Choosing the right PDA
Mobile computing has become a fundamental tool in most businesses, throughout various departments, since it optimizes the performance of various tasks, quickly and accurately optimizing time and reducing errors. From managing a warehouse to supporting field technicians, mobile terminals can empower any business by increasing efficiency and productivity. In other words, with the right PDA you can dramatically increase the speed, accuracy and number of tasks you can complete in a day's work.
The real challenge, however, is finding the right terminal. With a wide range available, it can be confusing to understand what the differences are between one another. Selecting the best PDA terminal for your business requirements is critical to helping you get the full benefits of the technology.
- What are you going to use the terminal for? - inventory, asset tracking, field operations?
- Where will the terminal be used? Is it an aggressive environment?
- Have you selected the software to be used? What requirements are needed?
- What kind of barcodes will you read?
- Will you need real-time connectivity?
Knowing how the PDA will be used will help you decide the format of the equipment, the operating system and other configuration options you may need. Understanding each of these factors will help you find the right mobile device.
One of the most important steps in finding the right equipment is deciding what type of device within the wide range available you will need. This point will often be determined by the functional capabilities needed. We will group the range into 6 main types, each with its own advantages depending the planned use and application.
Basic or data collector
These are the simplest devices. They are limited in performance, most of them do not even have communications. They usually work in batch mode, that is, storing the information read on the device and then downloading it to the PC in text or excel format. They are units with simple processors and limited memory, minimally robust, and not designed for rough handling. They are the ideal equipment for occasional use and sporadic work throughout the day.
Full-screen terminal or telephone format
These are physically similar to today's phones, full-screen computers with Android operating system, providing the user with full access to all the information they need in a compact device. With these devices you will have options for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth or also WWAN and GPS communications. This type of device is available in several versions according to its performance and robustness. There are devices with simple and minimally robust processors, to high technical performance devices with a high degree of robustness, designed for the most demanding environments.Because of their size, these terminals are perfect in the hands of field technicians, delivery drivers, shipping managers or any other application that goes outside the four walls of your business. In addition, they can also be used successfully inside the warehouse, thanks to their versatility.
Complete terminal (with EDA format keyboard)
This type of equipment is similar in size to the previous one and has similar options. They have a slightly smaller screen and a small numerical or alphabetical keyboard. These are computers intended for the same uses and with similar options to Full-Screen computers. However, this type of format is more popular when operating systems are Windows, although models with Android also exist and are being added to the range. These devices offer all wireless connectivity options (W-FI, Bluetooth or WWAN). There are terminals with different performance and robustness levels, mainly indicated for field applications, although the more advanced models are useful within a warehouse or distribution center.
The warehouse terminals are devices with display and keyboard options, designed for easy operating, in many occasions they are presented with a handle for more productivity. Technologically these are high performance devices, they work within a Wi-Fi network or in batch mode, they rarely have the option of working with WAN. These terminals come with a wide range of scanning options, including long-range readers to scan up to 12 meters away (for example, to be used on forklifts to allow the operator to stay in the vehicle while working) or DPM (read codes engraved on parts in production). Beyond the warehouse, these devices are also used in retail shops and manufacturing environments.In the higher model range exists equipment made to work in special environments, such as explosive environments (ATEX), in freezing chambers of up to -30º or equipment with Radio.
They provide the same power of a PDA and wireless connectivity, while freeing your hands for other tasks. The terminal mounts on the wrist while the scanner connects to the finger or attaches to a glove. This allows scanning and data collection while the worker maintains the use of both hands to pick up parts or products, providing increased productivity. Often you will find specific devices or adapted Full-Screen PDAs with wrist holders and scanners connected by Bluetooth. These devices also support voice-based or pick-to-voice applications where the computer helps increase efficiency and worker productivity.
Vehicle Mount or Fixed Mount Vehicle Mount Terminals
Fixed mount/vehicle mobile terminals put industrial computing power into a rugged format, designed to power and handle vibration from forklifts and other vehicles. Unlike the other types of mobile terminals, these devices do not have built-in scanners but connect an industrial reader either wired or wireless with the appropriate reading characteristics, in this type of solution it is common to use long distance readers. Vehicle-mounted computers typically run a Windows Mobile or Windows Professional operating system with the same features as a PC, although some models offer Android options. Pick, place, freeze, send and receive applications can benefit from the increased productivity and reduced errors provided by these mobile terminals.
Industrial Tablet Format
Tablet terminals have also arrived in ruggedized format, in small formats 7 or 8 inches or large ones over 10 inches. They can have Android or Windows 10 operating systems as any PC, which makes them easy to integrate, since the operator will be familiar with the OS. They are devices that have the possibility of WWAN communications, can have a code scanner and with different options of processor, memory and disk. They can be used in the most aggressive places since certain models can fulfill military standards, mines, workshops, military operations, warehouse and can even be used as a forklift terminal with the appropriate accessories.
