Modular rugged handheld computer now faster and even tougher, and has even more keypad and scanner options
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
For the past several years, Psion, which is now part of Zebra, has been working on methods and concepts that would allow them to offer customers the exact right handheld computer for a given job. This resulted in the "Modulus" concept (see here) that breaks down and modularizes hardware platforms. Initially, the Modulus approach provided add-on modules to provide existing products with extra configurability, exchangeable components, as well as guarding them against obsolescence. With the introduction of the Omnii XT10 in September of 2010, Psion then went one step farther and made the entire platform modular.
The idea with the Omnii platform and the XT10 was to give customers who liked a particular form factor — in the Omni XT10's case a full-size flashlight-style handheld — the choice of a variety of displays, keypads, data collection functionality and connectivity options.
There are, however, basic aspects of a product that cannot be changed with modules, such as inherent ruggedness, some electronics, form factor, etc. Probably for that reason, Psion released the XT15 in January of 2012. The new model carries on, and expands on, the modularity concept, but with several core upgrades and enhancements.
As with the XT10, XT15 customers can opt for either a high-visibility or an extreme duty display. They can specify speaker, camera and pistol grip module options. And modularity extends to interface configuration where customers can select from multiple internal multi-function expansion interfaces with RS232 and TTL serial, USB host, and GPIO ports.
In addition, XT15 customers can choose from no fewer than six different keypad modules ranging from full-function alpha- and QWERTY-numeric versions to simpler phone-style keypads with function keys. Psion also expanded the number of available scanner modules with various laser and imager engines from Motorola Solutions, Intermec and Honeywell.
No matter how it's configured, what doesn't change is the overall size and shape of the XT15, as well as the underlying guts and electronics. Physically, we're looking at a device measuring about 9 x 3.75 x 1.65 inches and weighing 1.4 pounds, give or take an ounce or two with different configurations. The display is gratifyingly large (3.7 inches diagonal) and offers full 480 x 640 VGA resolution.
As far as technology goes, the newer XT15 benefits from a number of technology advances over the XT10. The XT15 runs Windows CE 6.0 or Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 on a faster 800MHz TI AM3715 Sitara processor with an ARM Cortex A8 core. The device still comes with 256MB of onboard RAM but now has a full gigabyte of onboard Flash. Onboard WiFi is now dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n instead of just b/g. A microSDHC slot (up to 32GB) can be used for memory expansion. A high-capacity 5,000 mAH rechargeable Lithium-Ion powerpack is said to provide up to 20 hours of battery life.
As with the XT10, modularity extends to configuring the device in the front with an integrated speaker and microphone for push-to-talk and multimedia; a speaker/microphone with 3MP autofocus camera with flash; or a 1D imager. In the back, there can be a 1D imager, a 2D imager, or a 1D long-range laser scanner. Accessories can be a pistol grip that works with the chosen modules. The idea clearly is to offer customers exactly what they want and need, making things available that are needed for the job, but not forcing customers to pay for functionality they do not need.
Compared to the XT10, the newer XT15 is an even more rugged device. It can still handle extreme operating temperatures between -4 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, passed the MIL-STD-810G test of 26 drops from 5.6 feet onto concrete, and also passed shock and vibration tests, as well as ESD tests. But the device is now sealed to IP67 specifications (it's officially certified for both IP65 and IP67). This means it's not only totally sealed against dust, and but it is now also totally waterproof, even against immersion.
Psion also released a couple of videos that impressively demonstrate the ruggedness of the XT15: