Tuesday, September 29, 2009

54 Questions to Help You Select the Right Mobile Handheld Computer

Mobile computing requires mobile computers. Which brands and models you select can be a hard decision. The following list of questions are designed to help you think through some of the big issues that will enable you to narrow down the selection list.

The first big question you should answer is what is the primary purpose of the handheld or mobile device. Is it barcode scanning, GPS, RFID, surveying, map reading, voice calls, email, digital signatures or field data collection?

The second big question is what is the environment that the device will be used in. Is it used in the office, clinic, warehouse, cold storage or out in the rain on a construction site.

There are a large number of very good handheld computers, PDAs, Tablet PCs, laptops and Smart Phones to select from, however, the key to getting the right mobile device is to research the business purposes and the environment in which the solution will be used before making a selection. The following questions should help you narrow down your list of mobile handheld computers:
  1. What environment will you be working in - is it hot, cold, wet or dusty?
  2. How rugged do you need your device? There is a ruggedness scale.
  3. Are there explosive vapors or explosive powders?
  4. Is it a clean office environment, or a muddy and rugged outdoors environment?
  5. Is the user in and out of vehicles all day?
  6. Is your software application focused exclusively on bar code scanning, RFID reading, GPS, or do you need a multi-purpose data collection device?
  7. 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.
  8. Will the device be used as a primary phone, or is it focused on data collection?
  9. What hardware requirements does your mobile application require?
  10. Will the battery last long enough to complete your daily work between charges? Do you need back-up batteries? Can you use batteries purchased at the local market, or are they vendor specific?
  11. What is your budget? What does the value of using a handheld computer justify spending?
  12. Do you have enough budget to purchase or develop the mobile software and hardware you need? Does your budget only allow for low cost consumer devices?
  13. How many replacements(of a consumer device) does it take to equal the cost of a ruggedized handheld?
  14. How do you replace broken devices? Can you get a replacement service in 24 hours, or must you wait a week?
  15. What kind of support contracts and warranties are available?
  16. How long will your new handheld computer be supported, serviced and manufactured by the vendor? Is it near end of life and being discounted for a reason?
  17. Can you upgrade the operating system when Microsoft releases a new version of their mobile operating system?
  18. Can you use standard laptop data cards in the handheld, or do you need to pay for high priced vendor specific cards?
  19. Can you view the screen effectively in the sunlight?
  20. Can you add more memory if your requirements increase?
  21. A few industrial handheld computers have flashlights built into the device to provide better light for taking digital photos. Is this useful?
  22. Do you require GPS? If so, how accurate?
  23. Will your users be wearing gloves? If so, small keyboard buttons won't work. How big of keys do you need?
  24. Do you need a water proof, or just water resistant case for your handheld?
  25. Does the bar code scanner work effectively in real-world environment? Some scanners cannot scan effectively through glass or plastic.
  26. Is the size and weight of the handheld appropriate for the user and environment?
  27. 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 cannot support both a GPS and a data card at the same time. Some devices cannot support both a bar code scanner and a GPS add-on. This is an important consideration.
  28. Do you need only a touch screen and navigation pad, a number pad or a full QWERTY keyboard? This is very important for user acceptance.
  29. Is the handheld device also going to be used as a phone? Is a 2 pound industrial grade handheld really a usable phone?
  30. Does your low cost consumer grade PDA need a rugged case like the ones Otterbox sells?
    If you only have a budget for a low cost device, does it support the battery life and add-on components you require?
  31. 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?
  32. Where is the closest inventory of extra handheld computers? Where is the closest repair depot?
  33. Will your vendor loan you a device on trial?
  34. Can you rent the handheld if you only need it for a short-term project?
  35. Does your vendor take trade-ins on your old handheld computers?
  36. Can you get the same exact handheld, under a different brand name for less?
  37. How will your handheld computer send data back to the office? Cradle sync, WiFi, bluetooth, wireless data card, GPRS/GSM, CDMA?
  38. 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?
  39. Do you need an integrated digital camera? Do you need a low or high resolution camera and does your device support it?
  40. Does a refurbished device from Ryzex make better sense that a new device?
  41. 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?
  42. Does your handheld computer run on the same operating system that your mobile software solutions requires? I have had customers order Windows CE devices for their Windows Mobile application. It did not work.
  43. Is your device likely to be stolen? If so, you may want to use cheap devices that can be easily secured and replaced. We have implemented projects in Africa where this was an issue for the buyer.
  44. Does your handheld computer come with a pistol grip or other straps that help you avoid dropping it?
  45. Can you comfortably hold the device in your handheld and complete your work? Some devices have scanners on the side, on the end or underneath.
  46. 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?
  47. Where will you store the device when you use the washroom? One of my customers used Tablet PCs and they kept breaking when they slipped off of the sinks in the bathrooms.
  48. Does the mobile device you select support the RFID reader you need for distance and accuracy?
  49. Does the battery in the mobile handheld last long enough after you have added on all the additional hardware accessories? Each added radio uses more energy.
  50. If you have dozens of handheld computers, how will you charge them all at the same time? Do you have a docking station that allows for all of your devices to both charge and synchronize at the same time?
  51. Do you need wireless data plans, or does batch synchronziation after each shift work?
  52. What wireless carrier and data plan provides the best service and cost for you? Does that wireless carrier support your mobile device?
  53. Does the wireless carrier have sufficient coverage for your workers?
  54. What is your budget for each handheld computer? This may limit your selection and make the choice simpler.
I don't sell or represent any mobile hardware. I have just managed many mobile application development projects around the world so have learned some lessons. If you would like to discuss this topic in more detail please contact me.