Rugged Handhelds With barcode Scanners

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!

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.

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.