Rugged, value-driven 4.3-inch Android mobile computer and data collecting device for retail, hospitality and enterprise customers
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
On October 26, 2017, Zebra Technologies Corporation launched the Android-based TC20 handheld mobile computer as a rugged, value-driven enterprise smartphone for small and medium-sized businesses. The TC20 will be available as either an all-touch device or in a slightly taller form factor with an integrated keypad.
The TC20 looks and feels much like a modern smartphone, and that was Zebra's idea behind it: provide a design and familiar user interface in a reasonably priced device that's geared towards the data collection and communication needs of retail, hospitality and enterprise customers.
It's all Android now
With Microsoft's October 2017 announcement that Windows 10 Mobile had essentially gone into maintenance mode, it's fair to say that the non-Apple mobile handheld market is pretty much all Android now and it wouldn't make much sense to offer both Windows and Android on the same hardware platform. And Zebra didn't.
Instead, the TC20 runs Android 7 "Nougat" on a competent QualCom octa-core MSM8937 SnapDragon, the same chip that powers dozen of consumer smartphones.
Earlier versions of Android did not meet enterprise security standards and requirements, but Android security has been ramped up considerably over the past few releases.
In addition, Zebra offers LifeGuard for Android that adds years of OS security support via periodic security updates and legacy OS security support to match the enterprise hardware lifecycle.
And since Zebra was an early adopter of Android for enterprise solutions, the company has compiled significant experience and makes that available in its "Mobility DNA," an integrated suite of business, management, productivity and development tools.
What does the TC20 offer?
With the new TC20, Zebra provides a versatile, sensible, durable handheld for use around the workplace. It looks, feels and handles like a modern smartphone, which means almost anyone will instantly be familiar with it.
The 4.3-inch screen is a little smaller than that of "big-screen" consumer smartphones, and that makes it handier to use and stow away in a pocket. 800 x 480 pixel resolution means 217 pixels per inch, the same excellent sharpness as that of an Apple iMac27 retina desktop. There's capacitive multi-touch, of course, and WiFi and Bluetooth.
The battery is internal, like on most smartphones, but Zebra offers a snap-on "PowerPack" that can instantly be replaced with a freshly charged one.
Customers who need RFID reading and writing can easily add that to the TC20 with a special sled. A pistol grip is available for easy handling (see picture below).
Where the TC20 differs from the standard smartphone design school of thought is in its special keypad version. That one adds about an inch and a quarter in length by adding a hardware keypad for those who prefer physical keys over onscreen keypads for extensive data entry.
Enterprise-grade scanning options
What sets professional and enterprise mobile computing devices apart from standard consumer smartphones is not only greater ruggedness and durability, but also the availability of industrial-grade scanning. TC20 users can either opt for the Zebra SE2100 or the Zebra SE4710 scan engines.
The SE2100 (shown below right) is an entry-level 1D/2D scanner that may look like a standard smartphone camera module, but is actually a tiny turnkey combination imager engine and illumination system tuned for high quality barcode scanning performance. Depending on the type of code, decode ranges are from about 2 to 14 inches, the SE2100 can read codes off phones, and decoding is entirely done in software (see SE2100 spec sheet).
The SE4710 (shown above left) is a higher-end 1D/2D scanner with red aiming LED, a scan range of about 2 to 30 inches, and a combination of onboard software/hardware scanning for faster capture and processing. For TC20 customers, what it boils down to is whether they'll use their handheld for just occasional scanning (SE2100) or frequent scanning (SE4710). (see SE4710 spec sheet).
On the connectivity and communications side, there's dual-band 802.1a/b/g/n WiFi with 802.11r fast roam, Bluetooth 4.2 BLE, but no mobile broadband as this is not a conventional phone. There is a speaker, of course, and dual microphones for maximum voice clarity on PTT Pro or PTT Express Push-To-Talk calls. With the press of a button, users can reach a specific contact, a specific group of contacts, or everyone in the group.
The TC20 supports USB OTG host and client via a USB Type C port. The standard TC20 charging cradle can charge both the all-touch or keyboard models with or without an external PowerPack, or the all-touch model even with the trigger handle. A 5-slot universal ShareCradle is available as well.
Tough and rugged as can be
Although built to handle plenty of abuse, at about seven ounces the TC20 is no heavier than your average large-screen consumer phone. Its footprint is roughly that of an iPhone 8, but with its extra protection the TC20 is about twice as thick. In return for the thickness and weight users not only get an industrial-grade scanner, but also remarkable ruggedness.
There's IP54 sealing, which means it is protected against dust and can also handle water spray from all direction. It can also handle 4-foot drops to concrete, and the device was subjected it to all sorts of MIL-STD-810G torture tests, including tumble (300 from a height of half a meter), vibration, thermal shock, humidity, etc. The operating temperature range is 14 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, good enough for use in virtually any business. And the screen is protected by Corning's incomparable Gorilla Glass.
A great addition to the Zebra TC lineup
What Zebra has done with the new TC20 is add a low-end offering to its line of growing TC series of touch computers. This way, if the 4.7-inch TC70x and 5-inch TC5 series are too large or their many features are not all needed, there's the smaller, less expensive TC20.
The Zebra TC20 is technologically up-to-date, both on the hardware and on the software side, it's tough enough for enterprise use, it's light and handy enough to go anywhere, but with a screen large enough to get the job done. The availability of a keypad version adds appeal, as does the RFID sled and pistol grip. -- C. H. Blickenstorfer, 10/2017