Types of Rugged PDA Keyboards

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.

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.

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

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.