Intermec CN51, Rugged and Versatile, Runs Android or Windows 6.5

Intermec has developed the CN51. The handheld computer can run Android 4.1 or, for customers with legacy apps, Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5.

Intermec has introduced the CN51, a rugged mobile computer designed for workers who need to be "nimble, empowered and well informed," it announced Oct. 1.

The rugged handheld can support Microsoft's Embedded Handheld 6.5 operating system or Google's Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean)—a key trait for markets where operating systems have for many months now been a "top-of-mind topic," Joe DeWenter, Intermec's principal product manager, told eWEEK.

In late 2012, Microsoft introduced Windows Embedded Handheld 8—a new OS, but one without the backward compatibility to support legacy applications.

"These days you hear a lot about dual-core processors with multicore engines. Well, Windows Mobile and Windows Embedded 6 can't take advantage of that," said DeWenter. "Likewise, they can only use about 512MB of RAM. If a device has more, it doesn't help at all."

Microsoft has said it will continue to support version 6.5 through 2020, which is good news for the majority of Intermec customers still running legacy apps on the OS. Customers face the challenge of whether to invest in old hardware and "not be able to do something new down the road," said DeWenter.

"So, now they've got a choice," he continued. "The CN51 can run 6.5, for legacy apps, or Android 4.1. You pick. If a customer loads their legacy apps with the plan to upgrade in 12 months, they can do that without another investment in hardware. We see it as a bridge for our customers."

After speaking with customers, Intermec also made the decision to keep the keyboard. ("They told us overwhelmingly not to get rid of it and don't make the keys any smaller," said DeWenter.) Intermec also left the bottom of the device the same, so that it can be used with any docks or snap-ons that customers already own.

The CN51 measures 6.45 inches by 2.93 by 1.09 (at its thinnest width) and 1.26 at its thickest, and weighs 12.3 ounces.

Its physical keyboards—both QWERTY or strictly numeric are options—are paired with a 4-inch WVGA display (480 by 800 pixels) with both multitouch and resistive touch technologies, which means the display doesn't only respond to a fingertip. A user can collect a signature with a pen cap (in addition to the included stylus), as well as use the CN51 while wearing gloves, or even with wet hands.

Intermec worked on the battery, giving the CN51 enough juice to last "one and a half times what we think a normal shift should be," said DeWenter.

The CN51 also features a 1.5GHz dual-core multiengine Texas Instruments OMAP 4 processor with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of flash memory.

There's a 5-megapixel color camera that allows for Mobile Document Imaging (MDI) and Remote Deposit Capture (RDC), in addition to simple bar code reading. And when it comes to the latter, Intermec says the CN51 features "best-in-class motion tolerance."

True to the Intermec brand, it's also rugged. The handheld's been tested to withstand multiple drops, as well as temperature extremes, humidity, rain and dust.

A final key feature is the ability to seamlessly support a nationwide deployment. The CN51 has a software-defined radio that can support both CDMA and UMTS wireless networks. If a company has plans with both AT&T and Verizon, say, a user can switch, on the fly, between the networks as necessary.

Just as the iPhone infiltrated enterprise environments, Intermec has likewise found Apple's smartphone showing up in markets that were once solely the turf of rugged handsets.

DeWenter says people stuff iPhones into rugged cases that bring their size up to nearly that of the CN51, which boasts other field advantages the iPhone can't compete with. (The size of the CN51 is due to its considerable battery, its integrated imager and its ruggedness. When you drop a device, said DeWenter, "Everything inside is still moving. [Our] challenge is to slow it down in a graceful way.")

Even on pricing, DeWenter says the CN51 can compete. While its retail list price is $2,795, the price goes down, usually to well under $2,000, when multiple devices are ordered.

"For [very large customers], the price is much less than list price," said DeWenter. "And the carriers can subsidize our devices just like they do consumer smartphones."

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