CipherLab 8600 Series|
Simple, competent, and highly configurable proprietary tool for data collection jobs.
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
The 8600 Series of small industrial mobile computers was introduced by CipherLab in February of 2014 as a data capture solution for use in warehouses, distribution centers, the manufacturing industry and similar AIDC applications in medium to harsh environments. CipherLab, which is headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, with offices in China, Germany and the USA, has been specializing in the design, manufacture, and marketing of Automatic Identification and Data Capture/Collection products and systems since 1988.
Right upfront, note that the 8600 Series uses neither Android nor a Microsoft OS, but CipherLab's own proprietary CipherLab Operating System. Applications are developed with either the Forge Application Generator, which doesn't require writing any code, or with the GCC C or BASIC compilers. The device itself, likewise, is simple and basic, offering just the functionality needed for the job, no more and no less.
8600 Series handhelds are compact and light as far as industrial data capture devices go, measuring 6.7 x 2.4 x 1.2 inches, and weighing just 8.5 ounces. That's about as wide as an iPhone 5 and about two inches longer, thanks to the integrated physical keyboard. It's considerably thicker than a modern smartphone, of course, and weighs roughly twice as much. Still, that's smaller and lighter than most industrial handhelds.
As far as tech specs go, the 8600 Series is powered by an ARM Cortex-M3 of non-specified origin and clock speed. RAM is either 8 or 16MB, and there's 16MB of Flash. That's stunningly little compared to the many gigabyte of storage common in modern smartphones and even industrial Windows Mobile or Android handhelds, but more simply is not required when you're just collecting text data in a slim proprietary OS. If more storage is required, the 8600 Series comes with a micro SD slot with SDHC support.
The display measures 2.83 inches diagonally and offers 240 x 320 pixel QVGA resolution. There is no touch functionality. Instead, the 8600 Series can be used with either a 29-key keypad for rapid basic data entry, or a more elaborate 39-key keypad with extra functions. The keypads are user-swappable; they simply snap on.
For wired communication, the 8600 Series provides either USB or serial RS232 via a snap-on cable. On the wireless side, there's 802.11b/g/n WiFi and dual-mode Bluetooth 4.0. GPS is optionally available, as is RFID. For scanning, CipherLab offers either a linear imager, a laser scanner, or a 1D/2D imager.
Minimal hardware means minimal power requirements. As is, 8600 devices come standard with a small 3.7V/1,100mAH Li-Ion battery that, depending on the version, is good for an amazing 12 to 32 hours. If that's not enough, a more powerful battery with twice the capacity yields, depending on the model, between 24 and 64 hours.
Like all CipherLab handhelds, 8600 Series devices are significantly more rugged than any consumer smartphone. The 8600 can handle multiple 6-foot drops onto concrete, is sealed to IP65 specifications where the "6" means it's completely protected against dust, and the "5" that it is protected against low pressure water jets from all directions. The operating temperature range is a wide 14 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. CipherLab also quotes a "tumble spec" where the devices survive 1,000 one-meter (3.3 feet) tumbles. That makes the 8600 plenty tough enough for most deployments.
In industrial handhelds, the availability of accessories and peripherals matters. CipherLab offers optional charging and communication cradles, cables, belt holsters, as well as a pistol grip. And note that CipherLab offers 8600 Series devices in three versions, the basic 8600, and the 8630 and 8660 models that come with more options.
What does all that make the CipherLab 8600 Series? In an era dominated by smartphones and handhelds based on the comprehensive full-function operating platforms from Apple, Microsoft and Google, proprietary software platforms have become a rarity. That's not necessarily bad, just different. If tasks are well defined, using simple tools designed to perform those tasks without being weighed down by the large overhead inherent in a general purpose OS can reduce complexity and cost. And CipherLab is not new to this game. They know what they are doing.