Viewsonic V38r Review

by Reads (8,196)

I’d like to start off this review with a brief warning: most of you probably don’t want to read any further. The Viewsonic v38r is very much unlike the consumer and light-business grade devices that we usually review here. Instead, it is a “ruggedized” device, sometimes referred to as an “industrial” device.

ViewSonic V38r-07
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Rather than an office or home, it’s designed to work in less technology-hospitable climates such as warehouses, delivery trucks, field operations — anywhere that a conventional handheld would risk damage.

The V38r is able to get away with this because it is, not to put too fine a point on it, built like a tank. An ordinary handheld is not rated for multiple drops six feet to a concrete floor without breaking. The V38r is. It’s also dust-proof, weather-proof, impact and water resistant. The V38r, along with cockroaches and Twinkies, will be among the things to survive a nuclear war.

The reason that most of you should stop reading is this: the V38r has an introductory level price of $1,600. Fully equipped, it runs up to $2,000. Now that price may sound exorbitant, and for most users it is. But the V38r is not designed for most users.

Comparison:
Viewsonic V38r vs. Dell Axim X51v

Bottom left: Dell Axim X51v

Upper right: Viewsonic V38r

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Top, Dell Axim X51v

Bottom, Viewsonic V38r

(view large image)

With the capabilities of a fully loaded V38r, you could conceivably:

  • scan a package or shipment’s unique ID barcode
  • use GPS to locate exactly where and when that package was scanned
  • even use a fingerprint to securely identify the person who scanned it
  • and finally pass that information to a central system wirelessly.

That’s an incredible amount of information to gather for one device, and when you’re a business for whom improper handling of your goods could easily cost thousands of dollars per incident, it would be an incredibly valuable tool, not to mention an investment. Even competing models like the TDS Recon can’t do all that straight out of the box.

Physical Layout

Due to its hardened nature, some features are not immediately apparent.

For instance, the SD card slot on the left side of the device is covered by a removable panel which is very tightly sealed against the rest of the case. To gain access to the card slot, you have to use a screwdriver or other implement to rotate the slotted latch, unlocking the cover, then pry or pop it off. While not good for hot-swapping, this prevents water and dust from entering the device, as well as avoiding the accidental ejection of the memory card when the unit is dropped. On the down side, the cover is small and not tethered to the unit, making it a prime candidate for loss.

Similarly, the battery is held in place by measures that would seem more appropriate to a medium-security prison–in the place of a switch or button to unlock the battery cover, we have another rotating lock.

You’ll also notice several small brass holes in the sides and back of the device: these are for securely mounting it to a cradle or other fixture.

The V38r has the option for either a standard 1800 mAh battery, or a larger 3600 mAh extended battery, the latter requiring a new battery door. Our review unit included an extended battery.

Bucking the trend these days, most of the device documentation is actually pretty good, and written in comprehensible English. (Aside from the interesting warning on page 109, stating that the power supply must be “earthed,” which seems to be a Britishism for electrically grounded.)

Software and Operating System

As has been mentioned, the V38r is not a civilian-designed unit. It’s designed with the expectation that companies will want to develop or customize their own software for most of its specialty functions. As such, you won’t find any dedicated barcode-reader software on the device, and nothing to support the fingerprint scanner at all.

In fact, the only applications loaded on the device besides the basic Windows Mobile suite are a camera application and the Wi-Fi connection applet. You can scan barcodes without needing additional software–simply open up Pocket Word or Pocket Excel, press the scan button, and away you go.

I’m a little bit surprised that Viewsonic opted for the older Windows Mobile 2003 SE instead of the newer Windows Mobile 5.0, particularly given that one of the major features of WM5 is persistent storage, guaranteeing that the system won’t reset and lose data if it loses power. Perhaps there’s some benefit to be found in the development support.

Barcode Reader

The V38r comes pre-programmed to read most kinds of standard 1-dimensional barcodes, such as UPC, EAN, Codabar, Code 39, Code 128, Standard, and Interleaved. The user guide on the enclosed CD provides examples of these, as well as a variety of barcodes which can directly program certain features of the reader such as data rate, or reset it to defaults.

