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Mobile Computing Guide
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What is a Mobile Computer?

Datalogic Falcon X3 mobile computer

Customers often have questions about mobile computing such as, “What is a mobile computer? Is it a wireless barcode scanner, tablet, or smart phone? Or is it any mobile device used for scanning?” The answers may surprise you.

Like wireless scanners, mobile computers read barcodes and capture data, and they come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles.

But that’s where the similarities end.

A mobile computer (which is also known as a portable data collector or portable data terminal) combines PC and scanning functions into a single device that can be outfitted with off-the-shelf or custom software applications that perform everyday tasks, such as monitoring deliveries, tracking assets, and managing inventory.

And because mobile computers run on familiar operating systems such as Windows and Android, they offer similar functionality as a desktop computer or laptop. This enables your mobile workforce to improve productivity from most any location.

Buying Tip

Mobile computers combine the PC and scanning functions into one device and run on familiar operating systems.

How does it work?

These powerful processors are equipped with a barcode scan engine and can store captured data on their hard drives. This means you may update and edit information without having to first send it to a host computer. You can also:

  • Securely access programs or databases stored in the cloud or office using the latest wireless technologies
  • Take advantage of high-speed WWAN networks, such as the 4G HSPA+ worldwide network or the 3.5G EVDO/CDMA network
  • Add additional memory using expandable card slots
  • Accurately pinpoint the locations of employees, assets, and businesses with optional GPS capabilities
  • Easily sync with modems, printers, and headsets using optional Bluetooth wireless connectivity
  • Always stay connected via phone using integrated cellular radios (optional)



Cordless Scanners vs. Mobile Computers

Many people think a mobile computer is a cordless scanner, which is partially true.

You can wirelessly capture and transfer data using both a wireless scanner and a mobile computer, but that’s where the similarities end.

  • A cordless barcode scanner only provides the ability to scan, while a mobile computer combines a computer and a scanner into one device, which also has its own hard drive.
  • A mobile computer comes with an operating system (OS) that allows you to upload software applications. A wireless barcode scanner does not.
  • A mobile computer stores data on its hard drive after capturing it, which enables you to edit and share information on the spot. A cordless scanner may store information in memory, but it must link to a host computer—either by a cord or wirelessly—to pass along captured data.

Buying Tip

If you need a wireless device that does more than scan, you’ll want to purchase a mobile computer instead of a cordless barcode scanner.

What’s the bottom line?

If you need a powerful processor that is completely mobile and enables you to access and edit information in real time, then you’ll want to purchase a mobile computer.

Compare cordless barcode scanners and mobile computers

The table on the following page compares cordless 1D barcode scanners with mobile computers so you can see at a glance the major differences between each.

The table on the following page compares cordless 1D barcode scanners with mobile computers so you can see at a glance the major differences between each.

Note: This comparison is based on a 1D cordless barcode scanner with a laser scan engine.

FEATURE

CORDLESS 1D
BARCODE SCANNER

MOBILE COMPUTER

Reads barcodes

Yes

Yes

Comes in several styles and types

Yes

Yes

Only provides the ability to scan

Yes

X

Only uses Bluetooth technology to wirelessly transmit data

Yes

X

Must transfer captured data to a host computer

Yes

X

Combines a scanner and a computer into one device

X

Yes

Transfers captured data using multiple wireless technologies

X

Yes

Has a hard drive, which can store captured data for immediate manipulation

X

Yes

Uses operating systems like Windows and Android

X

Yes

Runs software applications

X

Yes

Is highly customizable

X

Yes

Captures digital images (pictures) of signatures, graphics, and other text

X

Yes

Enables users to work from any location

X

Yes

Features keypads and touch screens

X

Yes

Offers cellular radios on certain models

X

Yes




Types of Mobile Computers

There are several types of mobile computers that benefit businesses in industries across the globe. Each type comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles with features unique to certain environments.

For example, there are vehicle-mount mobile computers that attach to trucks and forklifts and handheld devices for environments where the potential for explosions exists. There are even wearable computers that expedite processing in warehouses and protective sleds that turn consumer tablets and smartphones into enterprise-ready devices.

As with barcode scanners, all types of mobile computers incorporate barcode scan engines to read linear (1D) or 2D barcodes.

Buying Tip

There are specialized mobile computers for nearly every industry and environment.
Motorola MC3100 mobile computers

Handheld

Handheld mobile computers are small, yet durable, devices that extend organizational knowledge into the field by combining scanning and processing functions into a single device.

Wearable

Wearable devices can be equipped with the latest voice technology for streamlined picking, packing, and shipping.

Vehicle-Mounted

Rugged mobile workstations attach to industrial vehicles such as trucks, forklifts, and carts.

Rugged Tablets

Due to their size and weight, most tablet-type computers are not handheld. Instead they are designed to be mounted onto vehicles. However, there are some mobile computers that are actually a handheld tablet. These rugged tablets securely transmit data over high-speed networks using the familiar design and functionality of consumer devices while enjoying the durability of enterprise scanners.

Specialized – Hazardous, Healthcare, Cold Storage

Specialized devices for hazardous environments, healthcare, and cold storage include features specific to their environments for easy use, reliable scans, and risk-free reading.

