Roper Mobile Switchback UMPC

There’s something contradictory about devices that are small enough to go anywhere, but so fragile that you’d never dare remove them from the safety of the not-so-great indoors. After all, ultra-mobile isn’t so ultra when it comes with strings attached. While not everyone needs to drag a fully functional PC to the top of the mountain, or check their email in a rain storm, Roper technology has discovered the niche for those who do, and developed a device especially for them.

The Switchback is basically an ultra-mobile PC built Rambo-style. With a tough magnesium housing, beefy rubber overmold, and a seamless keyboard that’s one part Razr and one part DOOM, it certainly stands out among a field of blocky silver boxes that were built to be coddled on commuter trains and airplanes.

Fortunately, it also has the grit to back up the look. Equipped with a solid-state drive, the Switchback has met a number of impressive durability benchmarks, from surviving a four-foot drop to concrete, to operating in temperatures of 131 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also passed the U.S. military’s rather stringent MIL-STD-810F testing, which sets standards for additional performance hurdles like shock and humidity resistance. To top it all off, it’s one of the few UMPCs that can truly be called waterproof, having successfully endured a half hour underwater to pass IP67 testing.

Roper Mobile Switchback
Image Courtesy of Roper Mobile

Outside of physical toughness, the Switchback’s specs very closely resemble what one might find on a more pedestrian UMPC, including a 1.0 GHz Intel Celeron M processor, Intel GMA-900 graphics, and 512MB of memory. Wireless 802.11b/g is optional, along with Bluetooth 2.0, and GPS for the truly adventurous. The base Switchback gets a 40GB conventional hard drive, but larger drives up to 120GB, or 64GB in solid-state form, are available, and all drives are removable. While the touch-enabled screen on the Switchback spans a generous 5.6 inches, the device pays for that size in weight, where, at three pounds, it’s a bit of a heffer.

One of the Switchback’s more intriguing features involves the ability to use “backpacks,” which are specialized modules built to latch on to the Switchback and interface directly with it via a high-speed connection. The standard backpack simply offers a lot more ports, such as PCMCIA, serial, VGA, audio in and out, plus an additional USB 2.0 port. However, since many Switchback customers will likely be large clients with industrial and military applications, Roper also offers the possibility of custom-designing backpacks, which can feature anything from digital cameras to RFID scanners.

There’s no question that the Switchback isn’t for everyone, and the lack of retail availability for the device sadly means that most of us civilians will have a hard time getting our hands on them. While the Switchback can be spotted for sale to consumers on the Web, a price tag upwards of $6,000 for the base unit certainly makes it a dream for all but the most well-off admirers. Those seeking more information on the Switchback can find it on Roper Mobile’s Web site.