Our new video reviewer, Camille, has shot a review for the Motorola DS9208 barcode scanner, a retail 2D imager that can also read barcodes off cell phones.

Some ingenious nerds at undef.com have converted an old Epson TM-T88 printer to drive a racing game called Receipt Racer. It’s a pretty solid waste of paper, but given how many receipts end up in the trash immediately after printing, it seems like a net push. You can also play the not receipt version of the game on their site.

receipt racer from d_effekt on Vimeo.

The NY Times has a great write up on Alan Haberman, who passed away on the 12th. While he wasn’t the original inventor of the barcode style of data encoding – that honor goes to Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver – Haberman was one of the main advocates who got grocers away from a disjoint, retailer-specific system to the great one we have today.

Our industry owes a tremendous deal to the work of Haberman and the US Code Council, now known as GS1 US. Advanced imaging and data capture would be all but impossible if it weren’t for Haberman pushing toward a national standard, one that created an entire market and pays me to write this goofy stuff.

Honeywell Dolphin 6000

June 17, 2011

Manufacturers are trying to hit a great market, Honeywell calls it Scanphones, Motorola calls it Enterprise Digital Assistants, but either way it’s that area between smartphones and mobile computers. More durable than a smartphone, yet nowhere near as expensive as a rugged mobile computer, these devices used to be plentiful. The Honeywell Dolphin 6000 is another great addition, and should be fantastic for a wide variety of uses.Honeywell Dolphin 6000

Compared to the disembodied hand in the picture, you can get a sense of the small size of the Dolphin 6000. The device comes equipped with GSM, GPS, 802.11b/g WiFi, and Bluetooth standard, pretty similar to standard smartphones on the market. It’s powered by Windows Mobile 6.5, so while you don’t get all the features of the Windows or Android App stores, you can run inventory or route management apps already developed for Windows Mobile, like RedBeam or Proxis Stock Manager.

For data capture, the Dolphin 6000 has a laser scanner built-in, plus a 3 megapixel color camera. I haven’t gotten my hands on one for extensive testing, so I don’t know yet if the camera can double as a 2D scanner. I’d like to think it does, but I haven’t verified.

The Dolphin 6000 only comes with a numeric, cell-phone style keypad, which is a little unfortunate. Text entry via T9 is slow and not always intuitive for users, and I just don’t really like it. I imagine there were space considerations when building out the unit, but a QWERTY option would’ve been fantastic. You do get a few more function buttons than a regular cell phone, so that should help with programming secondary functions.

Smartphones aren’t necessarily the most durable products on the market, especially not for the repeated data capture you see in grocery stores, retail locations, or remote sales. Honeywell built the Dolphin 600 to bridge the gap between smartphone and ultra rugged mobile computer, and the design adds durability while not making it a bulky monstrosity.

At room temperature, the Dolphin 6000 can survive 4-foot drops to concrete, about what would happen if an employee missed a jacket pocket, for instance. At all other operating temperatures, it can survive 3-foot drops. I did not realize there were optimal drop conditions, but it’s pretty cool to learn. The unit also sports an IP54 seal to keep out dust and water. The IP54 rating will keep out windblown dust as well as splishes and splashes of water, so it should be fine out and about in the environment.

What I really like about the Dolphin 6000 is that Honeywell’s releasing two variations, one with an 8 GB microSD card and one without. It makes it a lot easier to compare models when there aren’t 40+ different models. While it’d be great to have a QWERTY model, this should still be great for inventory management or mobile sales. And the price on the Dolphin 6000 is low enough that it could be a solid solution for single warehouse or retail inventory management.

Apparently you get a pretty rad video. Found this video at Gizmodo this morning, and it was interesting to see the results. I doubt it’s a resistive touchscreen, otherwise all the restaurant employees I know wouldn’t crank on the screens to get a response out of them.

Motorola DS4208 Barcode ScannerMotorola has a new 2D barcode scanner out, the DS4208, and it looks to be an affordable alternative to the high end 2D scanners that have come out in the past year or so. A lot of retailers may want to scan 2D coupons, or maybe read coupons off of cell phones, but can’t justify spending $400+ for such a scanner. Thankfully, this scanner hits a price point that should be a lot more palatable.

The scanner comes in three styles, Twilight Black, Cash Register White, and Healthcare White. Twilight Black & Cash Register White are the standard color schemes you see other Motorola hand scanners in, so that’s pretty standard. The healthcare model comes in hospital white and blue, and features the specialized plastic housing that can be cleaned by chemical agents without pitting or becoming brittle. And it matches hospital color schemes. You don’t want to clash at your hospital, that would be far too gauche.

