Thursday, April 26, 2007

Handheld Computer Considerations



There are a lot of good handheld computers available and some bad ones. I will leave the bad ones for a future discussion and focus on some of the points to consider when selecting good handheld hardware.

  1. What environment will you be using the handheld computer in - is it hot, cold, wet, dusty or filled with explosive vapors? Is it a clean office environment, or a rugged out-of-doors environment?
  2. Is your software application focused exclusively on bar code scanning, RFID reading, GPS, or do you need a multi-purpose device?
  3. Will the hardware configuration ever need to be changed? Some handhelds can be configured at will, others are locked and can only be used with the original configuration.
  4. What hardware does your selected software require?
  5. Will the battery last long enough to accomplish your work? Do you need back-up batteries? Can you use batteries purchased at the local market, or are they vendor specific?
  6. What is your budget? What does the value of using a handheld computer justify spending? Do you have enough budget to purchase the software and hardware you need? Does your budget only allow for low cost consumer devices? How many replacements cover the cost of a ruggedized handheld?
  7. How do you replace broken devices? Can you get a replacement in 24 hours, or must you wait on the slow-boat-from-China?
  8. What kind of support contracts and warranties are available?
  9. How long will you new handheld computer be supported, serviced and manufactured by the vendor. Is it near end of life and being discounted for a reason?
  10. Can you upgrade the operating system when Microsoft releases a new version of their mobile operating system?
  11. Can you use standard laptop data cards in the handheld, or do you need to pay for high priced vendor specific cards?
  12. Can you view the screen effectively in the sunlight?
  13. Does the bar code scanner work effectively in real-world environment? Some scanners can not scan effectively through glass or plastic.
  14. Is the size and weight of the handheld appropriate for the user and environment?
  15. Can your handheld computer support all the add-ons you require at the same time? Some devices can only support a specific number of add-on components so you are forced to choose. Some can not support both a GPS and a data card at the same time. Some devices can not support both a bar code scanner and a GPS add-on. This is an important consideration.
  16. Do you need only a touch screen and navigation pad, or a number pad or a full QWERTY keyboard? This is very important for user acceptance.
  17. Is the handheld device also going to be used as a phone? Is a 2 pound industrial grade handheld really a usable phone?
  18. Does your low cost consumer grade PDA need a rugged case like the ones Otterbox sells?
  19. If you only have a budget for a low cost device, does it support the battery life and add-on components you require?
  20. How will the device be transported around a job site? Will it strap to a belt, swing from a shoulder strap, sit in a holster or be mounted to the dashboard of your truck? Does your device support your chosen method?
  21. Where is the closest inventory of the handheld computers? Where is the closest repair depot?
  22. Will your vendor loan you a device on trial?
  23. How will your handheld computer send data back to the office - cradle sync, WiFi, bluetooth, GPRS/GSM, CDMA?
  24. What size screen do you need? Some devices like the Jett-Eye have a "landscape view" others a "portrait view" many have different sized screens. What do you require?
  25. Do you need an integrated digital camera? Do you need a low or high resolution camera and does your device support it?
  26. Does a refurbished device from Ryzex make better sense that a new device?
  27. Where is your vendor's office? Are they in the neighborhood or on the other side of the planet? Does their location offer you the support and attention you deserve?
  28. Does your handheld computer run on the same operating system that your software solutions require?
  29. Does your handheld computer come with a pistol grip or other straps that help you avoid dropping it?
  30. Can you comfortably hold the device in your handheld and complete the required job? Some devices have scanners on the side, on the end or underneath.
  31. Can you effectively view the data you need? Some jobs simply require a full keyboard and a full screen for viewing large CAD files or Maps. Does your screen size match your requirements?