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June 14, 2011

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Lindsey J. Bertomen Police Products
with Lindsey J. Bertomen

Product Review: GammaTech Durabook U12C

The U12C can give a full day of service on its 5200 mAh Li battery and has a variety of other attributes making it suitable to law enforcement use

I recently tested the Durabook U12C laptop/tablet from GammaTech, a rugged product designed for law enforcement and military use. As everyone knows, I test a lot of portable computing products. Most of the testing that I do is to establish their appropriateness for patrol use. However, I have to be candid here: of all the laptop products I have tested in my career, this was the hardest one to return after testing. For a variety of reasons, this was my favorite laptop/tablet test.

First and foremost, the U12C was good at human interface, which is the kind of appeal that attracts us to a product in a store. It really is a lap-sized laptop, without compromising a smoothly operating keyboard, quiet operation and bright display. It is one of the lightest and smallest MIL STD 810G laptop/tablet products on the market.

Relatively Light, Still Very Durable
I get to drop, abuse, drench and play with portable computers. Most of them are heavily armored, which makes them heavy and thick. The U12C survived, and it is neither heavy nor thick.

The U12C is MIL SPEC 810G for drop, shock, and vibration. It is not water resistant, but the keyboard is spill resistant and it can handle a high-RH environment. Most products like this are built like tanks. The U12C weighed 5.5 lbs, which is less than most “big box” laptops. At 1.6 inches wide, it fit into a conventional laptop sleeve. The U12C looked like a student laptop and wouldn’t even be noticed next to a double latte accessing wi fi. In fact, I slung it around in a (dare I say it?) messenger bag headed for Starbucks a few times. My “high and tight” gives me away, though.

I dropped this unit in tablet mode and in clamshell mode. I left it running for these tests. Don’t try this at home. The dismountable SATA HDD seems to be suspended pretty well as these tests didn’t even make it hiccup.

The covers for the recessed areas housing the USB ports and other connectors on the edge of the unit were thin hinged plastic with simple weather stripping. They didn’t resemble the tank button downs on more durable units, but they were suitable for a semi rugged platform. I didn’t (and wouldn’t) test this for water ingress.

The keyboard area is sealed to prevent any seepage. I filled it and it overflowed a bit. Oops! I’m pretty satisfied that getting caught when the lawn sprinklers turn on won’t affect it.

Long-Lasting Battery Life
The U12C can give a full day of service on its 5200 mAh Li battery. The U12C model I tested uses an efficient i5 processor at 1.20 gz in a 32 bit Windows 7 platform, augmented with an ATI Radeon 4850 card. It uses DDRIII (8G max) memory. I only had 2 gigs in this machine.

The i5 processor is low voltage, low consumption, for units relying on battery power. The U12C boasts 8 hours of use and I consistently got an honest 8 hours out of it. This is my only criticism of this laptop/tablet, however. The fan ran a lot more often than similar units, especially for a unit designed for temperature extremes. This did not significantly affect battery life, nor was it particularly noticeable. It has several cooling areas open on the bottom, which is likely why the fan could be heard at all.

If I to select a unit whose fan ran a lot, I would pick one that was this quiet.

When I benchmarked it, I used battery power, which is not usually recommended. It did respectably in most categories. Benchmarking is method where the computer is put through a series of tests that test its ability to do computations, render graphics, access memory and read and write to disk. Some benchmarking methods are graphics heavy, others run a series of computations. The types of benchmarks vary, but the results are compared to a known system or product package, which is why it called benchmarking. When benchmarking, one should plug it into the wall, because batteries drain quickly. The U12C had power to spare after I ran several benchmark products.

Suitable for Law Enforcement
The U12C has all the right attributes for Law Enforcement communications needs. A laptop in the patrol car or on an operation is an MDC, or Mobile Data Computer. It is known by other acronyms, but it has to be able to dock and communicate seamlessly. The U12C ranks with the best in communication ability.

Communication does not only include the wifi b/g/n attributes (which were up to par) or GOBI 2000 capability, for wireless broadband on the fly. It also includes input, like typing and ‘mousing.’

Other communication includes an express card slot, an SD card slot/USB 2.0, eSATA combo, and audio/video input/output. The screen is a 12.1-inch WXGA TFT LED.

The screen was touch and gesture friendly, even with a gloved hand. I could mouse with it accurately and, in laptop mode, switch back and forth to the mouse pad. The brightness control for the screen is on the panel, which means the user doesn’t have to flip the tablet/screen up to adjust it.

I registered my fingerprints on the reader pad, which locks and unlocks the device. I couldn’t fool the reader, even with fingerprints from other fingers.

The U12C could quickly convert to a tablet, just rotating the screen 180 degrees and locking it down. I liked the fact that the screen also locked in place. The fact that the screen swung around also allowed for the user to do a panoramic of the area and quickly resume work, just by rotating the screen. This is the modern day equivalent to the days when I used to jot down notes on the margin of my Polaroid shots in a crime scene. It was a memory refresher for later courtroom testimony.

What distinguishes a good MDC? First, the U12C has a stealth mode button, which shuts it all down, instantly.

I really mean instantly. Startup from this feature takes it out of a “suspend” mode into “resume” more, which takes a few seconds but I didn’t find this tedious.

The U12C is a pretty logical choice for a fleet Law Enforcement purchase. It is less than half the price of several models currently on the market. It is lighter and smaller than many other models, yet still retains their full features. It works like a rugged tool and looks like a student laptop.

Latte, anyone?

About the author

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade. His articles on firearms tactics have appeared in print for over a decade. Lindsey enjoys competing in shooting sports, running, and cycling events.

Contact Lindsey Bertomen

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