RFID

RFID handheld readers transmit and receive radio waves to communicate with RFID tags. Add-ons such as vehicle mounts, sleds, and handles convert existing devices into RFID readers to extend your technology investment. Learn more about RFID.

Enterprise Sleds

Enterprise sleds protect consumer devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) used in some retail establishments and BYOD (bring your own device) environments.

Compare mobile computers

The following table compares the features and benefits of each type of mobile computer.

MOBILE COMPUTER TYPES

Type

Feature

Benefit

Handheld

  • Combines functionality of a PC and a scanner into a single device
  • Extends organizational knowledge into the field
  • Some models—such as hybrid devices that resemble smart phones—are small and light, yet rugged and durable
  • Withstands the rigors of mobile computing better than laptops or consumer devices
  • Variety of sizes, shapes, and styles with many features and accessories
  • Enhances mobile workforce performance across a wide range of environments and industries
  • Designed to protect against environmental factors
  • Expands the life of your hardware investment
  • Light, medium, and heavy duty handling
  • Ensures a perfect match for your requirements
  • Operating systems such as Windows and Android
  • Offers same functionality as desktop computer or laptop for optimal productivity
  • Preloaded applications software or custom programs
  • Increases efficiency of everyday tasks
  • Wireless connectivity options such as Bluetooth
  • Syncs devices such as printers, modems, and headsets for improved productivity
  • Advanced Wi-Fi radios
  • Facilitates fast data transfer

Wearable

  • Hands-free operations
  • Maximizes workers’ productivity by keeping their eyes and hands on the task at hand
  • Sophisticated voice-directed applications
  • Improves performance and accuracy by streamlining the picking process
  • Easy to use
  • Requires minimal training time for quicker results

Vehicle-Mounted

  • Full PC functionality
  • Ensures compliance and improves safety
  • Rugged construction, yet compact and lightweight
  • Makes it easier for employees to work under extreme conditions
  • Fits tight-spaced vehicles
  • Improves productivity with instant access to needed information

Rugged Tablets

 

  • Handheld enterprise tablet similar to consumer devices, though currently not widely produced
  • Minimizes training time due to similar interface of consumer tablets
  • High-speed wireless connections that supports the latest WLAN or WWAN networks
  • Promises superior performance with the ability to work from virtually any location
  • Highly customizable
  • Reduces application and support costs
  • Encrypted data security
  • Secures sensitive information to help comply with industry and governmental regulations

Specialized – Hazardous

  • Combines global certifications with cutting-edge technologies
  • Supports high performance in environments where the risk for explosion exists
  • Intrinsically safe mobile computers meet or exceed stringent requirements for gases, vapors, liquids, dusts, and fibers
  • Ensures compliance with industry and governmental regulations in the most volatile environments
  • Non-incendive configurations with same benefits as other handheld mobile computers
  • Complies with requirements up to Class 1, Division 1 safe operations in harsh environments

Specialized – Healthcare

  • Disinfectant-ready housings for environments where the device must be frequently cleaned
  • Enables proper cleaning of the device in accordance with regulatory guidelines
  • Lightweight, compact design
  • Reduces user fatigue
  • Extended power management for continuous service throughout full shifts
  • Enhances productivity
  • Versatile, high-performance data collection technology
  • Easily reads linear and 2D barcodes

Specialized – Cold Storage

  • Large keys for gloved hands
  • Improves the user experience
  • Available as handheld or vehicle-mounted with backlit keypad
  • Adapts to end user’s needs in low temperatures
  • Withstands multiple 6’ drops to concrete
  • Reduces downtime and lowers the total cost of ownership
  • Versatile, high-performance data collection technology and reliable, fast wireless connectivity
  • Easily reads linear and 2D barcodes and captures electronic signatures with real-time access to data

Enterprise Sleds

  • Transforms consumer devices—such as iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad—into enterprise-ready ones
  • Improves the customer experience by arming sales associates with the same information that customers have and more
  • Protective housing adds durability and increased safety to consumer devices used in the enterprise
  • Results in smaller spare pools, less time wasted, and reductions in lost revenue
  • Integrated scanning technology
  • Delivers fast, accurate reading of linear and 2D barcodes
  • Optional encryption-ready magnetic stripe reader
  • Allows quick and easy processing and protecting of credit card transactions at the point of decision

RFID

  • Integrated
  • Integrates the reader and antenna into one rugged handheld device
  • Equipped with a scan engine, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi
  • Runs on batteries with exceptional battery life
  • Compact, ergonomic design
  •  
  • Doesn’t require add-ons to scan RFID tags
  • Enables mobile scanning in hard-to-reach locations
  • Allows complete mobility and minimizes downtime
  • Easy to use
  • Add-On
  • Mounts
  • Adds RFID functionality to specific vehicle-mount mobile computers
  • Enables bolt-in attachment to forklifts and other vehicles
  •  
  • Mounts
  • Enables “read where you need” mobility
  • Costs less than portal reader systems when the number of dock doors is larger than the number of fork lifts
  • Handles
  • Adds mobile RFID read/write capability to certain mobile computers
  • Snaps on
  • Handles
  • Saves money by adding functionality to existing hardware
  • Easy to convert, use

Sleds

  • Transforms certain mobile computers into UHF RFID readers

Sleds

  • Extends the value of your mobile computer investment


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