Scanning with the DS4208 is pretty snappy, and you get a range of about a quarter inch to over a foot with standard retail barcodes. Performance was pretty similar to the LS2208, with the DS4208 able to read 100 mil reflective barcodes from about 8 feet back. I doubt many people will need this functionality from the DS4208, but it’s there, and that’s pretty rad. A red LED circle is projected before scanning to let you know what is about to be scanned. Aiming assistance is fantastic, and the LED helps especially with closely aligned barcodes.

There’s also some pretty legit motion tolerance for the scanner, with an ability to scan barcodes moving up to 100 inches per second, or about 6 mph. So you could catch the barcode on someone going for a light jog, maybe the wristband on a patient making a break for it, or maybe even use it to set split times on slot car racers. Or I guess you could also put it in presentation mode and scan high volumes of groceries & whatnot. That one seems more apt.

Motorola built the DS4208 to be pretty resilient, so this scanner could fit in pretty well at garden centers as well as retailers. The body is pretty sturdy and offers a drop resistance of 6-feet to concrete, so even falling off a shelf won’t really cause problems. And an IP43  seal, while not quite as robust & “sneezeproof” as the IP54 of burlier scanners, still keeps out some dirt and water splashes. I wouldn’t hose it down, but collateral damage from a water balloon fight might be okay.

And with all this fanciness you get a 5 year warranty. Used to be 2D scanners came with 2 year warranties if you were lucky. Now they’re so near bulletproof that manufacturers will give you another 3.

Gizmodo is usually the site where I read about updates to game systems or crazy slingshots that can shoot watermelons, but their article – Where Do Barcodes Come From – offered an interesting history on quickly capturing data of which I was definitely unaware. It’s a great read and helps provide insight into a very major part of most people’s lives.

Much of the article covers the precursor to grocery and retail checkout, and how it was originally intended to follow parts in manufacturing or track trains. For instance, I did not know that the first method used a Xenon white light to measure the length of red, white, and blue bands on passing trains to identify the owner. Could be why Honeywell’s new 2D Imager is called the Xenon.


Motorola ES400

June 1, 2011

Motorola Solutions have been trying to hit the mobile field sales/mobile manager crew for a while, with their last iteration being the MC35. Technology apparently didn’t meet their needs, because the 1 megapixel camera was woefully underpowered for good barcode scanning, and the device itself wasn’t exactly the fastest on the market. However, the fantastic price point and ability to freak out only a little after a whiskey spill made them a hot seller for us. Motorola’s new foray into this market, the ES400, is leaps and bounds above the MC35 and should be a great fit for mobile sales forces.

The first thing to note about the ES400 is that it’s just a little bigger than a Blackberry, so you can stuff it in a suit pocket and keep a smooth look. I feel my best when I look smooth, and I imagine I’d sell better if I looked smooth as well.

The ES400 is powered by a 600 MHz ARM 11 processor, with 256 MB of RAM and 1 GB of flash memory built in. If you need more storage, there’s a microSD slot that supports cards up to 32 GB. Slap some Foghat on that SD card and now you have tunes while you’re out on the road. You could also keep updated client data files, daily sales routes, and other assorted important data if you prefer.

Barcode scanning on the old MC35 was difficult for anything but standard UPC barcodes, and even then it was frustrating to find the sweet spot. The ES400 upgrades from a weak 1 megapixel imager to a 3.2 megapixel autofocus color camera, so reads are quick, reliable, and devoid of performance-based stress on part of the user. It also sports a user-adjustable red LED aiming beam, so you can get a better idea of the optimal reading area.

All models come with GPS, 802.11, and Bluetooth radios, as well as a soft-switch GSM and CDMA cell radio. So now rather than hauling a Garmin, work phone, and mobile computer, you can take the ES400 and have it in one small device. The soft-switch between GSM and CDMA is pretty rad; you get greater coverage than with just one of the networks, making it easier to get route updates on the road. Although I guess now you have no excuse for a midday nap when you’re “out of coverage”.

I’ve talked up a lot of what makes it great, but there are some sacrifices made. Unlike it’s burlier MC55/MC65/MC75 cousins, the ES400 is not durable enough to withstand really abusive behavior. But again, this is for a mobile sales force, not field service employees. The drop spec is a resistance to drops of 3 feet, so slipping out of a pocket isn’t too big a deal. It’s also not quite as well sealed, with just an IP42 seal specification. The odd splash here or there, or maybe a little dirt on the device could be okay, but I definitely wouldn’t use this in a car wash. Though I would like to see an advertising campaign involving high end durable products being used in extreme circumstances. Or a Moto rep trying to scan car VINs while they’re getting washed.

So if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive way to capture data on the road, or even within your business, the Motorola ES400 is a smart choice. It comes with a one year warranty, and is a great step between consumer phones and heavy duty mobile computers.

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