Bill Ben­nett ‘ talks tough’ on the op­tions for work sit­u­a­tions that re­quire tough­ened com­put­ing and smart­phone de­vices.

It’s true that tech­nol­ogy choice can be a dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion if you spend a lot of time work­ing in a car, on a build­ing site or any­where other than an of­fice. Dig­i­tal de­vices don’t ex­actly thrive in dirty, bumpy or messy con­di­tions.

So, in such cir­cum­stances, you re­ally have three op­tions. First, you buy ev­ery­day kit and ac­cept there will be an at­tri­tion rate.

Sec­ond, buy the same ev­ery­day kit, but wrap it up in a pro­tec­tive layer.

The third op­tion is to buy ‘ruggedised’ hard­ware specif­i­cally built to cope with the worst you can throw at it.

If you’re lucky, stick­ing with ev­ery­day hard­ware can work out cheaper in the long run. It may make sense if you only take oc­ca­sional risks with that hard­ware.

Stick­ing with ev­ery­day hard­ware means you’ll stay closer to tech­nol­ogy’s cut­ting edge. That’s be­cause you’ll be up­grad­ing faster than nor­mal. If you de­cide on this op­tion, in­vest in a first-class cloud backup op­tion. That way, you can re­store your data when the in­evitable hap­pens.

(We looked at a good cloud backup ser­vice, Acro­nis True Im­age, in the De­cem­ber 2017 edi­tion of NZBusi­ness.)

There’s an en­tire in­dus­try mak­ing pro­tec­tive cases and shells for dig­i­tal de­vices. Most tech­nol­ogy re­tail­ers have stacks of op­tions on show. Pro­tec­tive cases range from dec­o­ra­tive cov­ers to mil­i­tary- grade shells. You can also get lam­i­nates to add an ex­tra layer of de­fence to glass screens.

A few years ago I re­viewed an im­pactab­sorb­ing iPhone case made from ma­te­rial the US Army uses. It can stop bul­lets. It was ugly as sin, but ac­cord­ing to the mak­ers it could pro­tect the phone from a three me­tre drop onto a hard sur­face. You’ll for­give me if I didn’t test this claim.

Pro­tec­tive cov­ers can work won­ders. In rel­a­tive terms they are not ex­pen­sive. You might pay an ex­tra $50 to $100, which is a bar­gain when you pay the thick end of $2000 for a phone or tablet. They work bet­ter with phones or tablets which are, in ef­fect, metal and glass slabs, than with lap­tops. That lap­top hinge com­pli­cates mat­ters.

The down­side of pro­tec­tive cov­ers is they can add a lot of bulk to de­vices. A few mil­lime­tres might not seem much, but when phones are only seven or eight mil­lime­tres thick you no­tice the ex­tra size in your pocket.

Cov­ers can of­ten add weight, too. I’ve also seen air­port se­cu­rity ask pas­sen­gers to re­move pro­tec­tive cases from de­vices. None of th­ese neg­a­tives are deal­break­ers, but if you go down this route pre­pare for the ir­ri­ta­tions.


Ruggedised hard­ware is a spe­cial­ist cat­e­gory. For years the dom­i­nant lap­top maker in this sec­tor has been Pana­sonic, with its Tough­book range. The com­pany now also makes ToughPad tablets.

Tough­books and Tough­pads are the ‘Tonka Toys’ of the PC world. Tough­book mod­els are built to han­dle shock, vi­bra­tion and dirt. They are not fully wa­ter­proof in the sense you could use them un­der water, but they should be able to cope with New Zealand’s rain and, on a good day, they can sur­vive a brief dunk­ing.

There are two lev­els of Tough­book. Pana­sonic calls them ‘ ful­lyruggedised’ and ‘semi-ruggedised’. Fully-ruggedised mod­els can stand ex­treme tem­per­a­tures: from mi­nus 20˚C to plus 60˚C. You pay a hefty premium for a fully-ruggedised lap­top. Typ­i­cally ex­pect to spend twice what you’d pay for sim­i­lar non-ruggedised hard­ware. Some­times more. It sells in New Zealand for ap­prox­i­mately $5500, and in most cases the prod­uct is priced on a project ba­sis.

Th­ese days the best place to buy a Tough­book is to go di­rect to Pana­sonic New Zealand. That way you’ll get lo­cal sup­port.

Rugged lap­tops don’t sell in the same high vol­umes as ev­ery­day mod­els, so the prod­uct lines are not re­freshed as of­ten. This means spec­i­fi­ca­tions can slip a lit­tle be­hind. That’s not a prob­lem with the soft­ware, you can up­date Win­dows your­self, but if you need a lot of com­puter power you’re in for a big price tag.

It’s not just Pana­sonic that’s coy about ruggedised prices ei­ther – Dell ad­ver­tises a Lat­i­tude 14 Rugged Lap­top, but you have to call for prices.


In May, Spark started sell­ing the Cat brand of rugged phones. That’s Cat as in Cater­pil­lar, the con­struc­tion equip­ment com­pany. The $1100 Cat 60 phone is drop proof and has a scratch-re­sis­tant screen. It can go five me­tres un­der­wa­ter for up to an hour. Cat says this makes it the most wa­ter­proof phone on the mar­ket.

The phone’s sig­na­ture fea­ture is a ther­mal imag­ing cam­era. It can pick up heat and mea­sure sur­face tem­per­a­tures from up to 30 me­tres. If you’re ren­o­vat­ing a house it helps you see where heat is leak­ing. An elec­tri­cian can also use this fea­ture to see wires be­hind a wall, and so on.

Cat de­signed the phone for ‘ tradies’, but Spark de­vice lead Carey McGre­gor says it also ap­peals to out­doors types. He says it fits the bill for tramp­ing, hunt­ing, fish­ing or kayak­ing. The touch­screen can be read in bright sun­light and will work even if you are wear­ing gloves or have wet fin­gers.

An­other fea­ture likely to ap­peal to out­doors users is the Cat 60’s abil­ity to re­tain standby bat­tery life for up to 44 days.

McGre­gor says this isn’t Spark’s first ruggedised phone. It has pre­vi­ously sold a ver­sion of the Sam­sung Gal­axy 4 with “in­creased ingress pro­tec­tion”. How­ever, he says the Cat 60 takes the idea a lot fur­ther. The phone also comes with a screen dam­age war­ranty. If it is bro­ken in the first 24 months, Cat will re­place it. (Huawei has run a sim­i­lar of­fer in the past with its phones.)

Cat phones are made un­der li­cence by a UK com­pany called Bul­let Mo­bile. The com­pany also makes a Land Rover-branded phone which sells in the UK for £600.

The Land Rover Ex­plore phone shares some fea­tures with the Cat 60, but is more geared to­wards ad­ven­ture pur­suits and has a home screen that gives fast ac­cess to weather in­for­ma­tion and GPS data. It also fea­tures an add-on bat­tery pack which has an an­tenna to boost GPS re­cep­tion – mak­ing lo­ca­tion in­for­ma­tion more ac­cu­rate than in an ev­ery­day phone.

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