Posted Feb. 13, 2004 by Lisa Gade,
Editor in Chief
The TDS Recon isn't your average Pocket PC. It
can withstand drops, bangs, dust and rain. The 17 ounce Recon is
a rugged Pocket PC running Windows Mobile 2003 that's targeted
at government, vertical market and military users who need a handheld
computer that can survive the elements and take a beating. Though
larger and heavier than a consumer Pocket PC, the Recon is ergonomically
designed with comfortable curves and an overall ergonomic design. Tripod
Data Systems, a Trimble company, makes the Recon.
While some vertical market PDAs lag behind in
tech specs and horsepower, the Recon runs the latest Pocket PC
operating system and has a 400 MHz XScale processor with 64 megs
of RAM and 128 megs of non-volatile flash RAM. Pretty powerful
stuff, in a very rugged design.
The Recon weighs just over one pound, and has
a thick yellow hard plastic casing with black rubberized end-caps.
The end caps are removable, and you'll find two CF slots under
the top cap, and the power module (battery and carrier) plus serial,
USB ports and power connector are mounted on the bottom cap. The
rubberized end caps create seals that ensure water and dirt won't
enter the Recon through the caps. The stylus fits into a groove
on the back of the unit, and the top of the stylus acts as a slot
head screwdriver which you'll use to unscrew the end caps when
you need to remove them.
The TDS Recon has standard 9 pin serial and a
USB port. The USB cable provided is a standard USB A to B cable
and is the same as that used by many USB peripherals. Since the
Recon has a serial port, users with other systems such as Windows
NT 4.0 can sync the unit without a problem.
The buttons are the same as those you'd find
on a regular Pocket PC, except the entire button/d-pad and speaker
area is covered in a rubberized black material that protects the
unit from the elements. The protective material in no way hinders
use of the buttons and controls. The TDS has a 5-way directional
pad, calendar, contacts and email buttons, as well as a power button,
a Start Menu and back bottom on the front face. There are no other
buttons or controls on the unit.
We've provided the durability and environmental
specs below, and I can tell you that I dropped the Recon 3 feet
onto a hard floor several times and it was undamaged. TDS says
it can withstand immersion up to 1 meter, and I in fact put the
unit under running water while turned on and it didn't skip a beat.
The Recon has a state of the art Intel XScale PXA255
processor running at 400 MHz. The unit feels fast, and in fact behaves
just like the Pocket PC consumers know and love.
What good is a durable device if your data disappears
when the battery runs out or is removed for periods of time? The Recon
comes with 64 megs of SDRAM (same as most high end Pocket PCs) with ~
58 megs available. More importantly, it has 128 megs of non-volatile
flash RAM (think of the iPAQ File Store concept) that survives extended
power loss and hard resets. If the Recon is left in a truck for 3 weeks,
all data and applications stored in the flash RAM area will still be
there when you finally charge and power up the unit. If your IT group
deploys Recons with a specific set of applications and installs those
apps into the Flash RAM area, they won't have to reconfigure units that
have been left without power for extended periods of time, and users
won't wipe out those apps when doing a hard reset.
Two phillips head screws retain the top end cap (you
can use the stylus unscrew them). Under the cap you'll find two CF slots:
a type I slot and a type II slot. There's sufficient space under the
cap to allow for cards with small to medium size protruding heads such
as WiFi and Bluetooth wireless networking cards. If you need to use larger
cards, an optional cap is available that offers more interior space and
a clear window so you can see LEDs on the cards inside the cap. Since
the cap is sealed, you'll need to go cap-less if you wish to use CF cards
that are cabled to external accessories such as mouse GPS units. Note
that you'll lose the top seal's protection from the elements if you do
go cap-less (bad idea!). The Recon doesn't have an SD slot, but with
two CF slots, you likely won't need the SD slot.
