Ultra-rugged 4.7-inch Android touch computer with 4G WWAN and industrial-grade scanning
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
On May 12, 2015, Zebra Technologies, which took over the enterprise mobility business from Motorola Solutions in 2014, introduced the Zebra TC75 as an additional and slightly enhanced version of the company's TC70, the primary differentiator being the inclusion of multi-carrier 4G LTE mobile broadband on the new TC75. Quite obviously, having a WWLAN-enabled version of the platform greatly enhances its reach and appeal.
A bit of background first: Symbol, which essentially was the enterprise side of Motorola Solutions, had been an early supporter of making available Android for the enterprise. To address some concerns about the suitability of Android for business, they developed their own Mx (Mobility eXtensions) security, device management and performance features on top of the standard Android OS. Early 2014, the company launched the sleek and smartphone-like TC55 "touch computer," and later in the year the Symbol TC70, similar to the TC55, but a bit larger and a lot tougher. And now, the TC75 version of the TC70 adds WWAN for when WiFi and Bluetooth aren't enough.
In essence, while the TC55 was designed to be as sleek and easy to use as workers' own personal smartphones, but with business-class durability and security, the TC75 does all that, but in a larger and slightly more powerful package with extra features and the ability to absorb a lot more punishment.
So what all differentiates the Symbol TC70/75 from the TC55, and what differentiates the TC75 from the TC70? When we first saw the original TC70 we thought it was really just a TC55 inside a tough exo-skeleton for more protection. But while there's a significant familiy resemblance, there are also substantial differences. The TC70/75's display, for example, measures 4.7 inches diagonally and sports super-crisp 1280 x 720 pixel resolution whereas the TC55 has a smaller 4.3-inch 800 x 480 display. Since one of the goals of this class of handheld is to provide the kind of consumer smartphone technology people are already used to, offering a larger display made perfect sense.
On the technology side, there's a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8060 1.7GHz dual-core processor. There's 8GB of Flash, complemented by up to 32GB (SDHC) or 64GB (SDXC) via externally accessible micro-SD card.
Unlike the TC55 that uses its camera for scanning, the TC70/75 have industrial grade dedicated scanning via a SE4750 1D/2D imager (see Zebra SE4750 spec page). that reads 1D and 2D bar codes from up to three feet away.
The TC70/75 use Android AOSP version 4.4.x, part of the "KitKat" generation of the OS. AOSP stands for Android Open Source Project, and is an open-source software stack and project led by Google itself, but without the ability to use the Google Play store and some of the major Google apps. And the Android implementation used in the TC70/75 is fortified with 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 the platform-independent RhoMobile Suite if the apps have been written using those developer tools (see product page).
Android, of course, is totally geared towards touch, and so the TC70/TC75 use capacitive multi-touch with some extras baked in. First, this multi-touch can be used with even thick gloves. Second, Zebra calls it "dual mode" as it can also be used with a narrow-tip conductive stylus for signature capture and such. And third, the system is largely auto-sensing, so there's no need to change software settings when switching from finter touch to using the stylus.
On the connectivity and communications side, there's dual band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0, but no mobile broadband as this is not conventional phone. There is a speaker with up to 108 dB volume though (which is about four times as loud as the loudest consumer phone), and not one but three microphones for maximum voice clarity, and since there's also a front camera in addition to the rear documentation camera, users can make WiFi calls even with video. The company stresses the ongoing importance of voice communication, and so the TC70 includes WorkForce Connect Push-To-Talk (see explanation).
What does separate the TC75 from the TC70 is that it supports not only WiFi, but also LTE WWAN. Zebra states fast data access with support for all 4G GSM cellular networks. Depending on the intended application, that may be mandatory, and the TC75 has it whereas the TC70 does not.
The TC75 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.
With its hefty protection, the TC70/75 is considerably larger and heavier than the sleek TC55. Its footprint is just a tad larger than the iPhone 6+, but the TC70 is a hefty 1.1 inches thick and it weighs 13.3 ounces. In return for the thickess and weight users not only get that industrial-grade scanner, but also remarkable ruggedness. There's IP67 sealing, which means it can survive a dunk in a puddle. It can also handle 6-foot drops to concrete, and Zebra subjected it to all sorts of MIL-STD-810G torture tests, including tumble (2,000 from a height of 3.3 feet!), vibration, thermal shock, humidity, etc. The operating temperature range is -4 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, good enough for use virtually anywhere. And the screen is protected by Corning's incomparable Gorilla Glass 2.
All of this makes the TC75 a timely addition to Zebra's lineup. Judging by the specs, the TC70/75 is among the overall toughest advanced Android-based handhelds available today.
Below is the introduction video of the Zebra TC75: