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Bluebird EF500/EF500R

Looks like a high-end consumer phone, but is much tougher and can do a whole lot more.
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Bluebird, a Korean company that has been in the mobile computer hardware business since 1998, specializes in products serving primarily enterprise mobility and the payment industries. Bluebird's offerings also include barcode scanners, RFID readers, and printer-integrated handhelds. The EF500 handheld computer described on this page was formally introduced January 2016 as part of a new lineup of retail-focused, full-touch handheld computers and tablets, among the first in the industry to support Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise with enterprise-grade security and manageability.

After having relied for several years on a lineup primarily consisting of Windows Mobile-based legacy products and some experimentation with early versions of Android, Bluebird surprised many in the rugged industry with its late 2015/early 2016 flurry of new handheld and small tablet products, all based on state-of-the-art technology. Also gone, or at least de-emphasized, seems the company's Pideon brand name, with most products now simply referred to as, for example, the Bluebird EF500. The company's mypideon.com website remains for now (in the US, bluebird.com is an American Express payment system).

But on to the Bluebird EF500. It's a thoroughly modern looking design along the lines of virtually every high-end consumer smartphone on the market today. Not all specs are available yet (as of early Feb 2016), but from what we can tell, the primary difference between the EF500 and the EF500R is the custom rugged case that's part of the EF500R version (shown above). The casing doubles the standard version's 4-foot drop spec to a most impressive eight feet.

For size, the EF500 has a footprint nearly identical to that of the Apple iPhone 6 Plus, though as a ruggedized device with integrated 2D imager, the EF500 is a bit thicker and heavier. The encased EF500R is 0.85 inches thick versus 0.65 for the plain EF500; weight is 11.6 and 9.2 ounces, respectively. Also note that the EF500's display measures 5.0 inches diagonally, a bit less than the big iPhones 5.5 inches.

On the tech side, the EF500 platform is a bit more conservative. There's a non-specified 1.2GHz quad-core processor (customers would probably really like to know which), there's 2GB of RAM and just 8GB of lowly eMMC storage, expandable, though, via micro SD card. Standard battery capacity is 3,200mAH (no voltage or expected battery life specified), with an extended 6,400mAH battery available. The batteries seem replaceable as Bluebird claims hot-swapping capability.

Display resolution is 1280 x 720 pixel, good enough to make a 5-inch display very sharp. 294 ppi is definitely in the "retina" category. There's, of course, capacitive multi-touch. Here, Bluebird claims glove, wet, and stylus capability, but without providing any details. The display uses Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Cameras are up to speed, too, with a frontal 1.3 megapixel conferencing cam, and a 13 megapixel rear camera with bright f/2.4 aperture and LED flash.

For communication, the EF500 platform is very well equipped with dual-band 802.11 a/b/g/n/d/h/i WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, 4G LTE and most earlier versions as well. The EF500 has PTT (push-to-talk) functionality, dual SIM slots, and a SAM slot.

Industrial-grade 1D/2D scanning is via a Zebra SE4710 imager with red aiming LED and direct sunlight reading capability. Optional fingerprint verification is available.

On the OS side, things look promising. The EF500 is available either with Windows Embedded Handheld 8.1 or Android 5.1 "Lollipop." Bluebird also mentions Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise, which is widely seen as, finally, a replacement for the old Windows Mobile and Embedded Handheld. It's not clear, however, if this will be available on the EF500 or just for the also announced small Bluebird tablets.

On the ruggedness side, the EF500 sports IP67 sealing, which means it's totally dustproof as well as waterproof. There's the 4-foot drop spec, or twice that for the EF500R. Operating temperature is a suitably wide -4° to 140°F. That's very good, but given that there are now IP67 consumer phones that can take a beating, we hope Bluebird will provide more detailed ruggedness specs.

The price? The folks at SGD Systems list it as starting at US$1,390. That's quite reasonable for a tough and rugged modern smartphone that can do a whole lot more than any consumer phone.

Specifications Bluebird EF500/EF500R
Added/changed Added 02/2016
Form-factor Rugged enterprise handheld computer
CPU Speed Unspecified quad-core CPU, 1.2GHz
OS Microsoft Windows Embedded Handheld 8.1 or Android 5.1
RAM/ROM 2GB RAM/8GB eMMC
Card slots 1 x micro-SD, 2 x SIM, 1 x SAM
Display type TFT with LED backlight, , AG coating, fingerprint resistant, Corning Gorilla Glass 3
Display size/res 5.0"/720 x 1280 pixels
Digitizer/pens Capacitive touch (glove, wet, stylus)
Keyboard/keys Onscreen
Navigation touch, stylus
Housing Plastic/rubber
Operating Temp -4° to 140°F (-20° to 60°C)
Sealing IP67
Shock MIL-STD-810G 4-foot drops (EF500R 8-foot)
Vibration Unknown
Altitude Unknown
Size (WxHxD) 3.1 x 6.1 x 0.65 inches (78 x 156 x 16.5 mm)
Weight 9.2 oz. (260 grams) with standard battery
Power Rechargeable, replaceable 3,200mAH or 6,400mAH Li-Ion, hot-swappable
Interface Micros USB 2.0, 3.5mm headphone, dual mics
Wireless 802.11 a/b/g/n/d/h/i, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, HSPA+, GSM/GPRS/EDGE, 4G LTE, AGPS
Camera Front: 1.3mp, Rear: 13mp f/2.4 aperture with LED flash
Sensors Ambient light, proximity, gyro, accelerometer, magnetic, optional fingerprint reader
Scanner 2D imager (Zebra SE4710)
Safety Unknown
EMI Unknown
RF Unknown
ESD +/-15kVdc air discharge +/-8kVdc direct discharge +/-8kVdc indirect discharge
Price Starting at US$1,390 (seen on sdgsystems.com)
Product brochure EF500/EF500R brochure (PDF)
Web page EF500/EF500R web page