Product Reviews

April 13, 2008

About 8 months ago, I had the wicked idea of writing up comprehensive reviews of the products we sell. It may work to parrot the data sheets, but I always like to have more in depth information regarding a potential purchase, especially when it could set me 500 dollars.

The biggest hurdle we had to overcome was accessibility to products. I don’t have easy access to products from the marketing arena, and shipping gets mad if I make the stuff we sell less than mint-in-box. So, with hat in hand, I get to call manufacturers and cajole them into sending some demo units out for our perusal. Many were hesitant at first, mostly because we had no proof of these reviews up on the site to back our claims. But with time, manufacturers have come around, and less work is required to get products in my hands.

I’ll talk about the barcode scanner review process this time around, mainly because we’ve reviewed a ton of them, and they’re the most easily quantifiable in terms of skills for bill paying.

The first round of testing involves functionality and form. We check the balance on the scanner, general ergonomic feel, and may pass judgment on it’s aesthetic. Normally that’s the ice breaker that stays out of print. I don’t really think it’s polite to refer to a scanner as “something only a mother can love,” and it’s just, like, my opinion. Next up we check out what barcodes it can scan out of a few sheets with varying densities, widths, colors, and damage. Most of this helps peg scanners as being good for retail, health care, or locations where barcodes are obfuscated or nearly shredded.

Next up we work on optimal scanning conditions, including range and light resistance. For these we always use a 100%-sized UPC-A barcode. It mostly helps keep everything standard and is a pretty easy to read barcode. Optimal range is pretty straightforward, we just hold up a tape measure and see how far back the scanner can go before reads become inconsistent. For light resistance, we use a 150 watt bulb and measure how close it can get to the barcode before reads become inconsistent. If it does alright, or we’re not convinced as to how much light it resists, we’ll take it outside and give it a shot. As a sidenote, scanners with class II lasers or ccd imagers with advanced scan engines will generally be light immune. Light immunity is the shit, especially if you have a lot of sidewalk sales.

Finally, our favorite portion of the review process, and the one that makes manufacturers cringe on occasion, takes place. Durability testing is where we separate the wheat from the chaff, the rugged from the chinsy, and see to what abuse these scanners survive. Our current method is not quite as awesome as the previous videos I linked, but it’s still fun to learn. So far we do 5 drops at 3 feet, 10 at 6 feet, and 5 at 13 feet. And so far, only three scanners have survived the damage, the HHP 3800g, IDTech Econoscan, and POS-X Xi1000. I’ll argue that losing the audible response doesn’t take away from the Xi1000’s skill. With the Econoscan, we were able to throw it across a warehouse about 5 times without it breaking at all. We had a few extras of the Econoscan so we weren’t as hesitant to break it.

So that, in a very large nutshell, is how we figure out what scanners perform better or worse than the competition.

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