Industrial, rugged version of a smartphone
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
Unitech, like many other manufacturers of industrial PDAs, faced an interesting situation: after a decade of mostly being viewed as expensive toys for gadget freaks, the Apple iPhone and then a flood of Android devices suddenly elevated smartphones to must-have status for hundreds of millions. And smartphones became competent enough to serve as tools for professional jobs as well. Consumer smartphones, however, are not rugged, a fact acknowledged and acted on by a number of rugged manufacturers that introduced business/industrial class combination phone/PDA devices over the past year. In March of 2011, Unitech introduced one as well, the PA550.
The PA550 is a Windows Mobile 6.5.3-based industrial PDA that looks like a BlackBerry on steroids. It measures a very (for a rugged device) compact 3.2 x 4.9 inches, though the 1.4 inch thickness and 11.3 ounce weight give away that this is a fortified tool for jobs and not just a standard smartphone. However, it's still small and light enough to fit into any pocket.
It's powerful, too, using the 806MHz Marvell PXA320 processor. It has 256MB of RAM and 512MB of Flash, and a microSDHC card slot for more. The 2.8-inch display, perhaps, is a bit of a compromise, being on the smallish side for a smartphone, and offering just 320 x 240 QVGA resolution. The full QWERTY keypad, on the other hand, is large and comprehensive and should be easy to use.
The PA550 comes with most of the features expected from a modern smartphone. That includes WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, 3.5G WWAN HSDPA broadband wireless connectivity options, and a 5-megapixel autofocus camera with flash and the ability to record MPEG4 video in full VGA. The latter ability is something still pretty much unique among mobile computing devices.
One of the reasons the PA550 is thicker than a consumer smartphone is that it contains an integrated 1D laser scanner that can handle UPC-A/E, EAN-8/13, Codabar, Code 39/39 full ASCI, Code 93, Code 32, Interleaved & Std. 2 of 5, EAN 128, Code 11, Delta, MSI/Plessey,Code 128, and Toshiba.
The other reason for the heftier enclosure is the PA550's inherent ruggedness. It can handle drops from four feet, operate between 14 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit, and it carries IP54 sealing where the "5" means the PA550 is protected against dust, and the "4" that it's protected from water spray from all directions. Those specs don't mean super-rugged, but the PA550 is definitely a whole lot better equipped to be used in the field and on the job than a consumer smartphone.
Unitech America is a subsidiary of Taiwanese automatic data collection specialist Unitech, founded in 1979, and now offering a wide range of AIDC products including bar code scanners, mobile computers, magnetic stripe readers, fixed mount terminals, and keyboards.