Types of Rugged PDA Keyboards

30 01 2011

Rugged PDA’s often have an option of which keyboard they come with and here we’re going to have a look at the Types of Rugged PDA Keyboards you should be looking for, for your solution.  The exact type of keyboard you’ll be looking for will depend on what your scenario is so we’ll take some typical Rugged Handheld Solution types and see what you should be thinking about.

Field Devices

If you need a field device, typically for use in mobile scenarios then you’re going to be looking for one the following Rugged PDA Keyboard Types.

Motorola MC55 demonstrates the Numeric, Qwerty & PDA Keyboard types perfrectly

Motorola MC55 demonstrates the Numeric, Qwerty & PDA Keyboard types perfectly

Numeric – Historic Mobile Phone Style

The most common keyboard type and pretty much all Rugged Handhelds have this choice.  Its the most popular by far because you can easily input misread barcode and QTY data, you have the easiest keyboard to use the device as a phone and its the most well-known format keyboard so your users will be running quickly.  It also gives the best balance of having well spaced keys making in glove operation easy.

Qwerty – Blackberry Style

Making a bit of a comeback in the field sales and engineering semi-rugged world, qwerty keyboards have a full keyboard squeezed ont the device.  Where you need to input extended amounts of data, such as case/call updates or extensive email use this keyboard will come in very handy.  However finding those numeric keys for phone usage is often more complicated and the keyboard can be so tiny on some devices that it’s difficult to use.  Forget glove wearing usage on these!

PDA – iPhone style

More akin to the smartphone style keyboards that the  iPhone made popular, these allow you to fit a larger screen onto a smaller form factor where you do not need a keyboard.  Most popular with the semi rugged engineering scenario where reading data through a well designed mobile  application is required where the button presses are kept to a minimum.  Don’t forget though that Rugged or semi-rugged PDA’s all use “Touch” screens not “capacitive” ones so you’ll never have a great keyboard unless you get that stylus out.

Warehouse/Retail Devices

Typically these devices have a longer/thinner form factor, often seen with Gun handle attachments.  The difference for this purposes if this blog is the scan intensity and job at hand.  Phone and GPRS is often not required in these devices.

Rugged Handheld Numeric and Alphanumeric keyboards

Rugged Handheld Numeric and Alphanumeric keyboards

28 Key Numeric

The most optimised keyboard for 1 hand scanning and ease of entering QTY or barcode data easily.  In a stock take or picking scenario this will be hard to beat, especially when matched with one of the new small rugged handheld breed devices like the Pidion BIP-7000 or Psion NEO.  Often the scan buttons are bigger on these devices and the devices themselves can be asymmetrical for left and right hand use.

48+ Key Alphanumeric

These are the big keyboards you see on those Motorola MC9090G’s that Tesco and Asda love so much!  There’s also a very good reason you often see this together with a Zebra QL printer, they’re being used to update and print new shelf price/info labels.  Here a better, qwerty style keyboard is required to enter small amounts of product data, however you also see ABC.. ordered keyboards here too which make entering more complex serial number codes easier..

Scan Buttons

Rugged Handheld - The importance of Scan Button Position

Rugged Handheld – The importance of Scan Button Position

Just to round things off also make sure that on Warehouse devices you have multiple scan buttons.  As seen in the image above, The BIP-7000 has a centre button on top of the device, 2 side buttons and a trigger button underneath making it very versatile in this scenario.

The keyboard you choose for your solution is very important so make sure you always consult your users, know exactly what your solution will require in terms of data capture and data output and of course work closely with your reseller to look at a range of devices before committing to one.  The keyboard is not usually swappable after you buy the device so this is very important on what is perhaps the most used Human-Machine interface to the device.

Get it wrong and your solution will be less efficient with the Rugged PDA becoming an unloved part of your users day.  I’ve even heard of health issues attributed to the wrong keyboard/device type where strain on users hands or wrists has become too much.

If in doubt ask us here, we’re always happy to advise and help!

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

Rugged Handheld Screen Sizes

28 01 2011
Different Rugged PDA Screen Sizes

Different Rugged PDA Screen Sizes

Quick post today!  A fair amount of people are adamant on the Rugged PDA screen size before they come to us so it’s often a non-compromise element on the choice of rugged handheldLCD size on a rugged PDA is measured diagonally just like TV screens.

