Zebra WorkAbout Pro 4|
4th generation of the versatile, modular Workabout Pro rugged mobile computer
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
On March 17, 2014, Motorola Solutions, the enterprise division of which is now part of Zebra, introduced the Workabout Pro 4 rugged handheld terminal. The Workabout Pro line, which originated on the Psion side of Moto's business, has long been a versatile workhorse for all sorts of voice picking, proof of delivery, vehicle maintenance and remote expert solutions applications, and will eventually replace the 3rd Generation version (introduced in 2010).
Like its predecessor, the Workabout 4 is based on the concept of "Open Source Mobility" that facilitates co-creating solutions with partners and customers via a modular product platform that allows sharing of common components and tools with developers, resellers and clients. The concept includes a flexible, easily customized and "future-proof" design to meet all sorts of specific needs. Even a future-proofed basic platform, however, can only keep pace with rapidly evolving standards and technologies for so long, and so the new Workabout Pro 4 presents an updated basic platfrom. But it is one that, as Motorola Solutions emphasizes, is "backward compatible to existing backroom accessories and a majority of Workabout Pro 3 partner modules, providing additional investment protection for customers."
On a corporate level, things have changed since the 3rd generation Workabout was introduced in early 2009. In Summer 2012, Psion became part of Motorola Solutions, which made observers wonder about potential cuts in the two companies' overlapping product lineups. Many do miss an independent Psion (and certainly its Ingenuity Working site!), but so far Motorola Solutions has handled the integration quite well, staying away from wholesale abandonment of an acquired product line. Instead, there seems emphasis on filling gaps, emphasizing strengths, taking advantage of former Psion's considerable expertise and experience, and explaining to customers where each product fits. For example, in its press release Motorola Solutions describes the new Workabout Pro 4 as a cost-conscious new offering between Motorola's MC3000 and MC9000 lines of mobile computers. It also helps that Psion shipped close to half a million Workabout handhelds, so there's plenty of brand recognition, legacy support, and replacement business.
But let's see what's new and different from the prior generation:
On the software side, while Windows CE/Windows Mobile now are being challenged even in vertical and industrial markets, there is still considerable software and SDK support, and there are numerous numerous utilities and terminal emulation packages.
- Performance: the new model uses a 1GHz version of the TI "Sitara" AM37x ARM Cortex-A8 processor instead of the 624MHz Marvell PXA270 in the third gen product (Intel/Marvell PXA processors once powered virtually all handhelds, but have now all but vanished). RAM has been doubled to 512KB, and Flash quadrupled to four gigabyte.
- Operating System: the WorkAbout 4 can be ordered with either Windows Embedded CE 6.0 or Embedded Handheld 6.5, up from Windows CE 5.0 and Windows Mobile 6.1.
- Expansion: the SD and CF card slots have given way to a single, more contemporary micro SD slot.
- Connectivity: there is now a dedicated USB port instead of USB via a cable.
- Data acquisition: there are four scanner options: standard and extended range laser, linear and 2D imagers. All can be factory configured, or installed by the user as an end cap or slim pod. There are also low, high and ultra-high frequency RFID modules.
- Wireless: Wireless performance is faster via modules that include the latest and fastest wireless standards (UMTS/HSPA+ with GPS). There's also an optional GPS/WiFi diversity antenna. WiFi is now standard, and uses 802.11a/b/g/n (n is new). Bluetooth is at V2.0 for now, but V2.1 will be available Q2/2014.
- Camera: there is a new optional 8mp auto-focus camera (stills and video) with LED flash that can be used for documentation.
Like the prior generation, the new Workabout Pro 4 comes in a "short" and a "long" model. The primary difference is that one has an alphanumeric keyboard whereas the other has a numeric keypad or a modified alphanumeric keyboard and is a bit shorter. Also like the prior generation, optional functionality can be added via either end cap modules that attach to the top of the device, or as back cover modules that screw onto the backside of the computer (that also includes a pistol grip). Below is how it works:
As far as rugged industrial handhelds go, the Workabout is fairly light and compact, weighing around a pound. The device can handle a wide operating temperature range of -4 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. It's sealed to IP65 specifications, which means it's totally dustproof and can also handle low-pressure water jets from all directions. The base unit can survive six foot drops to concrete, and with extensions and caps installed it's still five feet.
Overall, it made good business sense for Motorola to launch a next generation of the Psion Workabout Pro. The basic unit, though very much a legacy device in its conception, is now technologically up-to-date again and, thanks to its exemplary modularity, can easily serve as a very versatile workhorse for the next several years.