The introduction of the smartphone, and in particular the iPhone in 2007, caused a seismic shift in terms of mobile computing in field service. However, consumer devices have their limitations when it comes to durability and reliability in the field, especially when compared to devices such as Handheld computers that are designed for such use. But with the emergence of a new breed of rugged smartphones geared specifically for field use is that set to change?
As part of our hands on series we take a look at one of the latest such devices, Gen2Wave’s RP1600 rugged Android Smartphone...
What the manufacturers say...
Launched in the UK in February this year, Gen2Wave’s RP1600, is the first octa-core rugged Android industrial Smartphone.
The RP1600 has stand-out performance thanks to its 1.8GHz octa-core processor (Samsung, Exynos5430), 3GB RAM and 16GB ROM on an Android Kit-Kat 4.0 O/S, allowing high-speed parallel processing across eight apps and sufficient RAM space for multi-tasking without delay.
The RP1600 has a tested and proven IP64 rating withstanding drops up to 1.5m.
Adding this to the compact 4.3 inch sunlight readable display, available in either resistive or capacitive touch, this Smartphone is ideal for durability in harsher conditions.
With extended battery options and simple battery swap-out, this device is particularly suitable for mobile workers who need business-critical information on the move in order to carry out their work in an efficient way.
This device delivers a range of communication options including Bluetooth 4.0+HS, WiFi IEEE 802.11 a/b/g/n, and embedded A-GPS; assisting the mobile worker with real-time access to important data, increasing productivity and accuracy.
The RP1600 comes with Gen2Wave’s KIOSK feature which enables businesses to restrict the use of applications, limit file access, allows for website blocking and the control of WiFi, Bluetooth or phone usage.
There is undeniably a gap in the market sat right between rugged handheld computers and consumer smartphones.
In fact there are actually two distinct gaps.
"There is undeniably a gap in the market sat right between rugged handheld computers and consumer smartphones..."
Then there is a secondary gap, for what are perhaps best defined as industrial rugged smartphones.
Devices that meet the above rugged criteria but also incorporate further additional features such as barcode scanners, which are specifically designed to improve and enhance the workflow of their business users.
The RP series of rugged smartphones firmly sits in this latter category, and the RP1600 is certainly one of the best looking examples of this relatively small market that I have seen to date.
Front on it looks far more like a consumer device than many of it’s competitors with a large 4.3 inch touch-screen display and smooth curved lines, challenging devices such as Zebra’s gorgeous looking TC55.
And whilst selecting a device for your field service engineers is not about a beauty parade, aesthetics shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to gaining engineer approval and thus enhancing adoption rates.
In hand the device whilst of course not as light as a consumer device, is certainly not cumbersome, whilst still feeling nice and sturdy.
In comparison to other similar devices the RP1600 comes in around the expected range of 250g (up to 300g with extended battery) which is just about 10% heavier than the TC55 but significantly lighter than Trimble’s Juno T41s which weighs in at 400g.
All in all, the RP1600 looks the part, but how does it perform?
"Whilst selecting a device for your field service engineers is not about a beauty parade, aesthetics shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to gaining engineer approval and thus enhancing adoption rates..."
And in terms of processing power the RP1600 is comfortably leading the pack.
In fact its 1.8GHz Octa-core processor alongside 3GB Ram puts it in a similar bracket to a reasonably high-end consumer device such as Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4. Amongst its peers only the TC55 with a 1.5Ghz dual processor comes remotely close.
There is also plenty of storage space with 16GB internal memory, plus support for up to 32GB on an external micro SD, which again compares well to its main rivals with only the optimum configuration of the Juno T41S besting it.
The RP1600 comes with Android 4.4 KitKat operating system however it is upgradeable to Android 5.1 Lollipop.
Whilst 4.4 is certainly a capable OS, the option to upgrade to 5.1 is definitely a bonus and one that isn’t available on many similar devices.
Given that one of the key benefits of an Android device is that there is a familiarity to the OS due to the prevalence of the platform in the consumer world, it could be well worth exploring the upgrade as in the consumer realm many Android devices are now running 5.0 and the look and feel of the two different versions is substantial.
There are also some general performance enhancements on the newer OS as well as some additional features including enhanced battery life, notifications and security all of which are of benefit to a device being deployed to field workers.
It's also worth noting that the RP series also comes in a Windows flavour in the RP1300 albeit with a slightly less impressive set of specs.
The Ins & Outs:
The major selling point for the RP1600 and all of the devices within this bracket, is the inclusion of a dedicated barcode scanner.
"The RP1600 is capable of processing both 1D and 2D barcodes and features an easily accessible quick button for activating the scanner, which is pretty much the standard for such devices..."
Other than this, the device comes with an additional 4 short keys for navigation, supports USB2.0 and also accepts stylus input.
It also has a 13 megapixel camera with auto focus and flash, which again is ahead of its peers.
The one omission that would perhaps of been useful for those out in the field would have been a 3.5mm audio input. However, the device does come with Bluetooth v4.0+HS and has dedicated headset support. However this is of course reliant on providing your engineers with a bluetooth headsets, which are far more expensive than their wired equivalents.
As mentioned above the RP1600 like the TC55 supports the Bluetooth 4.0 compared to the Juno T41S and the Dolphin 70E which come with Bluetooth 2.1.
This is particularly useful for field service companies as we look to the future as 4.0 is geared much more towards IoT than its older counterpart.
When it comes to wifi the RP1600 is capable of working with all standards of WiFi with the exception of 802.11ac which means that the device can potentially operate on the 5Ghz channel although not as effectively as a device boasting 802.11ac. This is however, par for the course within the form factor and none of the RP1600’s competitors offer better.
"The RP1600 also edges ahead of its rivals in terms of mobile internet with support for 4G LTE which is not seen amongst other similar devices..."
Finally, there is a potential to include NFC capabilities within the RP1600, a benefit the device shares with both the Dolphin 70E and the T55.
With an IP rating of 64 the RP1600 is fully resistant to dust ingress. However, in terms of its ability to be protected from water, it is splash proof but nothing more.
"With an IP rating of 64 the RP1600 is fully resistant to dust ingress. However, in terms of its ability to be protected from water, it is splash proof but nothing more..."
In terms of its ability to withstand the occasional knock or two?
Well, the RP1600 is allegedly capable of surviving tests of 1.5m drop onto concrete, and the device we had for review certainly coped with such a drop. However, it is unclear if the device was put through the MilStd 810g testing process, which many of its peers have done.
This could just be information lacking from the spec sheet, or it could be that Gen2Wav used a different approach to testing. However, this does raise a potential red flag when it comes to comparing it with similar devices.
Finally in terms of battery life the RP1600 comes with three options:
- 1860mA/h Li-Ion
- Extended : 4000mA/h Li-Ion
- Medium : 2860mA/h Li-Ion[/unordered_list] Standard :
Also as the RP1600 also features a built-in backup battery, hot swapping of batteries should be possible, allowing for potentially infinite battery life as long as you have an additional battery especially as the charging cradle (which is included in the box) for the RP1600 also allows for charging an additional battery.
There is no denying that the RP1600 is an impressive device.
"Its Achilles heel perhaps lies within its rugged specs..."
If you are looking for a device that is going to take a bit of a pounding and definitely get wet once in a while then it may be worth looking at some of the more robust options of the form factor.
However, that said, the RP1600 is both pretty and powerful, is certainly rugged enough for most field environments and would definitely be a good option.