While its great fun as a reviewer to look at the latest smart phone or PDA, the fact is that in most enterprises, its not the BlackBerrys or Treos that do the heavy lifting. In fact, the real work in industries that involve everything from manufacturing to the movement of goods takes place in the field using rugged, waterproof, unsexy, portable computers that do everything from read bar codes and RFID tags to handling sales routing and shipping. While the Symbol division of Motorola is best-known in this field, Psion Teklogix has been a significant player.
Now, Psion and AT&T have teamed up to deliver an HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) version of the Psion Workabout Pro. This is an industrial strength portable that looks its part. Its approximately the size, shape and weight of a brick and appears to be about as rugged. However, you can use this brick-like computer to surf the Internet, check e-mail or run mobile applications, and with a fast connection, using it as a remote client should work just fine.
The Workabout Pro is available now from Psion and AT&T resellers. Its a solid device that competes well with devices from Symbol and has the advantage of access to AT&Ts 3G network, which greatly improves its flexibility.
Its not cheap, however. The monochrome version of the Workabout Pro starts at $1,500, and the color version starts at $2,000 in units of one. Any add-on modules will add on to the price. As youd expect, AT&T and Psion give discounts for larger volumes. The service cost for the Workabout Pro is the same as it is for other data devices from AT&T, which is less than $50 per month.
AT&T sent two versions of the first-generation Psion Workabout Pro to eWEEK Labs. One of the devices included a complete alpha-numeric keypad and a monochrome screen. The other device had a numeric keypad and a color screen. Both devices arrived running Microsoft Windows CE. The only applications installed were standard Windows CE bundled software, including Internet Explorer and WordPad from Microsoft. One unit was delivered with a bar-code scanner and included a demo application that would read and display the contents of bar codes. It would not do anything else with that information, however.
Getting the device up and running is really just a matter of pressing a button to return the Workabout Pro from suspended animation. You can cold-boot Windows, but the operating system normally stays loaded in memory, and when you want to power it down, you simply suspend it. If left alone, the device will power down and suspend itself on its own to save battery power. You need to tell the device to connect to the AT&T network using an included application. This takes a few seconds each time, while the device locates its SIM card, the modem and the network.
The monochrome version with the alpha-numeric keypad has an ABCD-type keypad layout rather than the more typist-friendly QWERTY layout. However, the Workabout Pro isnt designed for entering large quantities of text but rather for entering small amounts of data into forms by people who arent trained at typing. Picture entering inventory data rather than entering an e-mail, and youll get the idea.