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Whenever the word 'rugged' is mentioned in conjunction with an item of technology, a primitive urge stirs inside me and a tingle of excitement shivers down my spine. Almost immediately, the Johnny Knoxville in me (doesn't everyone have one?) begins to devise all manner of evil schemes and increasingly elaborate test scenarios designed to test the mettle of such claims.
I imagine driving over it with my two-ton MPV and stamping on it with a pair of ice skates. I dream of dropping a caravan on top of it and immersing it in freezing dry ice. I fantasise of putting it straight onto a searing hot barbecue, cackling and rubbing my hands together with glee as I picture the plastic melting and the battery going 'boom'.
Strangely, however, when I propose such ideas to manufacturers they're usually less than enthusiastic and keen to stress that, when they mean 'rugged', they actually mean 'ever-so-slightly less prone to break when you drop it in the street' than your average piece of throw-away technology.
Which was why I was that bit more excited than normal to get my mitts on Tripod Data Systems' 'rugged' Nomad 800L. Why? Well, despite the fact that it runs bog standard Windows Mobile 6 and has a list of specifications you'll probably find quite familiar, this is no ordinary 'rugged' piece of kit. More importantly, perhaps, its manufacturer was happy for me to bury, submerge, bake, freeze and generally treat it with casual violence in order to prove how tough it really is.
It certainly isn't aimed at your average office worker. Apart from being too bulky and heavy to appeal to techno-fashionistas, the Nomad is simply too expensive for the average suit. This is aimed at those who, normally, can't use the technology that city types can in the field because it's simply too fragile or the conditions they work in are too harsh. From oil rig workers to couriers, nomadic elk herders and technologically savvy camel traders, there's a whole swathe of workers out there who could benefit from computing power that doesn't give up the ghost outside the benign conditions of a western city.
To that end it has been designed to work at temperatures from -30 to 60 degrees Celsius, survive for 30 minutes under a metre of water, withstand drop impacts, vibration and work at altitudes of up to 15,000ft. The trouble is my visits to the Arctic tend to be quite sporadic these days, I don't have a desert in my back yard and flying at 15,000ft in an unpressurised plane cabin isn't something I generally tend to do in my spare time. So I had to get a little bit creative with my testing.