What Rugged PDA Screen size are there?

The main LCD size is still the 3.5″ which probably 75% of the devices out there use.  2.8″ is making somewhat of a come back too at the moment with a few new “small Rugged PDA” class devices touting them on a smaller but fully rugged form factor, like the GaneData GSMart and Intermec CS40.

Psion are the odd bunch here with their Psion IKON touting a 3.7″ screen and their NEO with a 2.7″ screen.  Do you tell the size difference…not in my opinion but the odd sizes probably make these device more costly.

3.0 and 3.2″ are still found and in fact Motorola’s ES400 has this size of screen.  3.0″ screen size gives you a very small form factor even after adding on a qwerty keypad, arguably what the customers are asking for in this class if you talk to Motorola.

4.3″ seems to be just making its way into the rugged market now with PartnerTech’s OT-200 touting a very iPhone-esq look and feel with its devices.

If you want smaller then there are some CE based devices out there with very small, square non touch screens.

and that’s about it for now.  I still the market is crying out for a 5 or 6″ Rugged PDA Screen!

Different Rugged PDA Screen Sizes

Different Rugged PDA Screen Sizes

Some tips on screen sizes

The larger the screen, the more battery you’ll need to power it.  Along with ruggedness this is one of the main reasons why a smartphone just doesn’t cut it for line of business solutions.

The larger the screen, generally the larger the device.  However we are seeing more semi-rugged PDA’s coming out with 3.5″+ screens that are bucking this trend.  You do need to check out the battery life or size of the extended battery option though.

All but 1 rugged PDA from Skeye have portrait screens

Check out the resolution of the screen too.  QVGA s is still the norm (320×240) but VGA is now the norm on newly updated devices (640×480) however there are other resolutions too like XVGA on 4.3″ screens giving them and effectively longer screen real estate.  Be careful to test when porting your application because we see many applications out there that have not been written correctly to be run on different screen resolutions.

That’s about it, told you it was quick today!  Tomorrow we’ll take a look at keyboards and wrap up with other areas that make Rugged Handhelds uniquely great for you mission critical solutions.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

Rugged PDA Accessories

27 01 2011
Rugged PDA Accessories

Rugged PDA Accessories

Rugged PDA Accessories are an integral part of the Rugged Handheld choice and as art of the decision making process you should definitely consider the accessories as a large part of the success of your platform.

Whats in the box, or not in the box!

Perhaps the most common issue we find with customers of other resellers is knowing exactly what to expect from each manufacturer.  The classic scenario is just thinking you got that Motorola quote to where you need it, only to find all you get is the device and battery in the box.  You genuinely need to add at least £50 on to the price of any Motorola Rugged PDA to have a syncing/charging capable device.  Others like Pidion bundle everything you need with even a solid rugged cradle in the box.

Rugged PDA Accessory Choice

People are looking for choice more and more and you really need to do this work before you decide or at least as you’re deciding on a rugged handheld.  Are you using the device in vehicles a lot?  Do you need cases, are quad charges, ethernet ready chargers or even battery only chargers a requirement?  Leads, battery choices and all kinds can be the difference in a working solution and one that’s always going to be a struggle.

Rugged PDA Accessory Prices

There’s no hard and fast rule here.  Some go for the cheaper use/abuse/lose and rebuy philosophy” with perhaps less of a rugged approach to their accessory line, others are just less expensive but offer a nicely rugged accessory list.  Psion tend to be the best value, Motorola and Intermec are expensive but also good quality and the rest come somewhere in between!

Some accessories are worth the price.  Some, like £10 plastic stylus’ are not!!

Accessories for Ergonomics

If you’re using a Rugged PDA in certain environments then you need accessories to make life easier or even to stop injury to your users.  If you’re in a high intensity scanning scenario then you’ll need a gun/trigger attachment, with a holster holder or even neck tether for lighter devices.  Quick release holders for vehicles or belts and vehicle chargers that make life just that bit easier for the Courier and handstraps, anti-glare screens and cases that keep the device at hand and easier to use in the field.

Specialist accessories

Here we’re talking about heated holders and insulated holsters for fridge/freezer solutions, some manufacturers do this better than others with datalogic and Intermec leading the way.  For highway or mapping scenarios, specialist Trimble accessories help you with very precise GPS data capture.  Always ask about accessories if you have an unusual scenario.

Rugged PDA Snap On Accessories

Rugged PDA Snap On Accessories

Rugged PDA Snap-Ons

Due to the hosted nature the USB ports on Rugged PDA’s can work under, we see a plethora of “snap-ons” being made, especially for the most common devices.  Snaps ons range from IRDA, RS232 cable, RFID, Magnetic Card readers and Biometric Finger print readers and much more.  The most common brands also have snap-ons from  pure snap on providers like TSL and can be the difference when choosing, say a Motorola or Intermec device over a more obscure one.

With rapidly changing data capture solutions, we’re seeing the role of the snap-on increase markedly as it allows the rugged PDA to remain standard for longer whilst being able to perform tasks originally not capable for doing.

Don’t forget that we source and sell a whole plethora of off list accessories from vehicle cradles to impact resistant screen protectors so always make sure you ask because there are some very new and innovative solutions on the market.  Tomorrow we’ll look at the modular nature of the Rugged PDA and why this is so important to providing your business with a robust line of business application.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

Rugged PDA Battery Questions Answered

26 01 2011
The Rugged PDA Battery

The Rugged PDA Battery

So continuing this week’s theme on Rugged PDA technology, we’re taking a look at the Rugged PDA BatteryBatteries for Rugged Handhelds come in all shapes and sizes and we’re going to clear up all the questions we get right here in one post.

Size does matter! – Battery capacity explained

The most common question we get asked about Rugged Handheld Batteries is “how long do they last!”  We’ll cover this off here first and i’ll start by answering with the classic answer…”What are doing with the Rugged PDA?”  It’s not as dumb an answer as you might first think because its asking the essential question.  Much like a tank of fuel in your car, if you use your aircon and want to drive at 100mph then you’re going to get fewer miles than if you’re doing a steady 60mph on the motorway and batteries are no different.

Typical Rugged PDA Battery Capacities

Battery size is measured by mAh (Mill amp hours) and the larger the battery, the larger the mAh, the longer it will last.  So a 4000mAh battery in the same device will last in theory twice as long as a 2000mAh battery.  Most rugged Rugged Handheld Batteries are 2000mAh or over (Smartphones tend to be no more than 1200mAh) but its common to see sizes as large as 3600mAh being the standard now.

Rugged PDA Battery Strategy

Are 2 smaller batteries better than 1 large one?  The pros are:

  • You can share if you are working close by other PDA users.
  • You can charge a battery whilst using the PDA.
  • The device is lighter.
  • Larger batteries require more charging time.
  • Sometimes the larger battery requires different accessories or won’t fit into the standard charges/cradles.


  • People do lose the spare batteries!
  • You have to fiddle with the case opening and closing it properly putting the device at more risk of damage.  You might also want to try to lock the casing down and will not be able to do this.
  • You have to effectively switch the device off to change the battery and this can happen at bad moments for your application.
  • 2 smaller batteries usually cost more than 1 large one.

You really need to look at what you are doing to make the right choice here but by and large we find that an extended battery is the best option for most.

Different Rugged PDA Battery Technologies

80% of what we use is now Li-ION.  These batteries like to be kept charged up, the old “Memory” issues are no longer applicable as they were on older NI-Cad or NI-H batteries that we no longer see much off now.  Li-Polymer batteries, like in the iPhone or iPad are making their way on to some Rugged devices now and these improve battery life markedly so what out for these.

The other are that can change battery life is changing the Voltage.  You will see devices with higher voltage batteries that will mean the current and thus power used should be less for the same demand.  It’s not quite like this but in the rugged PDA world batteries with higher voltages are definitely longer lasting for their capacity.

Manufacturer differences

Different manufacturers tend to manage batteries better than others and this is down to the CPU, firmware and power management offered.  Although a little odd, Motorola do some to get an awful lot of power from their 3600mAh battery on the MC55/65, although the MC75 is not nearly as good, probably the CPU and HSDPA.  Psion go for the whole hog 5000mAh battery strategy but they also do have a nice power approach making the IKON very strong.  I think the XScalePXA320 CPU generally gets a good wrap as does anything with a lI-Pol from Ganedata and with the RIsc architecture in the Janams and Newer Intermecs.

