ThinTune – Mobile review

tablet-style rugged thin client
Photo of ThinTune – Mobile
£799 + VAT

Thin clients are a good way of providing secure, easy to manage access to task-oriented applications. They are often found, for example, controlling stock levels in warehouses or accessing patient records in hospitals, indeed anywhere where ordinary PCs are too complex, vulnerable or expensive a solution. To really succeed in such environments, however, the hardware needs to be portable and robust enough to cope with a lot of abuse – which is exactly what you get with the ThinTune Mobile.

Essentially a rugged, tablet-style thin client with wireless networking built in, the ThinTune Mobile is bigger and more capable than a PDA, but smaller and lighter than most notebook PCs. It’s also a lot more robust, with no hinged screen to damage. Instead the touch sensitive colour display is incorporated, tablet-style, into the main unit.

There’s no keyboard either, again saving space and making for a more rugged solution. A stylus and built-in mouse are used to pilot the graphical user interface, with an on-screen keyboard for when typing is required. There’s also a USB port which can be used to add a real keyboard if needed, and to attach local peripherals such as printers and external storage devices.

Weighing just 1.4kg and powered by a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, the ThinTune Mobile is a highly portable device ideally suited to warehouses and other locations where lugging a notebook around would be tedious. There are no moving parts, either, so it’s silent, plus it’s been “ruggedised” to a standard known as IP54 which means it can withstand both dust and the occasional drenching. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to test this claim fully, but it easily withstood the odd knock or two during our evaluation and it certainly looks the part with lots of chunky rubberised mouldings in evidence.

Because it’s a thin client the hardware specification is nothing to write home about. The processor, for example, is a modest Geode x86 clone, clocked at just 300MHz. This is supported by 128MB of memory, but there’s no hard disk, just 32MB of flash memory. However, the ThinTune only needs to handle the user interface while the applications themselves are hosted on remote servers, so it doesn’t have to be that powerful.

The screen is pretty good for its size with a resolution of 800 x 600 and 16-bit colour support. A sound card is also built in while for network connectivity you get an integrated 802.11b network interface, with optional WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) encryption for security. Alternatively, a PC Card slot in the side can take a faster 802.11g/a adapter, or a GPRS card for truly mobile connectivity.

Linux forms the basis of the J-Stream operating system, loaded from flash on the ThinTune Mobile. This features a simple Windows-like GUI, from which you can access an RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) client for use with Microsoft Terminal Server together with Citrix ICA, Tarantella and X-Windows clients. Optional terminal emulation software can be added, plus there’s a local Opera 6 browser for Web surfing and to run Web based applications directly.

We tested the ThinTune with Windows Terminal Server and found it very responsive and usable despite the relatively slow processor and restricted interface. You wouldn’t want to use if for applications like Word or Excel, but for task-oriented programs it’s more than adequate. The on-screen keyboard takes a little getting used to and tends to obscure important parts of the display, but then clicking a small icon makes it disappear when not needed.

Our only real concern was with the supporting documentation. The manual supplied covers the complete ThinTune range and lacks information on some of the special features of the Mobile product. The translation from German was also far from perfect, but then most customers will buy from a reseller able to provide specialised training and support.

Custom remote management software is another option for use with all ThinTune clients plus there’s a 2-year warranty and a range of optional extras available including a carry case and a Bluetooth barcode reader.

Similar tablet-style thin clients are available from other vendors, and against these the ThinTune Mobile impresses with its ruggedness and built-in wireless networking. Another bonus is the ability to try the hardware for free by contacting the UK distributor, so that you can see if it does what it claims before buying.

Company: ThinTune

Contact: 01638 569 600


Verdict
Designed to withstand damp and dusty conditions, the ThinTune Mobile is a very robust, tablet-style thin client with built-in wireless networking. Linux-powered software enables it to connect to a range of application servers, including Windows Terminal Server, Citrix and X-Windows, and a local browser is also included. Reasonably specified for a thin client, wireless connectivity and robustness are the key selling points here.