Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- Highly dust and water resistant, shock resistant, convertible tablet/notebook, touch screen doesn't require a digitised pen
- Low power CPU
It's not pretty, it's not powerful, but it will take a beating. If you work in a dusty or damp environment, or in an area where knocks and bumps are common place, then a notebook of this calibre is clearly a good option.
Price$ 5,060.00 (AUD)
It's hard to look past the stark ugliness of the NEC ShieldPRO ruggedised tablet/notebook PC, but give it a break; it's not designed to be pretty. In fact, it's designed for quite the opposite. If ever there was a notebook to let the boys take down into the mine, this is it. Designed to take some punishment, the NEC ShieldPRO includes shock resistance, dust protection and waterproofing amongst its tricks.
Performance-wise it's not a super machine by any standards. With an Intel Core Solo 1.2GHz U1400 CPU and 1GB of DDR2 RAM it's not going to run any high-end software, like CAD, or video encoding applications. However, this ultra low voltage CPU does help to maintain low heat levels in the NEC's fairly compact chassis, an environment that is even more important to a ruggedised notebook like this one, as it has no internal fan to cool the components (having a fan would leave the internal components exposed by the fan vent).
The screen is a neat little 12.1in LCD with a resolution of just 1024x768. It's not a high resolution panel, but the contrast levels are good and the brightness levels are very nice. The screen also offers touch-screen functionality. It's not digitised, so you don't have to use a special pen. In fact, any pointy object will do the job, including your finger.
The most impressive aspects of this notebook are its protective features. The first thing you notice is the hard external shell. When closed this notebook looks like it's holding the launch codes for some nuclear warhead, or the key to some very rich person's bank vault. In fact, it looks as though it should be attached to someone's wrist with handcuffs.
The latch for the lid is like no other. It requires some manoeuvring to get off and holds fast when in place. The latch clips over a hook then fastens down. It can be fiddly the first time, but we imagine it would stay fastened, even if the notebook was dropped. Normally we like the twin-latch approach, but this single latch is quite tough, and it's very difficult to lift up an edge of the notebook while it's clasped shut.
As well as the clasp and the tough exterior the NEC ShieldPRO has an IP 54 (Ingress Protection) rating, meaning it's capable of withstanding fairly intense amounts of dust and water spillage. For example, NEC claims on its site that the ShieldPRO was doused with 10 litres per minute for five minutes while off, and continued to work. Similarly it claims to have surrounded the notebook in a fine dust while off, and it continued to work afterwards. The ShieldPRO is also built to withstand a drop from 90cm when off. It's rated to handle temperatures ranging from five to 45 degrees Celsius while in operation and -40 to 70 degrees Celsius when in an off state.
A rubber seal under the keyboard protects the insides from water and dust. The tablet buttons are also sealed, as is the power button. All of the ports, which include three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA-out port, a PCMCIA card slot, gigabit Ethernet and a modem port, plus audio ports, are also covered with rubber seals, except when they're in use.
Overall this machine looks like it can handle some serious dousing. The screen rotates on a hinge to place the ShieldPRO into tablet mode. Once in tablet mode there is a set of buttons at your disposal, as well as the touch screen. The buttons include shortcuts to the task manager, screen rotate and brightness controls. There is also a function button that changes the function of each shortcut, effectively doubling the shortcuts available to you.
There is no optical drive, so we were unable to run our DVD battery test, and the system uses Windows XP Tablet edition, so we weren't able to get a comparable WorldBench score. However, the system is rated at a maximum of 8 hours battery life, though that will vary greatly depending on use, and the ultra low voltage CPU would not have returned a very high WorldBench score, but serves its purpose.
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