Trimble Nomad 1050|
Trimble's super-tough data collection handheld gets a tech update and is now IP68-sealed!
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
When form truly follows function, that's good industrial design. There is, for example, no need to reinvent the hammer because its shape and form is perfect for the job at hand. The same could be said for the Trimble Nomad data collection handheld. Introduced way back in 2007, the Nomad keeps on trucking, doing its job for countless mobile GIS professionals out there. Civilian smartphones may change every six weeks or so, getting bigger, flatter, glitzier all the time. The Nomad doesn't care. It doesn't need to. It's inherently right.
That's not to say the Nomad hasn't changed over the years. It has. Just like today's hammers use space age alloys and plastics to be lighter and stronger than grandpa's that was made of just plain wood and iron, the Nomad has changed where it matters. The newest Nomad, the 1050 Series that was introduced in Fall 2015, is quicker, tougher and more accurate than the 900 Series, the 800 Series and the original Nomad that came before.
What is the Trimble Nomad?
The Nomad is a rugged handheld computer designed for people who work outdoors. It is built to take the kind of abuse that can happen in the field: dust, water, drops, vibration and so on. It is also built to run for a long time on a single charge, and to accommodate a variety of connections and peripherals. A computer that can handle all that is not going to be as small and light as a cellphone or a PDA, and the Nomad isn't. It has a footprint of about 6.9 x 3.9 inches, which actually isn't all that much more than an Apple iPhone 6 Plus. The Nomad weighs 1.3 pounds, though, and that's more like three and a half of the big iPhones. It's also almost two inches thick, and that's because it's about a thousand times as tough as any consumer smartphone. However, though it won't fit into any but the very largest pockets, the Nomad is also not huge. You can easily hold it in one hand.
Like Trimble's other forever product, the Ranger, the Nomad sports a ruggedly handsome design born of a few very simple tenets. Let's use a very tough and essentially invulnerable shell to protect the electronic guts inside. Use thick rubber endcaps to protect the unit while sealing it effectively and allowing customization through a variety of such endcaps. And build it such that it can operate in extreme temperatures and survive drops, vibration, altitude, corrosives, dust and more. And make it so it can't only handle rain, but also fall into water. Down deep, and for a long time.
That's a tall order, but the Nomad can do it. It's tested to run between -22 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It survived 26 drops from four feet onto plywood over concrete. It earned an IP68 ingress protection rating. It is tested to survive humidity, vibration and altitude according to the procedures described in MIL-STD 810G.
What also sets the Nomad apart is that it's from Trimble, the roughly US$2.5 billion positioning technology specialists known for their GPS and other measuring hardware and software used worldwide. For Trimble, and the Nomad, GPS is not just a feature. It is the feature.
What new for the Nomad 1050 Series?
Just like rugged computing tools for the job do not compete with consumer electronics in terms of the latest fashion trends, they also have different criteria when it comes to technology. The latest buzzword technology matters less than having wide developer support, offering easy configuration and customization, supporting legacy protocols, and just generally getting the job done.
When the Nomad was first introduced in 2007, as a brand-new design in an era where the original iPhone had just been introduced, it was actually state-of-the-art with its 806MHz Marvell PXA320 chip. In this day and age of consumer smartphones with scorching quad- and octa-core processors, the Nomad 1050's switch to a 1GHz Texas Instruments DM3730 seems modest. It's an OMAP-compatible package with an ARM Cortex-A8 core, a NEON SIMD coprocessor, and a POWERVR SGX Graphics Accelerator that's also used in Trimble's Juno T41.
For storage, the new Nomad 1050 comes with 512MB of DDR SDRAM, and 8GB of non-volatile Flash storage, quadrupling both RAM and storage compared to the Nomad 900. Mobile broadband goes up from GSM/GPRS/EDGE to 3.75G GSM/CDMA. The integrated GPS goes from SiRFstar III to SiRFstar IV, which offers twice the search capacity for improved accuracy, reduced fix-time, active blocking of radio jamming by RF radios, and lower power consumption. As is, the Nomad 1050 is good for realtime 2-4 meter accuracy (7-14 feet). If even higher accuracy is needed, the Nomad 1050 can be paired with the Trimble R1 GNSS receiver (see here) with Trimble's ViewPoint RTX correction service to get to submeter location accuracy (i.e. in the three feet range).
