In this section we'll be adding descriptions and reviews of a growing number of mobile and rugged computer add-ons and peripherals. Why? Because they are part of the overall system, and because without them a computer is just that, a computer, and not a system able to do work.
That said, there are, of course, many shades of gray. Some jobs do not need a computer with peripherals. Maybe whatever is needed is already built in, and maybe it is simply not necessary. But consider the following scenarios to realize why peripherals are important:
If you, for example, need your computer to scan barcodes and then transmit the data via wireless LAN, say 802.11n, to a server, do you need a machine that has everything built in? Like three USB ports, a FireWire port, a few legacy connectors to hook up to old stuff, a Smart Card slot, a multi-card reader, a fingerprint scanner, a wireless radio for every carrier? You get the picture. It makes no sense to pay for more than you need. That is where peripherals come in. You add them either inside the device when you order it, or hook it up later. There are literally thousands out there.
That said, finding the right peripheral and getting it all to work isn't always easy. Remember what a struggle it used to be to get peripherals to work with older versions of Windows, before the days of "plug-and-play"? And it's still not always easy. A new version of an operating system often needs different drivers, and there may be no drivers at all for your particular Windows CE device.
Peripherals can come in many shapes and sizes. Some you don't even see as they are internal options that use either internal standard PC Card, Compact Flash, or SD slots, or one of the standard bus and expansion connectors. Others use a card slot or hook up to the computer either via cable or a wireless connection. The ever smaller size of external expansion slots is making it more difficult to accommodate certain of the bulkier peripherals, and so those may use a wireless connection instead. Fieldworkers may hold a handheld and then print receipts or job slips via Bluetooth on a portable printer hanging on their belt.
Some peripherals can be very specialized, technology that adds amazing capaabilities to standard computer equipment. They make possible jobs that used to require large and very expensive stand-alones, or dumb sensors that could not store, process and graph data. Peripherals technology to the rescue.
When you select your peripherals, make extra-sure they work with your computer equipment. Don't simply assume they will. If you purchase peripherals from the same vendor or manufacturer, things will likely work. As they likely will if you pick from a list of approved equipment. One highly regarded peripherals vendor -- Socket Communications -- went a step farther and began offering its own durable handheld computer. Their rationale was that customers will realize that all Socket peripherals would certainly work with a Socket computer. Makes sense.
We started this section of RuggedPCReview.com in April of 2007 and are now adding peripheral categories and products. Additions and submissions from manufacturers are welcome.
--Conrad H. Blickenstorfer