Top of device:
stylus, barcode scanner, and antenna
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In testing, I successfully scanned all but one of the examples provided in the user guide straight off my laptop screen, and several other barcodes that I found lying around the house, such as a UPS label (both the delivery address barcode and the tracking code), various grocery UPCs, and the codes off the software disk included with the V38r.

Scanning barcodes couldn’t be easier–it’s point and shoot. Nine times out of ten, as long as you’re at roughly the right distance from the code, and facing it straight on, you’ll get a good scan. The system seems quite fault tolerant, and will usually even scan a barcode properly if you press the button before lining up the reader.

Fingerprint scanner & Biometric security

The fingerprint scanner is an AuthenTec AES3400 model, and can be accessed via the software development kit provided by AuthenTec.

Out of the box, the scanner isn’t used for anything, either biometric logins or potential object security applications. In order to make use of it, you’ll need to have an application written from the ground up using the AuthenTec SDK — making the use of the fingerprint scanner impractical for small businesses which don’t have software engineers.

Viewsonic, however, was nice enough to provide a demonstration program for our use in testing the scanner’s accuracy and speed.

Top center:
fingerprint scanner
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Among the functions implemented in the example program were the ability to store fingerprints, check fingerprints, and scan a fingerprint to determine what profile it belonged to. The scanner tends to take a fairly linear view of the prints that it scans — you can’t scan upside down or the like and have it still recognize the print. However, so long as the scan is a good one — finger properly positioned, no obstructions or alterations to the fingerprint such as cuts — the sensor recognizes the print in the vast majority of scans. The whole process can take significantly less than a second.

Connectivity and Expansion

The single SD card slot on the V38r does not, from all indications, appear to be SDIO capable — though, with options for built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and a barcode scanner, I’m not sure why you would need it to be.

The included connectivity dongle, as well as the optional cradle, both include a USB Host port for connecting other USB devices to the V38r.

Viewsonic advertises this in their user guide as being for use with USB keyboards and mice, but just for good measure, I tried out a USB Mass Storage device in the form of a 256 MB flash drive. This, unfortunately, didn’t function either straight out of the box, or with the use of drivers available online. Oh well. It would have been nice, but it’s not an advertised feature. At the very least, you can hook up full size keyboards to the device, or specialty keyboards such as the waterproof/rollable variety; quite an advantage in field work.

Optional features

The V38r has a number of optional features that can be included or not depending on the buyer. This list encompasses the barcode reader, fingerprint scanner, and camera, as well as Bluetooth and built-in GPS, the latter two being absent on our demo unit.

RAM can also vary from 64 MB to 128 MB.

In terms of less permanent options, Viewsonic offers a cradle for the device, which provides ports for external power, USB Host, USB device (for PC sync), serial, and something labeled “multi-pack charging.” Your guess is as good as mine as to what that means, since the manual doesn’t seem to mention it.

Conclusion

Obviously not a consumer device, and not a target for most business users looking for pricey toys on an expense account, either. The V38r is the only rugged device that I’m aware of to combine all the features that would be needed for a complete real-time inventory-control system into a single machine. That alone doubtless makes it worth almost any cost to a business whose livelihood depends on maintaining accurate controls on their products or packages.

Pros:

  • Feature rich
  • Durable

Cons:

  • Price
  • Older operating system

Bottom Line:

  • One of the more fully loaded industrial Pocket PCs that I’ve seen, and a serious competitor for the likes of the TDS Recon.

Device Specifications

Processor: 416 MHz Intel XScale PXA270
Operating System: Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition
Display: 3.5 inch, 320 x 240 pixel transmissive/reflective LCD
Memory: 128 MB RAM (121 MB available); 64 MB flash (18 MB available)
Size & Weight: 5.75 inches long (w/o antenna) x 3.4 inches wide x 1.4 inches thick; under 500 grams (standard battery)
Expansion: Single SD slot under side cover
Docking: Cable providing USB and serial connections; optional cradle
Communication: 802.11b/g Wi-Fi; USB Host; optional Bluetooth
Audio: Internal microphone and speaker
Battery: 3.7v, 1800 mAh standard battery; optional 3600 mAh extended battery
Input: Touchscreen; 5 remappable application buttons; 5-way navigation stick
Other: Internal barcode reader; fingerprint scanner; 1.3 MP camera

 


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