On the operating systems side, the latest Nomad gets Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5 Professional instead of the Nomad 900's Windows Mobile 6.1. WEHH 6.5 is anything but new, but it's the mobile small-footprint OS the great majority of rugged handhelds still uses. That's because a few years ago Microsoft inexplicably did not offer an upgrade path to Windows Mobile and instead concentrated on its Windows Phone OS. Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld might have been an option for the Nomad 1050, but Trimble, like most everyone else, perhaps decided to take a wait and see approach before going with either Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise or Android next time.
Overall, the tech upgrades from the Nomad 900 to the Nomad 1050 are not tremendous. But they are certainly welcome as even in vertical markets there comes a time when older tech really does need to be updated. We're glad that Trimble resisted the temptation to switch from resistive to capacitive touch technology on the Nomad. Given the small 3.5-inch screen, the WEHH 6.5 OS, and the types of targeted deployments, resistive with a good stylus (which the Nomad always had) was the way to go.
Expansion and models
One of the Nomad's inherent strengths has always been its almost unlimited expansion potential. Early versions had both a SDIO slot for extra data storage and a CompactFlash Type II slot for expansion via numerous peripheral cards that used the CF format. The 1050 no longer has the CF Card slot because most of the features that used to be available only via CF Card-based add-ons are now built-in. Other functionality can be added via the standard full-size USB port located under the top cap.
As far as available models go, Trimble has been favoring a build-to-order approach where the company offers a wide variety of configurations. They are:
1050 B - SDIO
1050 L - SDIO, BT, GPS, WiFi
1050 X - SDIO, BT, GPS, WiFi, WWAN
1050 LC - micro SD, BT, GPS, WiFi, camera
1050 LE - micro SD, BT, GPS, WiFi, camera, scanner
1050 XC - micro SD, BT, GPS, WiFi, WWAN, camera
1050 XE - micro SD, BT, GPS, WiFi, WWAN, camera, scanner
Custom configuration is made easy with the end cap system that can accommodate USB-based or card-based custom functionality. Extended end caps for oversized modules are available as well. Trimble also offers a an optional Serial Bottom Boot that provides a legacy DB9 serial port en lieu of the USB port in the standard USB Bottom Boot.
Many rugged systems manufacturers simply claim that their devices are "MIL-STD-810G compliant." That by itself doesn't say much of anything as the MIL-STD-810G is not only a huge document, but it's also not a certification document. It simply describes how testing is to be conducted. So without knowing which tests were performed and what was tested, claiming standard compliance means nothing. Trimble knows that and, much to their credit, always meticulously lists all the tests actually performed.
One ruggedness spec that is particularly impressive is the Nomad 1050's IP68 rating. That's up from older Nomad's IP67 rating, and means that the latest model is not only totally dust-proof, but can be submerged in more than a meter of water and for an indefinite time. Trimble tested at two meters (6.6 feet) for an hour. We don't doubt that for a minute as in an earlier test of a Nomad 800, we took the unit scuba diving in a pool and it never missed a beat (see the Nomad on scuba on YouTube).
Bottom Line: Trimble Nomad 1050
When we did a hands-on review of the original Nomad back in 2007 we wrote that it ranked "right up there with the best conceived, designed, and most meticulously executed rugged handhelds we've tested." That remains true in 2015. It's still a superb industrial design that is ergonomic, attractive and functional. While consumer smartphone and industrial handheld computer technologies have diverged in recent years, the invulnerable Nomad remains an eminently practical, powerful handheld computer for surveying, mapping, scanning, communicating, and data capture. The applications are endless, and no matter where the machine is deployed, it can handle any abuse that comes its way. Easily.