Rugged PDA Accessory Connector Explained

 

I think that rugged PDA connectors are in the top 5 most debated about items we have here, especially on the semi-rugged kit where users are far more used to having Mini or Micro USB that forms a more known and generic connector to their devices.  So why do Rugged Handhelds seemingly all seem to have their own unique proprietary connections for each PDA they make?

Connector Ruggedness

The main reason is that the adopted Mini and Micro standards of their smartphone counterparts aswell as barrel style connectors are simply not rugged enough.

Firstly one wiggle will often be enough to snap the mini USB connector right off the main board which cab be a costly mistake to make.  Secondly the open nature of USB means that there is very little protection against dust and water ingress.  In fact I don’t think a device can be rugged enough to be IP54 with a USB connector that’s not covered or housed in some way.  The connect and disconnect rating of USB is quite low too which is fine for a fancy smart phone you’re changing ever 12 months but for a rugged PDA you’re hoping to run a line of business application for 3-5 years or beyond, you need a connector that’s capable of lasting this length of time too.

Lastly many manufacturers offer a flat pin style of connector that is the ultimate in protecting the device.  There’s nothing to break, nothing accessible, nothing that moves or can be damaged by users or by dropping in mud etc and if dropped the accessory will snap before the device does.

Connector Pins and customisation

Rugged connectors typically have 10-20+ pins whereas USB will have 4 or 5 at most.  This makes rugged PDA connectors far more versatile as each pin can be used for a specific job without requiring any software or driver help.  For instance it’s easy to create a null modem cable once the Rx and TX pin outs have been identified and you can usually make a cable quickly and easily that needs no more help to function with the device.  It also gives accessory makers a better chance at making decent solid accessories at a less expensive price point.  If you ask your reseller, they will often show you a whole host of very nice accessories that are custom-made for rugged PDA’s.

Dual Rugged PDA Connectors can help with innovative accessory design

Power transfer

Some devices require different voltages, some require higher Amp ratings to charge and this can necessitate requiring a connector that can cope.  Barrel connectors can be ideal in non-rugged scenarios but they really aren’t rugged.  Wiggle them and they go loose, they’re not waterproof in any way and they can corrode quickly.

Accessory Consistency

The fact still remains that if you manage to get something working you buy elsewhere, or even dare I say Ebay! then you are taking a risk with your accessory, especially if it’s a vehicle or mains charger.  Customers often forget that a simple charger can be the root of many issues, some more latent than others and saving £10 on a charger today can cost you £300+ in faults later on.  It’s not just about getting the power right for the device, it’s also about ensuring that you buy the kit from a known source and if you buy your accessories elsewhere then why should your PDA reseller be the first point of contact when things go wrong?  By buying your accessories in one place you not only have the guarantee of using the correct kit, but you also keep a reseller who will be happy to help when you see issues.

Connector Questions and Myths

Why are manufacturer accessories, especially the charge and sync leads so expensive?

I think certain brands like Intermec and Motorola who have a range of accessories that are clearly designed to be more rugged aren’t at fault here per se, but their accessories still enjoy a price only experienced by being unique.  Other brands clearly make it difficult and overcharge for basic accessories that are often no better than anything you can find.  Talk  to your reseller as they can often help.

They are surely just trying to lock us in?

Well this is a case of you;re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t.  It is true that when you change device all your accessories have to be changed too but there are solutions to this now (Come talk to us about this), but if the stds that are available aren’t rugged then what else do you do?

But some Rugged PDA’s use Min USB and Micro USB is also starting to be found on some semi-rugged devices?

USB is a standard that is easy to buy in and deploy on a device design.  You have very little BSP programming to do as drivers are already available and you do see it on the lesser known brands quite a lot.  It makes the device cheaper, if you lose the rubber covers to them then the device will lose its IP rating and you also have to be wary using the connectors as they can break far more easily.  Micro USB is better but it does still restrict the types of accessories you can use on the device due to design and due to the weight of accessory it can hold.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at some of the main accessories you should be checking a device has before you buy.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.

About The Author

Dave's one of the founders of Raptor, his rants are memorable, his thoughts are stimulating and his heart is set on helping, entertaining and making things like mobile, Android, ruggedness, 3D printing and IOT simple.

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