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Zebra TC70x Series Rugged Touch Computer

Upgraded 4.7-inch ultra-rugged touch computers for retail and manufacturing now with either Android or Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

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As of late 2016, Zebra expanded the TC70 Series of ultra-rugged touch computers with the TC70x. The new model is available with either Android 6.0 "Marshmallow" or Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise. The original Android-only TC70, first introduced October 2014, remains available.

But isn't Zebra all about Android these days? Yes, Zebra has a full lineup of rugged Android handhelds and their Android expertise is first rate. But there is a reason for making this tech update available with Windows as well.

Your choice of Android or Windows

And the reason is that after years of waiting for a successor to the venerable Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.5 (most recently known as Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5) that once dominated industrial handhelds, that successor is finally here. It's called Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise (whew!).

Unlike the old Windows Mobile that was entirely separate from full Windows, Windows 10 uses a "unified core" concept where the core and binaries are the same in all Windows devices and it's only family-specific capabilities that differ.

On a handheld, for example, it wouldn't make sense to offer the full Windows desktop and so you can't toggle between desktop and tablet mode as you can on Windows tablets. Instead you get the tile interface that's optimized for small devices.

Bottom line: Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise is much closer in code and capabilities to "full" Windows than Windows Mobile ever was. That can be a very big plus for many enterprise customers.

So while about 60% of Zebra's knowledge worker smartphone-style product volume is now on Android, it makes absolute sense to offer both versions. Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise is likely far more attractive to many enterprise customers than the obsolete Windows Embedded Handheld was, and so it's just good business sense to offer both and let customers decide.

What's new and changed?

What differentiates the original Zebra TC70 from the new TC70x models? Not that much. The new handhelds look and feel the same, ruggedness specs are the same (i.e. VERY rugged), and the very sharp 312ppi screen remains at the same 4.7-inch size.

However, technology doesn't stand still and Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise has some extra hardware requirements. So there are some changes. Some of those changes apply to all new TC70x models, some only to either the Android or the Windows version.

Storage for both has doubled to 2GB RAM and 16GB Flash. If that's not enough, both new models can now accommodate up to 128GB in their MicroSD expansion slot.

While the original TC70 used a 1.7GHz dual-core processor, the TC70x models get 1.8GHz hexa-core CPUs. The Android version has the 20nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 808 whereas the Android version gets the slightly older 28nm Snapdragon 650.

There isn't much inherent performance difference between the two, but Snapdragon 808 has some extra features and apparently runs Windows 10 binaries whereas the Snapdragon 650 can't.

The Android version gets a new 13mp rear cameras whereas the Windows version stays at 8mp. WiFi is slightly different in that the Windows version offers twice the maximum download speed on older 802.11b/g/n WLANs and the two versions have very slightly different capabilities.

Other minor differences: the Android version provides glove support and a dual mode touch panel whereas the Windows version doesn't. And the Android version offers Workforce Connect Push-to-Talk Pro while the Windows model has integrated Skype for Business instead.

Industrial-grade scanning

For scanning, the TC70x retains the industrial grade Zebra SE4750 1D/2D imager. This little marvel provides superior performance on just about any type of data imaginable, from 1D and 2D bar codes to photos and fully searchable and editable legal, letter, A4 and A5 documents. The SE4750 has laser aiming, can be used in direct sunlight, and, depending on the size of the code, can scan from up to three feet away.

Connectivity galore

On the connectivity and communications side, there are also NFC and Bluetooth 4.1LE, but no mobile broadband as this is not a conventional phone. There is a speaker with up to 108 dB volume though (which is about four times as loud as the loudest consumer phone), and not one but three microphones for maximum voice clarity, and since there's also a front camera in addition to the rear documentation camera, users can make WiFi calls even with video.

The TC70x devices support USB 2.0 OTG host and client, and charging is via an included rugged charging cable with high-impact contacts rather that provide a robust alternative to the more fragile micro USB connector.

Tough and rugged as can be

With its hefty protection, the TC70x is bigger and heavier than the recently introduced TC5 Series. Its footprint is just a tad larger than the iPhone 7 Plus, but the TC70x is a hefty 1.1 inches thick and it weighs 13.3 ounces. In return for the thickness and weight users not only get that industrial-grade scanner, but also remarkable ruggedness.

There's IP67 sealing, which means it can survive a dunk in a puddle. It can also handle 6-foot drops to concrete, and the device was subjected it to all sorts of MIL-STD-810G torture tests, including tumble (2,000 from a height of 3.3 feet!), vibration, thermal shock, humidity, etc. The operating temperature range is -4 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, good enough for use virtually anywhere. And the screen is protected by Corning's incomparable Gorilla Glass.

Hedging their bets

Industrial handhelds have been on an interesting journey for the past several years, with Android facing slow acceptance even though Microsoft had stranded the legacy Windows Mobile/WEHH.

And now, just as Android is gathering steam, Microsoft releases Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise. No one knows as of yet how Windows 10 IoT ME will fare against Android. Offering hardware for both platforms means extra work and investment, but for Zebra it makes total sense to hedge their bets and making sure their customers get whatever they need. It's what industry leaders do.

Specifications Zebra TC70x
Added/changed Added 11/2016
Form-factor Mobile touch computer
CPU Android: Snapdragon 650 ARM Cortex A72
Windows: Snapdragon 808 ARM Cortex A57
CPU Speed Both 1.8GHz
Graphics Snapdragon 650: Adreno 510 Snapdragon 808: Adreno 418
OS Android AOSP 6.0 "Marshmallow" or
Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise
RAM/Flash 2GB RAM/16GB Flash pSLC
Card slots 1 x user accessible MicroSD (up to 32GB SDHC and up to 128GB SDXC), 1 x nano SIM
Display type Outdoor-viewable TFT LCD, optically bonded, Gorilla Glass
Display size/res 4.7-inch/1280 x 720 pixel (312 ppi)
Digitizer/pens Capacitive multi-touch; Android only: Dual-mode stylus, touch, glove
Keyboard/keys Android capacitive touch buttons (recent, home, back), programmable back button; dual dedicated scan buttons; push-to-talk (Android only)
Navigation Capacitive stylus, touch (bare/glove)
Housing Est: Impact-resistant plastic over magnesium-alloy frame
Operating Temp -4° to 122°F (-20° to 50°C)
Sealing IP65 and IP67
Shock Multiple 6 feet drops to concrete across operating temp range (8 feet at room temperature)
Vibration 4gs PK Sine (5 Hz to 2 kHz); 0.04 g 2/Hz Random (20 Hz to 2 kHz); 60 minute duration per axis, 3 axis
Tumble 2,000 one-meter tumbles
Size (WxHxD) 6.3 x 3.3 x 1.1 inches (161 x 84 x 28 mm)
Weight 13.3 oz. (376 grams) w/ battery
Power 3.7V, 4,620mAH, 17.1 watt-hour rechargeable Li-Ion
Sensors Ambient light, motion
Scanning Zebra SE4750 imager
Camera Rear: 13mp (Android) 8mp (Windows) AF f/2.4 camera; front: 1.3mp fixed focus
Interface USB 2.0 OTG, triple mic w/ noise cancellation, speaker
Wireless Android: Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/d/h/i/r, Windows: Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/d/h/i/w, both: Bluetooth v4.1 LE Class 2, NFC
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Contact Zebra TC70x Series web
Brochure Zebra TC70x Series specs (PDF)