Rugged PDA Barcode Scanners come in all shapes and sizes and we’re interrupting our test centre blog this week as we’re moving this away to another site in favour of keeping this blog focussed on tech, opinion and expert articles!

Rugged PDA Barcode scanners come in 4 main variations and each of them have their pro’s and cons and we discuss them here:

Laser 1d Barcode Scanner

This is still the most commonly used barcode scanner and still the one you see in the supermarkets.  Laser scanners are fast, have a good range and flexibility and if you’re not going to be scanning 2D barcodes they’re unbeatable.  They are cheaper than 2D barcode scanners too.  The Motorola MC65 for instance has a scan range of 55cm in our testing, scanning efficiently form 4cm up to 55cm.

LED 1D Barcode Imager

Think of these as a cheaper version of the Laser barcode scanners.  Instead of using a laser light they use LED generated light and are like the scanners found on a lot of Psion Rugged PDA’s.  They are more susceptible to light interference, typically have less range and flexibility but they’re cheaper.  If you can live with what is effectively a “Cheaper” barcode scanner then they are often a good way to keep your Rugged PDA price down.

2D Barcode Imager

Like the 1D Imager above, this is called and “Imager” because it’s just that.  Rather than having an array of sensors to detect the barcode, it uses a camera array, in this case a 2D one, almost identical to the one in your pocket camera.  2D barcode scanners are getting better and better and it’s where all the money is going at the moment.  2D Barcodes are the future of barcoding, they’re more robust, can store more information and they are smaller and more easily printed.  So why would you not opt for the 2D Barcode Imager in your Rugged PDA?  Well firstly they are still more expensive, they are slower and have typically had less range and flexibility when scanning.  They are indeed just more awkward to use.  However many Rugged PDA’s now bundle a 2D imager as standard anyway and the newest ones, like the Blockbuster in the newer Motorola devices or the EV30 in the new Intermec CS40 are a major step forward, almost giving the same levels of usability as a laser scanner.

Camera Based Barcode Scanner

There are many reason why in theory the standard 3MP camera of your Rugged PDA, HTC or iPhone can be used to scan barcodes, but in practise there are may reason why they make poor barcode readers.  You’ll get a poor range, poor flexibility and if there are multiple barcodes near each other than they struggle to scan the right one.  Often the SDK’s, if they are present at all, are not good enough to use from within your software app either.  Even Motorola’s ES400 camera based scanner can only read from 5-7cm in our testing so if you don’t rely on good barcode scanning as part of your business model then, after a few weeks your users will get used to these, but otherwise they are still a poor option.

Personally we’re seeing the small rugged pda’s lead the way now with bundled 2D barcode scanners in a small form factor and it will be this class of rugged PDA that sets the trend in the near future.

The Rugged and Mobile blog.