-22 to 140°F (-30 to 60°C)
MIL-STD-810F, Method 507.4
Sand & Dust
IP67, MIL-STD-810F, Method 510.4, Procedures I and II
IP67, sealed against accidental immersion (1m for 30 minutes)
MIL-STD-810F, Method 512.4, Procedure I
MIL-STD-810F, Method 516.5, Procedure IV
26 drops from 4 ft (1.22 m) onto plywood over concrete
6 additional drops at -4°F (-20°C)
6 additional drops at 140°F (60°C)
MIL-STD-810F, Method 514.5, Procedure I, Figures 17 and 18
MIL-STD-810F, Method 500.4, Procedures I, II and III
15,000 ft at 73°F (23°C)
Screen and Sound
The Recon's 3.8" standard 320 x 240 transflective
display is viewable both indoors and outdoors. It's sharp and crisp
with good color saturation, and isn't at all washed out. The display
is the most vulnerable part of a PDA, and the Recon's is well protected
thanks to the casing which extends about 1/3 inch above the LCD.
Thus the casing rather than the display will bear the impact of
a fall in most cases. Most LCDs are vulnerable to damage when exposed
to great temperature changes, but the Recon is rated to endure
extreme temperatures. I wasn't able to test its ability to withstand
a transition from 0 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but I can tell you
that consumer PDA screens can crack when the glass and substrate
temperatures change too rapidly under such temperature swings.
Sound volume is good through the built-in speakers
and should be loud enough to hear in most environments. However,
it may be hard to hear in very loud environments such as construction
sites. Unlike consumer Pocket PCs, the unit doesn't have a headphone
jack and it doesn't have an internal microphone.
Unlike consumer PDAs which have small Lithium
Ion batteries that may or may not be user replaceable, the TDS
Recon uses a removable NiMH battery pack located in the lower cap.
This battery has huge capacity at 3,800 mAh and TDS says it's good
for 15 hours of continuous use, which seems on target. Need even
longer run times in the field? Purchase extra battery packs to
suit your needs. Of course, if you use networking cards (which
are big power consumers) you'll get shorter run times, and that
will vary depending on the brand and type of networking card you
TDS also offers an AA PowerBoot module. The
AA PowerBoot module lets the user run the Recon for 8 or 16 hours
on two AA alkaline or lithium batteries -- it's great for the military
or any other application where you can't recharge at night.
The Recon comes with the Windows Mobile Professional
2003 OS (also known as Pocket PC 2003). You'll get the standard
applications that come with Pocket PCs such as Pocket versions
of Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Outlook. Other Pocket PC
apps include Microsoft's Pictures app, which allows you to view
still images, Windows Media Player 9 for viewing movies and listening
to MP3s, Pocket MSN and TDS' own backup and restore programs are
also included. The backup up will backup the Recon and save the
file to the System directory on the non-volatile flash ROM area.
ActiveSync 3.7 and Outlook 2002 for the desktop are included.
If you or your company is in the market for a
rugged handheld running the Pocket PC OS, the Recon is an excellent
choice. The hardware and OS are state of the art, and the machine
meets environmental standards required for vertical and even military
use. The dual expansion slots mean you can use the Recon with Pocket
PC compatible wireless networking cards. An optional larger cap
is available if you need to use larger cards. 128 megs of flash
ROM means your data will survive extended periods of power loss.
Data Systems. Suggested list price:Starting
at $1,499 for the 200 MHz version. Available from TDS and
TDS Resellers. Nylon case, USB cable, CD and screen
TFT color LCD, 64K colors, Screen Size Diag: 3.5",
Resolution: 240 x 320. Viewable indoors and outdoors.
Size: 6.50" (16.5
cm) x 3.75" (9.5 cm) x 1.75" (4.5 cm). Weight: 17
oz. (490 grams) including battery pack.
in speakers. No headphone jack or mic. Windows
Pocket Media Player 9 included.
Mobile Professional 2003 operating system (aka Pocket
PC 2003). Microsoft Pocket Office suite including
Pocket Word, Excel, Internet Explorer, and Outlook.
Also, MSN Instant Messenger for Pocket PC, MS Pictures,
as well as handwriting recognition. TDS backup and
restore applications pre-installed. ActiveSync 3.7
and Outlook 2002 for PCs included.
Compact Flash (CF) slots. One type I and one type
included. Can accept CF networking cards purchased