The big battery drainers and what to do about them

In this rough order its LCD, Voice or GSM, GPRS/3G, Scanner, GPS, WiFi, anything using a timer in software and the rest!.


Your LCD and especially the LCD brightness will be the single biggest drainer of your battery so make sure you manage how it is used.  Rugged PDA’s come with a range of built in power and LCD management tools to help you with this so if the device has been idle for 2 minutes, switch the LCD off.  Also remember the larger the LCD, the power it drains so a small Rugged PDA with a 2,8″ screen will last a lot longer than one with a 3.5″ screen, everything else being equal.

Voice/Data usage

Of course we all know that using the phone is a battery heavy task, but not a lot of people realise that the signal strength also hurts battery life hugely.  If the lower the signal, the higher the battery usage is, even if not using the phone and this goes for GPRS usage too.  GPRS or 2G also uses far less energy than HSDPA so if you’re going to be doing a lot of data syncing but at low levels of data size then consider a GPRS enabled Rugged PDA rather than the latest HSDPA one.  Another big mistake we see a lot here are applications that do not switch automatically to WiFi when they detect they are in range but instead continue to use GPRS to sync data.


Anything with moving parts is a killer, anything that emits lights is a killer so barcode scanners of all types, cameras, flashes and RFID readers all fall into this category.  They will drain the battery significantly if used consistently.  A lot of people leave their scanners in an on state not closing them in their software application so make sure your scanner is not enabled when it doesn’t need to be.


This is of course using a lot of energy, but not as much as compared to GPRS.  We do a lot here with GPS and the trick is to either ping your position less where you can actually put your GPS chip to sleep in between readings and also when sending any live position data back, adjusting the intervals you do this will help significantly.  Of course there’s a live tradeoff in doing this.  Later GPS chips are also far less energy-consuming.  A SIRF III chipset will lock on quicker, track more accurately and use less power then an older chip.


Surprisingly WiFi is not a huge demand on the PDA unless you have a poor or conflicting signals.  Of course the more data being passed over it the higher the energy usage.


Don’t forget theat badly designed software can still affect your battery  markedly.  The more threads, timers and use of all of the above, the less time your battery will survive.

There we have it, everything yo need to know to ask the right questions about Rugged Handheld batteries.  Its more of an art if you ask me but knowing this and dealing with a good Reseller like us here will be the path to Battery utopia!!

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

Rugged Handhelds With barcode Scanners

25 01 2011

Rugged Handhelds are fast becoming the core of a whole host of wonderfully innovative solutions as mobile and data capture becomes the main stream.  So this week we’re going to take a step by step look at all the main technologies that a rugged handheld employs, why they are so useful and why they are so much better than a plain old Smartphone!

Today we’ll start with Barcode scanners

Any Rugged PDA worth its salt comes with a built in barcode scanner and in fact over the years it has been barcoding that has formed the core of Rugged Handheld solutions.  We’ve blogged and have white papers on barcode technology so if you want to know a bit more than pop across to our website or search our blog here for a plethora of barcoding information, here we’re going to keep things high level!

Rugged Hanhelds with Built in Barcode Scanners

Rugged Hanhelds with Built in Barcode Scanners

Why bother with a barcode scanner?

“ID” is very important to most mobile projects where either a barcode or RFID tag is placed on an asset for easy identification.  Barcode Scanners make it very easy to scan a tag quickly and in an intuitive manner.  The end result is that you have an easier application to use, your work is done far quicker and user errors are eliminated.

What are the options?

The main options to look out for are the type of barcode scanner available.  The below covers the main options that Rugged Handheld manufacturers offer:

1D or laser based scanners – are generally faster, more reliable and just work very well.  These are like the scanners you see at the tills in Asda and they still offer the most efficient ID technology today.  Some rugged PDA’s like the Psion range also offer an Imager based barcode reader that are a cheaper alternative to the laser option, very close in performance but with less moving parts.

