Mobile Computer Buying Guide
Businesses have long relied on stationary computers for inventory and database management. With recent advances in mobile technology, you can now take computer devices out into the working field to scan data and collect information as you move. However, to choose the best mobile computer, you need to know the options.
Different Mobile Computer Types
If you are wondering how to choose the right mobile computer for your business, consider the everyday functions of your working environment. Do you need a mobile computer with complex or basic features? Assessing the capabilities of the following mobile computer types will help you pick the best mobile or handheld computer for your working needs.
The simplest of all mobile computers is the basic, which doesn't connect to the Internet but allows you to carry files and simple software programs around for easy computing. To load and transfer files from a basic mobile computer, you connect it to a PC or laptop, transfer the files to your desktop, then upload things from there onto your cloud or private server. A basic mobile computer is good if you’re looking for something inexpensive and simple that can be carried in the palm of your hand.
A phone-size mobile computer is the same size as the basic, only this can connect to Wi-Fi or WAN for Internet access from most locations. With a phone-size computer, you can collect inventory information from outside the boundaries of your storefront or physical office space.
A phone-size mobile computer has all the functioning power of a smartphone, tablet, laptop or PC. You can download any compatible app to the device and use it for scanning and barcode reading on a storeroom floor.
A full-size mobile computer has the same dimensions as the phone-size, but with more features and greater durability. On a full-size mobile computer, you can connect to the Internet from anywhere within Wi-Fi range, or from virtually anywhere if you have a WAN account.
Unlike the basic and phone-size computers, a full-size is equipped with a calculator-size keyboard, which allows for easier typing as you enter data when out on the factory floor or worksite location. Full-size mobile computers are also a lot stronger than other small computer devices. Most full-size models are waterproof and have greater heat resistance, and can even handle plenty of drops and hard knocks.
The gun-grip mobile computer is much the same as the full-size minus the cellular and phone capabilities, but with a price gun-like handle in the back. A gun-grip mobile phone is designed for bringing computerized capabilities closer out into the field, beyond the connected arsenal of a shop. However, the gun-grip is not suitable for all complex, high-tech computing.
With a gun-grip computer, you can scan barcodes on a shopping room floor and input data into the calculator-size keypad. Most gun-grip computers are highly durable and can scan objects from up to 30 feet away. One particularly popular gun-grip model is the Motorola MC9190-G.
One of the smaller options among mobile-computer designs is the wearable style, which straps to the arm and includes a scanner that straps to the finger. A wearable mobile computer is a good option if you wish to keep your hands free when out in the field, yet input data and scan information as needed.
With a wearable mobile computer, you can freely walk about large storerooms and simply point your finger to scan a barcode when necessary. If you need to take down information, simply type it into the keypad mounted to your arm. One of the most popular wearable mobile computers is the Honeywell HX2.
- Fixed/Vehicle Mount
Vehicle-mount mobile computers are larger than the handheld devices discussed already. Designed to be mounted onto the dashboards of showroom vehicles and on the fronts of carts, vehicle-mounts are basically a portable, mobile version of a laptop. A popular example of the vehicle mount is the Motorola VC5090.
Whereas the full-size and gun-grip mobile computers are embedded with scanners, the vehicle-mount attaches to a portable scanning device, such as the LS3408ER. Fixed-mount mobile computers can operate a range of software programs, much like PCs and laptops. Built for high endurance, vehicle-mount computers can handle the tremors and vibrations of moving vehicles, as well as hot and cold working environments.
Different Types of Operating System
On every computerized device, there exists an operating system which serves as the software framework for all of the programs and apps that you load onto your PC, laptop, smartphone and pad. The operating system is responsible for making the hardware and software communicate with one another. All mobile computer devices run on one of the following types of operating systems.
The simplest operating system is DOS, which only runs on basic mobile computers. The purpose of DOS is to run simple programs designed for the basic handheld computer unit. A device that runs DOS cannot connect to the Internet and is not designed to run complex apps or PC software programs. With a basic mobile computer like the Honeywell SP5500, you simply do basic inventory work on the device itself, the transfer the data onto a laptop or PC for upload to a cloud server.
- Windows Mobile/Windows CE
The most widespread and fully capable type of operating system is Windows, which is standard on PCs and the majority of mobile devices. On a Windows system, you can run all kinds of software programs and pull up website apps. Windows is the most capable system for inputting and calculating barcodes and information for upload onto your company's database.
Windows operating systems differ by version, and not all mobile units are compatible with older versions of Windows. For mobile computer devices that run on WAN connections, Windows Mobile is the most flexible operating system for running apps. However, if your company has developed its own programs and wishes to use only a minimum of system resources, you might prefer the Windows Embedded Compact (Windows CE) system.
- Palm OS
Before the days of Windows-based mobile devices, Palm OS was the standard operating system for portable handheld computer units. Since most of the world has moved on from this technology, Palm OS has largely been abandoned. While the functions of Palm OS are primitive by today's standards, the system uses little resources and can be an economical option if your company has a Palm-compatible program that fulfills all the necessary functions for your business.
Different Types of Wireless Connectivity
There are two basic options that allow you to connect a mobile computer to the Internet, in addition to wireless capabilities that are vital to the operation of a handheld device.
The most widespread of all connectivity options among mobile computer users is Wi-Fi, which allows you to take your units outside and into the field, far away from landlines and buildings. With Wi-Fi access, you can take full-size, gun-grip and wearable mobile computers out onto worksites and across long outdoor distances to input data, scan barcodes and collect other pieces of information for upload to your company database.
Wi-Fi is commonly used in warehouses, medical facilities and large retail storerooms. Wi-Fi is also convenient for setting up sales booths at country fairs and other events far off from landline access. Before Wi-Fi, a business could only accept cash payments at rural festival events. With Wi-Fi, you can accept credit card payments on a mobile app and deposit the funds to your PayPal account on the spot.
Wide Area Access (WAN) is much like Wi-Fi in that it allows you to connect mobile devices to the Internet. But whereas Wi-Fi only works within a certain radius of a fixed network, WAN can be accessed virtually anywhere, whether you take your business out into the forest or onto a remote, desert island. As such, WAN is used in cell phones, as well as many mobile computers.
Despite the flexibility, WAN is not compatible with all mobile computer units. With some models, WAN is restricted to a certain carrier.
Another essential aspect of wireless technology is the ability to connect two or more separate computer devices. The purpose of Bluetooth is to connect your mobile computer to a scanner, printer or other peripheral. Bluetooth technology is used in today's PCs to facilitate wireless mouse and keyboard capabilities. With Bluetooth, you don't have to mess with cords and outlets. Bluetooth makes mobile technology what it is — a flexible and convenient option for computing on the go.
Global Positioning System (GPS) capabilities provide a convenient function by telling you where you are at all times. That way, if you stray far afield on foot or in your company vehicle, GPS will identify your location and give you directions to your next destination. GPS is often used by today's tech-savvy drivers for directions in and out of town, but it can be just as useful when conducting business with mobile computers.
Different Types of Barcode Scanners
To pick the best mobile or handheld computer for your business needs, consider the type of barcodes that you'll need to read. This will help you determine which type of scanner will be necessary. Mobile computers equipped with scanning capabilities utilize one of the following types of scanners.
The most commonly used scanning option is the short-range laser, which is a red diode that reads the spaces between of the black and white lines on a barcode. Of all the scanning options, this involves the least financial overhead, yet it does have its limits. Scanners of this sort only work within a two-foot range or less and can only read standard 1D barcodes. However, if your business only uses 1D barcodes, a basic scanner will likely suffice.
- Long-Range Laser
The long-range laser is essentially a wider and farther reaching version of the basic laser. With a long-range laser, you can scan barcodes high on a shelf without needing to climb a ladder or place the products nearby. A long-range laser can read barcodes at distances of 30 feet or more. The long-range option is especially suited to gun-grip mobile computers, which can be aimed at product boxes from across an aisle for instant scanning.
- 2D Imagers
A more advanced option for barcode reading is made possible by the 2D Imager, which can read all types of barcodes from multiple angles. Whereas the basic laser must be aimed horizontally along the barcode, a 2D Imager can read barcodes vertically and even diagonally. Best of all, a 2D Imager can read stacked and 2D barcodes, in addition to the 1D.
The 2D Imager works by analyzing the barcode image and then extracting the information gained. The standard 2D Imager works within close range, but certain models will read barcodes from a distance of 30 feet or more.
Frequently Asked Questions About Mobile Computers in Warehouses and Other Working Environments
Mobile computers are used for different purposes than PCs and laptops. Whereas PCs are made for stationary use in clean, safe settings, mobile computers are meant to be taken out into the working field by hand and on vehicle. That said, you should consider the following questions before you choose one mobile device over another.
- How Durable Are Mobile Computers?
Depending on your working environment, your computer equipment could be subjected to vibrations, dust and harsh temperatures. To pick the best mobile computer for your business, check the Ingress Protection (IP) rating of any device before you choose to buy. For a strong, tight, and durable mobile computer that can withstand the elements of a rough environment, look for an IP rating of at least 68.
- How Far Can a Mobile Computer Be Dropped?
Handheld devices can easily be dropped in busy working environments. If the floors in your workspace consist of hard concrete, it's especially important to have a mobile computer that can withstand high falls. The mobile computer that you choose should be rated to withstand at least 50 falls from as high as six feet.
- Can a Mobile Computer Function in Cold Temperatures?
If you work in cold environments, you'll need to have a mobile computer that can withstand the cold, and that won't be subject to internal condensation. For the average handheld device, cold weather can shorten battery life and cause operating system failure. If condensation forms within the encasement, the moisture could lead to internal parts failure. Therefore, it's crucial to have a mobile computer that can handle the cold.
- What Type of Keypad Works Best?
This could depend on whether you'll be inputting data on a regular basis, or simply using a mobile computer as a scanning device. Some of the simpler keypads — particularly the on-screen kind — make you switch between letters, numbers and characters, whereas fancier units contain the basic options of a standard keyboard.
- How Bright Should a Computer Display Screen Be?
The necessary brightness for your working operations can all depend on your environment and hours of operation. Is your business conducted in a well-lit environment, or do you usually require supplemental lighting? Will you be using the device outside after dark, or is your business strictly daytime in a naturally lit setting? If you’re concerned about the visual display capabilities of a given device, ask for a demonstration before you make a purchase.
Pick the Best Mobile or Handheld Computer from DBK
At DBK, we sell certified-refurbished mobile computers and barcode scanners from a range of manufactures. To pick the best mobile computer for your business, browse our inventory of handheld mobile computers.