The Android smartphone that went to boot camp and Business School and came back a tough, feature-rich touch computer for enterprise deployment
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
In October 2013, what was then the enterprise division of Motorola Solutions and is now part of Zebra announced that three of its popular enterprise mobile computers would be available with Android Jelly Bean, fortified with Mx security, device management and performance features that they added to the standard Android OS. On February 10, 2014, that trio was joined by yet another Android handheld, the new TC55. The company simply called the TC55 a "touch computer," something as sleek and easy to use as workers' own personal smartphones, but also something with business-class durability and security.
Below you can see how this enterprise handheld from compares with earlier such efforts from the company. In the middle is the MC40, introduced early 2013, and on the right the LEX 700, launched a year prior to that, and available with both Android and the earlier Windows Embedded Handheld. As you'd expect, the new TC55 is the lightest and most powerful, and the one closest to the current smartphone state-of-the-art. For that is the name of the game—give people the same technology at work that they already use away from work, only in a package that fits better into an enterprise setting with its features, management and securities requirements.
So what do customers get with the TC55? On the technology side, there's a non-specified 1.5GHz dual-core processor, likely something from Qualcomm's lineup. There's 8GB of Flash, complemented by up to 32GB via externally accessible micro-SD card. The screen measures a (by now almost modest) 4.3 inches diagonally, with acceptable, but also somewhat modest 800 x 480 pixel resolution. Specs describe it as a "Blanview" LCD which, to the best of our knowledge, refers to a Casio-developed screen technology designed with high transmissivity that provides excellent display brightness while needing less power to look brighter both indoors and outdoors. The TC55 specs claim a 700 nits display luminance indoors, and the display is said to use just half the power of a conventional design.
The TC55 is an Android device and uses Android version 4.1.2, part of the "Jelly Bean" generation of the OS. In the TC55 Android is fortified with Zebra's own Mx security, device management and performance features that they added to the standard Android OS. The device also retains backward compatibility with existing warehouse management systems and telnet apps via Zebra's platform-independent RhoMobile Suite if the apps have been written using those developer tools (see product page).
Android is totally geared towards touch, and so the TC55 uses capacitive multi-touch with some extras baked in. First, this multi-touch can be used with even thick gloves. Second, it's really a "dual mode" touch system, as it can also be used with a conductive stylus for signature capture and such.
On the connectivity and communications side, there's dual band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and 4G LTE mobile broadband as well as HSPA+, and EDGE/GPRS/GSM support. There are dual speakers, dual noise-canceling microphones, a standard 3.5-inch headphone jack, and also NFC (Near Field Communication). The device supports USB 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.
Though the device quite handy (2.7 x 5.4 x 0.63 inches and under eight ounces), it's remarkably rugged too. There's IP67 sealing, which means it can survive a dunk in a puddle. It can also handle 4-foot drops, and was subjected to all sorts of additional MIL-STD-810G torture tests, including tumble, vibration, thermal shock, humidity, etc. The operating temperature range is 14 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, good enough for use almost anywhere. And the screen is protected by Corning's incomparable Gorilla Glass 2. For a bit of extra grip and protection, there's also the (recommended) protective boot.
This being an enterprise device, it can read barcodes via an integrated 1D linear scanner that's much quicker and much more precise than the barcode reading of consumer phones via their cameras. The Zebra TC55 can do that, too, of course, via its own 8mp autofocus camera that is optimized for 1D/2D scanning.
All of this looks and sounds quite good. It's hard to argue with an enterprise-friendly beefed-up smartphone that offers most of the state-of-the-art features consumer phones do. And one that uses the world's leading smartphone OS almost everyone is already familiar with.
On the flipside, even an enterprise device as sleek as the TC55 weighs about twice as much as a contemporary consumer smartphone. Workers will still have to get used to it, and they won't have all the stuff they use and love on their smartphones on it. And the initial acquisition cost will be higher than that of a consumer phone.
Given the many qualities of the Zebra TC55, large enterprises may very well consider deploying them in mass quantities to their work forces. It makes a lot of sense.