BUILD & DESIGN
The Armor X7 is built like a tank. Though it features a small 7-inch display, it weighs a hefty 3.4 pounds with two high-capacity batteries (product literature claims it weighs 2.85 pounds with two standard batteries). It measures 8.9 inches wide by 5.9 inches high and 1.4 inches thick at its thinnest point – the middle of the bottom edge. It measure 1.8 inches thick along its top edge, and roughly 2.5 inches thick on either side where the tablet widens to accommodate the twin batteries.
It’s certified to the MIL-STD-810G military standard, which gauges a machine’s resistance to drops, extreme temperatures, vibrations, and shocks. DRS claims it can survive drops up to six feet and withstand temperatures ranging from -4 F to 140 F when operating and -40 F to 158 F when stored. It can also be used at an altitude of up to 20,000 feet. The Armor X7 is also IP65 certified against the ingress of dust and moisture. It’s rated to be dust tight and can keep out liquids, including water jetting out from a 6.3mm nozzle. The ingress testing basically means that dust can’t get into the Armor X7 and neither can water, unless the tablet is completely immersed in it.
The chassis is made from a tough, slightly textured plastic. The two batteries attach to either side of the unit. The batteries are covered with a thick rubber, which matches up with the rubber bumpers on the four front corners of the tablet itself. The rubber-coated batteries form excellent handles as well as a level of protection against drops where the Armor X7 might land on its top, bottom, back, or side. The front bumpers on the tablet are raised so that in the event you drop the tablet face down, the screen is protected. Dropped from any angle, a rubber surface will absorb the impact.
The thick, rubber handles also allows the tablet to stand up on its end at a slight angle, convenient in scenarios where you don’t want to hold the tablet. It is very solid and feels heavier than you might expect given its size; your arm will quickly grow tired when holding it in one hand while navigating the touch screen with the other. There are two notches on the top and another two notches on the bottom where you could attach a strap to help you shoulder the load.
The plastic chassis feels very firm. The only areas where it flexes are the two panels on the back to which each battery connects. Between the batteries on the back panel is a large heatsink. (A plastic grate covers the heatsink, preventing contact with your skin.) There are no moving parts in the Armor X7, including cooling fans, so the heatsink is employed to dissipate heat. It’s a closed system, with no air vents that might attract dust and dirt. The only spots where debris might collect are along the bottom where the mini-USB 2.0 port, the power connector, and a docking connector reside. Above the heatsink is a spot to clip the tethered mini-pen when not in use. A 2-megapixel Webcam sits just below the pen on the upper-right corner, and the QuickMark barcode-scanning app is included.
The front of the Armor X7 is fairly plain. Three buttons sit to the left of the display, with another three buttons plus a fingerprint scanner to the right. By default, the fingerprint scanner is set up to work like a touchpad. You can move the cursor by running your finger over the scanner, though I’m not sure why you would do that given the tablet’s touchscreen capability. A small row of four status LEDs resides above the display, next to a small grill for the speaker.
The three buttons to the left of the display are: Function, SAS (Secure Attention Sequence), and the power button. The Fn button works in conjunction with the three programmable buttons on the right, and the SAS button is the equivalent of pressing Ctrl-Alt-Delete. The three programmable buttons to the right of the display are labeled P1, P2, and P3. Even though there are six options for these — each pressed by itself or with Fn button — there are only four options listed in the Armor utility for programming the buttons: Backlight increase 10%, backlight decrease 10%, Backlight toggle on/off, and radios toggle on/off.
Screen and Speakers
No one is buying the Armor X7 to simply run Windows. No, custom software is needed to take full advantage of the Armor X7. It features the 32-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate, but navigating Windows is a chore. The screen measures only 7 inches diagonally and features a 1024 x 600 resolution. Squeezing that many pixels into such a small screen makes text difficult to read and icons and other objects difficult to tap. After using the tablet for a short time, I could feel my eyes getting sore from straining to read the tiny text and miniscule icons. Armor includes a Virtual Magnifying Glass app, which you can access from a shortcut on the desktop. Its utility, however, is limited. You can’t make the window larger, nor can you click on any magnified object; once you lift the pen from the screen, the magnifying glass disappears. It’d be more useful if it stayed on the screen, letting you click on small icons or buttons that are difficult to line up otherwise. Buyers of the Armor X7 will be purchasing it for a specific purpose, which more than likely includes specific software developed just for the device.
At the end of the row of the status LEDs is an ambient light sensor, which can change the brightness of the display accordingly. Via an Armor utilities application, you can also select from among five preset modes: Dark, Office, Dusk, Daylight, and Sunlight. The screen gets impressively bright under the Sunlight mode, and sure enough, the display remained very legible in direct sun. The display resists glare and reflections impressively well, but the protective layers on top of the display muddy the resolution, particularly if you are looking at it up close, as I continually found myself doing to read small text and icons.
You can switch between landscape and portrait display modes, but the tablet does not do so automatically when rotated. Instead, you must change the orientation by right-clicking on the desktop and choosing Screen resolution.
The display is a resistive, dual touchscreen, meaning it can be navigated by the included stylus or another object such as your finger or your gloved finger. I will note, however, that I found navigating the screen with a pair of gardening gloves next to impossible. You can disable touch capability and use only pen inputs, but I didn’t find it necessary. When using the pen, the display did not register my palm or the side of my hand.
The tethered stylus has a long enough leash for comfortable tapping and typing, but the display’s protective layers made it feel less than accurate. Many times, the onscreen cursor would be slightly off from where I felt the tip of the pen was, resulting in furious tapping until I was able to hit my target. I had trouble, for instance, tapping on small objects such as the red X to close windows. I also found that I had to be very deliberate when tapping; quick taps went undetected most of the time.
The only keyboard is an onscreen keyboard, which is accessible by tapping the edge poking out from left side of the screen or the small keyboard icon that appears when you tap a text field such as a URL bar or search box. Again, given the size of the screen and the onscreen keyboard, typing is somewhat of a laborious process. The pen has a programmable button on its side near where your thumb rest that performs a right-click by default, but I found simply tapping and holding was the easier method for right-clicking.
The Armor X7 features a single speaker. It reaches a surprisingly high level at max volume, but the quality is predictably poor. Then again, the Armor X7 is not an entertainment device. Far from it, in fact.
The tablet also features 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity along with Bluetooth, and optional features include mobile broadband and GPS.