2D Barcode Scanners – are effectively camera based.  they have no moving parts so are arguably more rugged and can scan all barcodes including the 2D variants.  Scan performance is slower but you can put a lot more data in your barcodes.  2D barcodes are also the future for barcoding so having a 2D ready Rugged Handheld is no bad thing, unless you are looking for very high scan throughput in your solution.

Camera based barcode scanning - Semi-rugged PDA’s and some smartphones from HTC do have apps that let you scan from the camera but be warned.  These are usually very slow, even the Motorola ES400 camera is not regarded as a decent barcode scanner here, they are also very prone to mis-reads on 1D barcodes, are far more susceptible to problems with the environment they are in  and they are not regarded as a decent solution for anything remotel mission critical.

How do Barcode Scanners work?

Built in scanners work in 2 ways.  They can be programmed to work as a “Keyboard Wedge” where the barcode scanner simply acts exactly like a keyboard.  This way you can be up and running, scanning in a basic manner say into an Excel spreadsheet very quickly.  Or you use the SDK of the rugged handheld which will give you fine control over the barcode scanner from within your own application and code.

Who has the best Rugged Handheld built in Barcode Scanner?

Well if I’m being honest about this I could configure any manufacturers barcode scanner to work better than any out of the box solution which means for 1D scanning they are all good enough and very close.  If I had to edge it then the Motorola 1D scanners are probably the best for me.  This could be due to being more used to their retail scanner products, it might be that they are very configurable I don’t know!

2D wise, the Adaptus scanner from Honeywell wins for me, although the latest 2D scanner from Motorola is also very good, possibly better although yet to be officially tested here.

You’ll find both of these scanners in a lot of other equipment, for instance Janam use the Adaptus, Ganedata use both.

Datalogic and Pidion are worth a mention here too as we do like their scanner products.  They are different, innovative and very good too.

Bluetooth Barcode Scanners

Bluetooth Barcode Scanners

OK so I have a load of PDA’s already why not use a Bluetooth scanner?

Well if this is the situation you’re in then there’s no shame to that as sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got.  There are some very good BT barcode scanners on the market that we actively recommend from Socket, Baracoda, Opticon, Ciperlab and others.  However like with everything else there are tradeoffs to this solution.

Pro’s of built in Rugged Handheld Barcode Scanner

  1. Your using a built in scanner with a supplied SDK, everything you do will be on the device and you will be working with 1 manufacturer.  It’s a lot simpler this way.
  2. They are the least expensive solution and you will not get close with a rugged scanner in terms of price.
  3. Bluetooth is a lot better today but the extra connection still has to be managed and the extra complexity of what happens when the BT scanner drops connection or stops working is sometimes a solution killer.
  4. BT barcode readers are often lost, the batteries do not last as long as they are needed and they are an added manufacturer and complexity in general.
  5. Your reseller will offer far more help integrating a Rugged PDA based solution than you’ll get from buying a few scanners.
  6. Rugged BT scanners are expensive, non-rugged ones do not last!

Pro’s of a Bluetooth Barcode Scanner

  1. You have Flexibility!  BT scanners are light, easier to scan awkwardly placed barcodes and you can even choose whatever scanner you need in the first place!  Being able to replace either the scanner or Rugged PDA could be less risky to success.
  2. They do present the cheapest option for non rugged solutions where a PDA and BT scanner can be a £300-400 solution.  This is only viable though if your solution is truly non-rugged.
  3. Arguably the battery in the BT scanner can mean you get better battery life.  The right scanner and the right process could mean both devices work for longer but the solution required will be more complex.
  4. They are not as configurable, they do not have extensive SDK’s like the Rugged Handhelds have and as such if you have anything but the most normal scanning conditions a BT scanner could be an issue for you
  5. I do not think there are any 2D Bluetooth Barcode Scanners on the market today other than specific ones designed to work with a specific Rugged PDA like the Intermec SR range.
  6. Certain BT scanners will work with pretty much anything these days so Android phones, iPhones etc are now dropping into this market with this kind of solution.

So there we go a brief overview of the built in scanner element of the Rugged Handheld, tomorrow we’ll look at batteries and what you need to know about Rugged PDA batteries in particular.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

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