Tripod Data Systems – Recon review

rugged and waterproof Pocket PC PDA
Photo of Tripod Data Systems – Recon
1,529 Euros (approx. £1,000) for 200MHz version, 1,829 Euros (approx. £1,200) for 400MHz version

Back in the mists of time, this reviewer once worked for a publishing house that regularly dropped laptop computers from a height of one metre onto a hard floor. Almost invariably, they broke. After a while, the manufacturers became rather annoyed at receiving their laptops back in pieces, and the test was quietly shelved.

But now it’s back, with less disastrous results. One of the media files included with the TDS Recon we reviewed depicts a man dropping the unit from a height of over one metre onto the floor. He does this several times, and each time the unit bounces rather than turning into an over-complex electronic jigsaw puzzle.

This is because the Recon, which weighs less than half a kilogram, is one of the most rugged PDAs on the market, designed to withstand extremes of heat (+60 degrees centigrade) and cold (-30 degrees centigrade) as well as water immersion (30 minutes at a depth of one metre). The rubberised unit has sealed keys for navigation and operation, and only the touch-sensitive screen is likely to suffer if the unit is excessively abused. Even that can be protected by the application of optional transparent screen covers, although this would slightly affect its legibility.

The 240 by 320 pixel screen is a ‘transflective’ unit, which means that you can use it with the backlight on or off. On is usually best for office work, although this drains the battery faster. Without it the standard 3,800mAh unit should last twice as long; up to a claimed maximum of 30 hours, although this is based on standard business usage, not continuous heavy processing work. Switching off the backlight is only really advisable in well-lit conditions, but it’s a useful option that adds to the Recon’s versatility.

As far as core components are concerned, the Recon comes in two varieties. There’s a 200MHz version with 64MB of RAM and 64MB of flash storage for your data files, and a 400MHz version with 64MB of RAM and 128MB of flash storage. You can add more storage (and other functions such as GPRS or Wi-Fi) via the CompactFlash slots that are sealed against dust and rain.

The usual Windows Mobile Pocket PC applications are present, including cut-down versions of Word, Excel, Outlook and so on. You also get a CD with the necessary docking software. Synchronisation is via USB as standard, but there’s a serial port on the unit that could be useful to field workers needing access to measuring equipment or other third-party hardware.

These ports, and the battery itself, are part of the ‘PowerBoot module’ that can be separated from the core unit and replaced as necessary, so you can carry round a spare pack for more power. There’s an optional module that lets you run the unit on a set of AA alkaline batteries too.

Quite obviously, the Recon is a world apart from the usual svelte, slim and ultimately destructible PDAs that normally sit in jacket pockets the world over. This one is perhaps a little chunky for a jacket pocket, but it packs a lot of power into a small, tough, waterproof package. It does for PDAs what Panasonic’s Toughbook range does for laptops, allowing workers and researchers to take their software tools with them into environments that are considerably more harsh than the average office.

Company: Tripod Data Systems

Contact: +46 (0) 510 54 71 70


Verdict
Not cheap, not trendy, but this PDA fulfils a requirement among site workers, field workers, researchers and other people who eschew the office for the fresh (or not so fresh) air. It's been designed to exist in tough environments and has the US military test results to prove it.