Ever since Apple introduced the iPad, the world has changed. Handy, lightweight tablets have become the tool of choice for data lookup, communication, and numerous computing tasks. That doesn't mean desktops and notebooks will go away; it just means that the tablet form factor has been recognized as most suitable for many tasks on the road and on the job. And since many of those jobs are outdoors where it gets wet, hold and cold, and where things get dropped or rattled, there's now a need for tablets that are tougher than what you can get from Apple, Google or Amazon. That's where companies like Winmate come in, and new products like their M700DT4 7-inch Android tablet.
Winmate Communication, located in Taipei, Taiwan, has an impressive history of making rugged and embedded products. Recently they've been concentrating on handheld and tablet OEM/ODM solutions with a flurry of handheld (C350T, S370, E430T, S430T) and tablet (G570Z, M970D) introductions, each different and targeted to different applications and tastes.
Winmate's approach with the M700DT4 is simple: Use the wide-format 7-inch size that appears to have established itself as the second major form factor besides the "full-size" 10-inch tablets. Use an economical yet competent processor capable of running full Windows. Use the tremendously popular projected capacitive touch technology instead of an older resistive digitizer. Don't overload the tablet with lots of standard functions that drive up cost, but offer them as optional modules and configurations. Do all that and you get a device like the M700DT4.
As far as specs go, the M700DT4 measures 8.35 x 5.2 inches and is an inch thick. That's a bit larger and quite a bit thicker than consumer media tablets in this class. With 1.43 pounds, the Android version of this Winmate device weighs a few ounces less than the also available Windows version, making it a small and fairly light tablet. No mention of housing and chassis materials, though it looks like a plastic body shell with rubber/elastomer bumpers and protection around the perimeter, and likely a magnesium chassis inside.
No detailed specs on the display yet other than its 7-inch diagonal size, 1024 x 600 pixel resolution, and 250 nit backlight. 1024 x 600 worked fine on tens of millions of netbooks, and will look plenty sharp on a 7-inch screen. 250 nits isn't very much, so either Winmate will also make available a sunlight-readable display option, or they position this tablet primarily for indoor use.
Projected capacitive touch likes a smooth glass surface that extends well beyond the display itself and the M700D has that, so it should be pleasant to operate. Android was developed with projected capacitive touch in mind, so the tablet is touch- and user-friendly and customers won't miss the pen or stylus that users of the Windows version would probably want.
The M700DT4 is powered by a 1.0GHz Texas Instruments OMAP 4430, a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor specifically designed for smartphones, tablets and other multimedia-rich mobile devices. RAM is 1GB of mobile DDR2, and standard mass storage is 8GB of eMMC. A micro-SD card slot allows for extra storage and data transfer.
Stock connectivity is limited — just a micro USB OTG port and audio. So whatever other wired connectivity is needed would have to come via USB port or a dock. On the wireless side customers get 802.11b/g/n WiFi (and a dual band version is optional), Bluetooth 3.0, integrated GPS, and optional mobile broadband. The device comes with ambient light and G sensors as well as a 5-megapixel rear-facing autofocus camera with LED illuminator. A lot of these features are optional in the Windows version, probably because the Android OS makes them mandatory whereas Windows users may or may not need/want all of them.
In the power department, the 16.8 watt-hour standard battery appears adequate for this Android tablet; Winmate expects six to eight hours of battery life. The Windows version has an optional second battery and it might be a good idea for Winmate to offer one for the Android version as well.
For ruggedness, Winmate claims a 4-foot drop spec, IP65 sealing, where the "6" stands for being dustproof and the "5" for the ability to handle low pressure water jets from all directions. The tablet can operate in a temperature range of 14 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, enough for most deployments. We haven't had hands-on with the M700DT4 yet, but the device looks sturdy and should hold up well to abuse with its protective bumpers and ports.
While the M700DT4 tablet looks virtually identical to the M700D Windows-based version, it's really a very different piece of hardware that also has very different software functionality. At this point in the tablet operating system wars it's probably a good idea to give customers that choice. The market may go one way or the other, or it may turn out that Windows and Android tablets are going to co-exist and being used in different deployments and applications.