System ID Barcode Solutions

Which Handheld Inventory Scanner is Right for You?

Handheld inventory scanners are the most popular type of barcode scanner due to their flexibility and ease of use when managing inventory. They are also ideal for completing transactions at the point of sale (POS) and tracking assets. Manufacturers such as Motorola Symbol, Honeywell, and Datalogic offer corded and cordless styles with laser, linear imager, or 2D area imager scan engines. Of these, 2D imagers are enjoying the most growth. According to a recent report by VDC Research, they “expect continued, significant investments in handheld 2D imagers by enterprise end users in the Americas, particularly in the U.S. and Canada—enabling the market to register a CAGR of over 9.5% in the region through 2016.” [caption id="attachment_5915" align="alignright" width="300"]Know scanner features and your scanning requirements before you shop for a handheld inventory scanner. Know scanner features and your scanning requirements before you shop for a handheld inventory scanner.[/caption] VDC also reports that while the use of 2D handheld scanners continues to rise due to their ability to read both 1D and 2D barcodes, laser scanners and linear imagers are still in high demand—especially imagers, which now “read the new GS1 DataBar barcodes being introduced on coupons, produce, and pharmaceutical packaging.” Something for everyone To ensure a perfect fit for every situation, scanner manufacturers offer a wide array of models with features for nearly every environment, including those with harsh conditions, exposure to extreme temperatures, or minimal scanning volumes. They also produce scanners that are omnidirectional, meaning they can scan items from any angle. And, they make models that are disinfectant-ready. When selecting the right handheld inventory scanner for your business, take time to familiarize yourself with common features and compare them against your scanning requirements. Then you’ll have the information you need to identify the best device for your specific needs.

1  Familiarize yourself with common features.


There are three types of scan engines: laser, linear imager, and 2D area imagers.





  • Ensures precise scans in areas with good lighting
  • Scans at distances from 1” to 3.5”
  • Most affordable
  • Only reads linear (1D) barcodes
  • Doesn’t read damaged or poorly printed barcodes very well

Linear imager

  • Minimizes risk of failure due to fewer moving parts
  • Works well in environments with low lighting
  • Reads damaged or poorly printed barcodes
  • Doesn’t read 2D barcodes
  • Costs more than laser scanners

2D area imager

  • Reads both 1D and 2D barcodes
  • Reads damaged or poorly printed barcodes
  • Scans from any angle
  • Most expensive
  • Usually difficult to read when less than 6” away


There are two styles of handheld scanners: corded and cordless (wireless).





  • Transmits data in real time
  • Least expensive
  • Easy to implement
  • Cords can cause scanners to fail
  • Only scans at close distances, typically 5 – 6’
  • No option to transmit via batch


  • Transmits data in real time or batch
  • Has working range of up to 100+ feet
  • Scans longer distances
  • Doesn’t require a wireless computer
  • Doesn’t work when out of range
  • Costs more than corded scanners
  • Requires extra batteries


There are two types of handheld scanners: general purpose and industrial.




General Purpose

  • Meets a wide range of scanning needs, including most business applications
  • Offers a variety of models at differing price points
  • Provides flexible, advanced data capture options
  • Doesn’t perform in harsh conditions with extreme temperatures
  • Lacks certain durability features found on rugged handhelds


  • Withstands multiple drops and knocks usually found in industrial environments
  • Performs in all weathers and temperatures
  • Handles data demands typically found in environments with rugged, secure networks
  • Costs more than general-purpose scanners
  • Has more functionality/features than most offices and small businesses need

  2  Compare features against your scanning requirements.





  • To read 1D barcodes or one-line alphanumeric identifiers
  • Choose a laser scanner or linear imager.
  • To read 2D barcodes or capture data that populates multiple fields or contains significant data
  • Choose a 2D scanner.


  • To scan 1D barcodes that aren’t damaged or poorly printed
  • Choose a laser scanner.
  • To scan 1D barcodes that are damaged or poorly printed
  • Choose a linear imager.
  • To scan 1D and 2D barcodes, including those that are damaged or poorly printed
  • Choose a 2D scanner.


  • To only scan barcodes at close distances
  • Choose a corded scanner.
  • To scan barcodes both near and far
  • Choose a cordless scanner.


  • To read barcodes in areas with low lighting
  • Choose a linear imager.
  • To read barcodes from any angle
  • Choose an omnidirectional 2D scanner.


  • To withstand multiple drops of up to approximately 5 feet
  • Choose a general-purpose handheld scanner.
  • To withstand multiple drops of up to 6.5 feet or more
  • Choose an industrial handheld scanner.


  • To transmit information in real time while directly connected to a PC
  • Choose a corded scanner.
  • To wirelessly transmit information in real time or batch
  • Choose a cordless scanner.


  • For the most affordable handheld scanner
  • Purchase a laser scanner.
  • For a moderately priced handheld scanner
  • Purchase a linear imager.
  • For the most expensive handheld scanner
  • Purchase a 2D scanner.


  • For high-volume scanning
  • Choose an industrial printer.
  • For low-volume scanning
  • Choose a general-purpose scanner.


  • To prevent cord failure
  • Choose a cordless scanner.
  • To wirelessly scan barcodes
  • Choose a cordless scanner.

 3  Identify the best handheld scanner for your specific needs.



Suggested Models

General purpose, corded laser scanner

General purpose, cordless laser scanner

Industrial, corded laser scanner

Industrial, cordless laser scanner



Suggested Models

General purpose, corded linear imager

General purpose, cordless linear imager

Industrial, corded linear imager

Industrial, corded linear imager

Industrial, cordless linear imager



Suggested models

General purpose, corded 2D scanner

General purpose , cordless 2D scanner

Industrial, corded 2D scanner

Industrial, cordless 2D scanner

For more information about barcode scanners, refer to the System ID Barcode Scanning Guide.