint in the paint of the door). It's never missed a beat - in fact, both of those times the laptop resumed from standby just dandy - and that's with a standard rotating HDD. The case is not cracked, busted, etc. It's pretty darn sturdy. You can get them for $500 or so.

Dell also makes a semi-ruggedized laptop called the Latitude E6400 ATG. These run around $1700-2000 but have MUCH sturdier chassis, reinforced hinges, shock-protected screens and hard drives, port covers, etc. Worth a look.
posted by sprocket87 at 5:50 AM on February 10, 2010

My 13" Macbook has gone on about 20 plane rides, fallen onto a hardwood floor from a height of six and a half feet at least four times, been set on fire, been involved in two major antigovernment protests, and several bike accidents. I'm still using it right now. There's a giant burn hole on the case, and the screen doesn't line up perfectly with the body when you close it, but everything works, and I've seen no hinderance in performance.
posted by Jon_Evil at 5:51 AM on February 10, 2010

(Apologies for all the typos in that post - should've previewed! Meh.)
posted by sprocket87 at 5:52 AM on February 10, 2010

Oh, and another thing on those Dell ATGs - they can be configured with a touchscreen for an extra $100 or so, so you get the best of both worlds!
posted by sprocket87 at 6:02 AM on February 10, 2010

I really, REALLY liked the Thinkpad X200 when I got to use one at work a few years back. It's got that Thinkpad sturdiness to it, in a tablet PC. Of course, you'll pay a bit more than you're expecting - the base model is $1500USD on Lenovo's website, although my personal experience with their refurbs has been uniformly positive, so you may be able to shave a few bucks off there.

On the other hand, Mrs. Deadmessenger has an HP tablet, which doesn't feel nearly as solid as the Thinkpad, but was much more reasonably priced. It's performed quite well, though, and hasn't crapped out in nearly two years of daily use.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:38 AM on February 10, 2010

I second the Thinkpad. I had one that want on many overseas trips with me, and survived dust storms, damp rooms, me dropping it, etc... The new ones are great, but you can get a nice SL for around $500.
posted by HopperFan at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2010

Rats, I missed the tablet part - I also want to second what sprocket87 suggested, "spending some time with a tablet PC at a local store or a friend's, etc. Try actually using one for awhile..."

My experience has mainly been with Fujitsu tablets, and I didn't find them that durable. Plus, as mentioned, the interface takes some getting used to - we only use them for physicians to carry around from room to room while seeing patients.
posted by HopperFan at 7:25 AM on February 10, 2010

The unibody MacBook Pros are very durable, and I'm pretty hard on my laptops.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:55 AM on February 10, 2010

An apparently good tablet PC exists, but it hasn't hit market yet. The HP Slate is due out later this year.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:49 AM on February 10, 2010

Response by poster: I've used a Tablet PC that had a stylus as an input device. LOVED IT. As fo ruggedness - it probably doesn't have to be super-rugged, just not crap out on me if I drop it from my bed!

The Thinkpad looks interesting, thanks guys.
posted by divabat at 12:14 PM on February 10, 2010

Been lusting after an Acer AS5738PG-6306 myself.

The price point is perfect for me, but the specs hit an even sweeter spot: 15" screen, 320 gigs HDD, 4 gigs RAM, semi-decent video card and best of all, multi-touch. Only hitch is, Acer seems to have released it only in the US and not in SE Asia; so I'm not sure if warranties will hold across the Pacific if I order this through Other than that, I'm of the opinion that this the perfect laptop there is out there.

(Also note that, despite cutting my teeth on UNIX / emacs/ etc, I might have very well sold my soul to the Evil One, also lust over such blasphemous things as MS Surface and actually prefer Win 7 over any other OS. But that's just me.)
posted by the cydonian at 10:26 PM on February 11, 2010

Oh, sorry to flood this thread, but there's also Gigabyte's netbook-tablet. Saw it in a trade-show, but the feel of the device didnt click with me somehow. Also, no multi-touch, 'merely' a resistive screen.

There's a HP TouchSmart laptop that's worth a dekko, but be aware that it might get obsoleted quickly, especially given the rumoured HP Slate.
posted by the cydonian at 10:33 PM on February 11, 2010

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