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Tripod Data Systems TDS Recon rugged Pocket PC

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.

TDS Recon
TDS Recon

 

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.

 

 

 

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Horsepower and Features

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.

Durability Specs

Operating Temperature -22 to 140°F (-30 to 60°C)
Humidity MIL-STD-810F, Method 507.4
Sand & Dust IP67, MIL-STD-810F, Method 510.4, Procedures I and II
Water IP67, sealed against accidental immersion (1m for 30 minutes)
MIL-STD-810F, Method 512.4, Procedure I
Drop 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)
Vibration MIL-STD-810F, Method 514.5, Procedure I, Figures 17 and 18
Altitude 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.

Battery Life

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 use.

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.

Software Bundle

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.

Conclusion

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.

Manufacturer: Tripod 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 protectors included.

 

Specs:

Display: Transflective TFT color LCD, 64K colors, Screen Size Diag: 3.5", Resolution: 240 x 320. Viewable indoors and outdoors.

Battery: 3800 mAh NiMH replaceable battery pack.

Performance: Intel XScale PXA255 400 MHz processor. 64 megs RAM, 128 megs NAND Flash memory (non-volatile).

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.

Audio: Built in speakers. No headphone jack or mic. Windows Pocket Media Player 9 included.

Software: Windows 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.

Expansion: 2 Compact Flash (CF) slots. One type I and one type II.

Networking: None included. Can accept CF networking cards purchased separately.

 

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