In early 2009, Arbor Technology Corp. of Taiwan introduced the Arbor M1255 Mobile Medical Assistant, a device loosely based on Intel's mobile clinical assistant (MCA) platform that was introduced in February of 2007 together with the Motion Computing C5 as the first representative of the genre. Intel's idea behind MCAs was to create a class of mobile computers designed and optimized for clinical environments where light weight, spill-resistance, the ability to absorb the occasional drop and, most importantly, quick and easy cleaning and disinfection matter.
With a good decade of experience in embedded and industrial systems, Arbor is a competent designer/manufacturer well versed in anything from board-level components to fully integrated solutions. This expertise means they can create new products very quickly and also easily adapt them to customer demands. In this instance, Arbor realized that it would be a good idea to add an MCA class device to its roster of medical solutions that also includes panel computers, point-of-care terminals, smaller tablets, and embedded system components.
The Arbor M1255 device generally follows the Intel MCA reference platform, which means it is a thin slate with an integrated handle that is, or can be, equipped with a 2D bar code scanner and a RFID reader for easy data capture. It also has an integrated 2-megapixel camera. Physically, the device has a footprint of 12.1 x 10.9 inches and it is just about an inch thick. That's larger, but not thicker, than the competition. Weight is said to be just 3.5 pounds. Unlike all other current MCAs, the Arbor M1255 has a 12.1-inch display, considerably larger than the 10.4-inch screens used in all other MCAs. This makes the computer larger, though apparently not any heavier. The M1255 has a analog resistive touchscreen, but no active digitizer.
Under the hood, the M1255 has a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor with the accompanying chipset that consists of the Intel 945GSE and ICH7M modules. This is the chip that drives millions of netbooks. There is one 200-pin SODIMM slot for either 512MB or a gigabyte of DDR2 memory. The standard disk is a 1.8" 60GB PATA model. There is Bluetooth and a 802.11 WiFi mini-PCIe card that supports 802.11b/g/n. There does not appear to be a SmartCard reader.
Things are not entirely clear on the battery and power side. There is mention of an internal 3-cell battery that is good for 3.5 hours, but also a reference to an external hot-swappable battery. Hopefully we'll learn more details as neither three nor four hours is particularly impressive in an Atom-powered machine.
MCA usually do not have onboard connectors because a) they don't need them as they are usually used with a docking station, and b) ports make a device more prone to attracting dirt and bacteria, and they are more difficult to clean. From the looks of it, the M1255 is very easy to clean and disinfect, with no onboard ports and a totally smooth and flat backside. Connectivity is available through the docking station: Four USB, VGA, gigabit LAN, and serial.
As far as ruggedness goes, there is not a lot of information. Arbor calls the M1255 "rugged," but then states a "transit drop" of just 2.5 feet (and "transit drop" usually refers to a device inside its packaging) which would be less than impressive. Full IP54 sealing would be more than sufficient, but it's only the front bezel that is IP54-sealed.
For operation, the M1255 has more buttons and controls than most tablets. There's a 5-way navigation pad, and buttons for locking the display, record, start video, capture pictures, read RFID tags, scan barcodes, select language, record sound, as well as power and SAS (Secure Attention Sequence, also known as Ctl-Alt-Del).
How does the Arbor MCA measure up? It has a larger display than anyone else and it looks like a sleek, clean design. The 12.1-inch display alone may give this machine an advantage, but it only has a touch screen and not a digitizer, ruggedness specs are somewhat unclear, and battery life seems marginal in an Atom machine. The MCA market is becoming increasingly competitive and the stakes are high, so all newcomers will be measured against the likes of Motion Computing's C5 and Panasonic's CF-H1.