Each terminal has an operating system (OS), no different from a laptop or desktop PC. The operating system is the software framework that connects the mobile computer hardware to the applications running on the device. The functionality and applications available for your mobile device will depend entirely on what operating system is installed on it.
Windows Mobile/Windows CE
A Windows-based operating system adapted for mobile devices. These solutions have previously dominated the market, until recent years, with the rise of Android taking the spotlight. There are systems that are still set up for emulation telnet or terminal server, developed specifically for this O.S. and to a lesser extent web services where there is an existing set of such equipment. Although devices with this operating system are already obsolete, we will continue ordering and supporting them, especially within large storage facilities that require a high-end PDA.
Android is a widespread operating system used in personal mobile phones, which has made the leap to professional work devices. It offers a very familiar environment for workers, as the operating system does not differ substantially from that used in consumer equipment. These devices are compatible with telnet emulations, terminal servers and especially with web services, in addition to offering a simple and widespread software development kits for applications. Another of the major advantages offered by Android is that it allows main applications (ERP/WMS) to run in parallel on the same device, along with communications and productivity applications such as e-mail and messaging, giving the devices much greater versatility.
While each PDA can store information locally in its memory, most companies will want to take advantage of a device's wireless connectivity. Being able to collect, review and update information in real time allows a company to act faster and more effectively. With wireless access from a mobile device, you can maximize workforce productivity and expand your capabilities. There are several different ways a device can communicate wirelessly and depending on the specific needs of your application, one or all of them may be necessary.
Wi-Fi o WLAN
This is the most common wireless connectivity for PDAs and like your home wireless network, as long as you are within range of the network, you will have access to network resources. Wi-Fi is the perfect solution for applications that are in a fixed location where you can configure the network infrastructure, such as access points. Warehouses, retail stores, hospitals use Wi-Fi connectivity on mobile devices to enable real-time exchange and access to information.
Wide area network (WWAN) access is the same technology used in mobile phone data communications. PDAs with WWAN capabilities will be able to connect and/or make phone calls just like a smartphone does. The big advantage of WWAN access is that your application can leave the restrictions of a fixed network and do the work in the field. For field technicians and delivery drivers, this type of connectivity would allow them to receive field tasks, call resources (manuals, customer accounts, routes, etc...), and return orders to their main office while on the road. WAN connectivity can dramatically change the way your business works and improve your ability to respond to your customers.
Bluetooth is a unique wireless technology because it does not require network hardware to operate. Its main purpose is to connect 2 devices to each other like a PDA and a printer or scanner. As long as both devices have Bluetooth capabilities, they can connect wirelessly to each other. Bluetooth has a limited range, usually 10 meters, although there are models with longer range options, but requires a little configuration to use. With PDAs, the most common use of Bluetooth is to connect to a printer wirelessly without having to deal with cables.
Global Positioning System (GPS) is not exactly the same as the other wireless options as it is used only to obtain location information on the mobile terminal. This is the same technology found in car navigation systems. It does not communicate through GPS, but when combined with a WWAN option it allows you to know where you are for functions such as turn-by-turn directions, mapping, and asset location tagging. GPS may be the least critical of the wireless options, but for companies working in the field, it can help provide locations and additional information that will improve the accuracy of your application.
PDA terminals are generally focused on a working environment and have a level of robustness or "toughness" necessary to withstand the different needs that may arise. There are several factors that may define the ability to withstand extreme conditions in terms of shock, moisture, dust, vibration, etc. Therefore, the degree of robustness of a device will be given by the capacity of its ability to withstand adverse conditions in scenarios of work like:
- Water and dust, defined by the ingress protection index (IP rating)
- Extreme temperatures
- Resistance to falls
The higher these capabilities the more durable the equipment will be, with both the resistance of the components under intensive work, as well as the product lifetime.
We must know the level of ruggedness required, the life expectancy of the investment we want to make, as well as the intensity of the work shifts. It is not the same to use a device accurately for inventories, as it is in a factory or a warehouse with rotating shifts, where the working day for the terminals could be 24h and used in an industrial environment, subject to drops, humidity or extreme temperatures.
After deciding on a type of PDA together with the operating system, the connectivity options and knowing how robust the device must be. The last big decision is what type of reader you will need in the device. The big concern for a scanner is what type of barcodes it will read and how far away. Mobile terminals will offer the following types of scanners: laser, long range laser, 2D imager, 2D with long distance, HD, DPM etc. (visit our reader guide here).
With all these options available for mobile terminals today, it is important to find the right device for your business needs. Keep in mind that the most advanced options are only available on the highest end of warehouse equipment. Determining how you are going to use your mobile device and what features you need will make the decision process easier, and most importantly, make the choice that best suits your business needs.
If you continue to have difficulties or have additional questions, call our PDA experts. We will be happy to help you.