It took a couple of tries with this tablet computer.

The trouble wasn't with its everyday performance. It operated smoothly under normal conditions. In fact, as a rugged tablet PC, its rubber bumpers protected it well from a 4-foot drop.

The removable lithium-ion battery recharges in 2.5 hours and lasts as long as 4 hours. The tablet switches easily from portrait to landscape mode, and the 11.2 x 8.25-inch dimensions are more or less the size of a sheet of paper. The stylus is a fine, precise device once the digitizer is calibrated, and the computer's dual mode allows it to automatically switch between one's fingers and the stylus -- a great feature to have.

The stylus is attached to a string that wraps around the unit and snaps into a slot in back. While it's good to always have the stylus handy, there is the danger of entanglement, and the 2-foot cord was just long enough to require constant adjustments to get the proper angle. I think a detachable version would help. A co-worker suggested a snap-back tether -- maybe something more like a retractable dog leash or tape measure that will lock at the length you desire.

The first unit I tested emitted quite a bit of heat, which may be part of the reason it consequently failed the immersion test. The company claims the tablet can withstand 30 minutes in 30 cm of water, but when I put the tablet to the test, it failed to come on again. The battery made a sloshing sound when I removed it, and no amount of drying time brought the machine back to life. The company said the machine may have been already close to death as a result of its trials and tribulations at the hands of previous product reviewers.

They promptly sent me another unit fresh off the production line.

I was hopeful when the second computer ran cooler than the first. This time I tried the underwater immersion test for just 20 minutes, leaving a Word document open. The machine went into sleep mode. After 10 minutes, Windows ran a test, but the document reappeared after the test completion. After the computer dried overnight, it turned on fine, but there was a message stating, "The fan of this machine is abnormal."

When it offered a restored version of the test document, I thought I was in the clear.

After a few more days, however, the machine came on but repeatedly checked the file system, loaded user settings, then shut down -- and eventually stopped coming on altogether. While the unit can withstand 4-foot drops, rain and hail, I must say users should not submerge it underwater for any length of time. If it is submerged and still comes on afterward, move the data as soon as possible before the unit quits for good. The company's literature claims it can withstand dust, sand, salt fog, contamination by fluids and solar radiation, though I did not put these claims to the test.

The Xplore iX104Cz is an impressive computer, but I'm troubled by its inability to live up to the immersion claim.

The company said the computer performed fine at a trade show a week after I sent it back.

Specs

Minimum 40 GB 2.5-inch rugged hard drive

256 MB DDR RAM

Intel 1.1 GHz Pentium M 733 processor

11.2 x 8.25 x 1.6 inches

10.25-inch color LCD display TFT XGA (1024 x 768)

4.45 lbs.

Integrated, protected wireless LAN and WAN antennas

SIM socket and Bluetooth antenna

2 USB ports

Rating: 1 out of 5

Miriam Jones  |  Chief Copy Editor