Mobile Device Management

Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 and GT-500V

Tough and impressively rugged 5-inch Android handheld computer with WorldMode communication for mission-critical deployments anytime and anywher

By Conrad H. Blickenstorfer; photography by Carol Cotton

AMobile Intelligent Corp., announced the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 early 2016 as a modern, general-purpose rugged Android handheld computer with comprehensive communications capabilities and integrated barcode scanner. Intended uses are, among many others, warehouse management systems, postal and shipping operations, government deployments, and public safety applications. RuggedPCReview has had a chance for extended hands-on with the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500, and this report presents our review and observations.

This review also includes references to 2018 updates to the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 platform, as well as the introduction of the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500V.

Contemporary smartphone footprint, but much tougher

Size has always been a vexing issue for designers of mobile computing devices. In theory, the larger and brighter the display, the higher the performance, and the longer the battery life, the better. In practice, many desirable features and qualities are mutually exclusive. Cost and weight are factors, too, and then there are fashion trends that can go to ridiculous extremes.

With the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 AMobile created a device very much in line with the concept of the original Pocket PC that Microsoft launched in the late 1990s. Small enough to fit into a pocket, large enough for real work, and sturdy enough to go along for the ride. But while Microsoft back then nervously wing-clipped the power of the Pocket PC so as not to snag sales from larger "real Windows" computers, makers of modern Android devices don't have such limitations. They create whatever, in their opinion, works best for their customers, and whatever makes the most sense.

In the case of the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 that meant a handheld that's the size of a contemporary smartphone, but tougher and including features that extend functionality on the job and into the field.

The picture to the right shows where the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 fits in terms of size. The lineup shows — from left to right and in scale — Apple's 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, the 5-inch Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500, AMobile's thinner and lighter-duty 5.5-inch G55 IoT handheld, and, for comparison, AMobile's 7.85 -inch GT78 tablet.

The Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 measures 6.5 x 3.4 inches, versus the iPhone 6 Plus's 6.2 x 3.1. Its 5-inch diagonal screen size is a bit smaller than those of the 6 Plus or the G55, but dwarfing phones and handhelds of just a few years ago when 3.5-inch screens were the norm.

Screen size isn't everything, of course. As a ruggedized device, the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 is almost an inch thick, and weighs 13.6 ounces, close to a pound. That's substantially thicker and heavier than today's consumer smartphones (though much smaller than the Apple Newton MessagePad that was the forefather of today's smartphones and handheld computers).

With the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500, AMobile now gives customers in the market for a handheld in this size class two choices. The G55 fully adopts the smartphone look and feel, but it's tougher than consumer devices and AMobile positioned it as tool for emerging IoT applications. The GT-500 is thicker and heavier, and looks the part of a general purpose handheld computer for all sorts of deployments in the field.

Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 Technology

With the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 specifically designed as a tough, solid handheld mobile computer with worldwide appeal, what specs and technologies did AMobile employ to help the device address all these target requirements?

The MT6735 was introduced in mid-2015 as a "WorldMode" smartphone platform enabling devices to seamlessly roam across high-speed 4G LTE networks uninterrupted, merging 2G, 3G and 4G technologies by supporting FDD/TDD-LTE, WCDMA, CDMA2000, TDS-CDMA, EVDO, GSM, and EDGE. It employs contemporary 28nm process technology and is used, among other devices, in various Acer Liquid Series smartphones. In our benchmark testing, the GT-500 scored roughly on par with the MT8392-equipped GT1000 tablet, and was significantly faster than the MTK8382-based GT78.

There's 2GB of LPDDR RAM and 16GB of eMMC for mass storage. While 16GB doesn't look like much at a time where Apple is giving up on 16GB iPhones, it's more than adequate if the device can use expansion cards. So for the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 it's the 16GB, plus up to another 32GB in the user-accessible micro SDHC card slot inside the battery compartment.

There is a 13mp documentation autofocus camera with LED flash on the backside. Customers also get an additional 2mp vidcam in the front for video calls and conferencing.

Like most modern smartphones and tablets, the GT-500 comes with a bevy of sensors. That includes ambient light and proximity sensors, a 3-axis accelerometer, a 3-axis magnetic field sensor, and a barometer. Not all apps take advantage of all of these, but their presence may come in handy for custom apps.

The Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 has a user-accessible and easily removable 17.8 watt-hour Li-Ion battery. That's a full 70% more capacity than what the iPhone 6S Plus has, so battery life ought not be a problem here. Charging is via a standard micro-USB port or desktop docking station.

While the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500's 5-inch display is a bit smaller than the largest displays found on modern smartphones, it is larger than most industrial handheld screens. It's certainly large enough even for mapping and GIS applications.

This being an Android device, it's no surprise that the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 uses the projected capacitive ("procap") multi-touch technology pioneered in smartphones, rather than the resistive digitizer of almost all older handhelds and still used in a good number of more recent ones.

While capacitive multi-touch in industrial devices is still new (and only came after much discussion of the technology's pros and cons), it's now pretty much standard, and especially so on Android devices.

Wired connectivity is via OTG-compatible micro-USB 2.0. For wireless connectivity there is Bluetooth v4.1, dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi, NFC, global positioning supporting GPS/GNSS/Beidou, and, of course, that "WorldMode" mobile broadband mentioned above.

The picture to the right shows the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 from the front and from all four sides. It's an attractive design that merges the all-black glossy look of a modern consumer smartphone with all-business protective rubber-cladding, meticulous sealing, and space for the big battery and industrial grade expansion scanning.

Going around the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 you find a small number of physical controls but not much in terms of ports. This is a sealed device, and that means the fewer openings that must be protected against immersion the better.

The left side has a volume controls and a yellow scanner button. There's also the micro-USB port with its protective plug that has its own yellow replaceable o-ring seal. On the right side is the unit's power button and another yellow scanner button. On top is the scanner window, and next to it, beneath a protective hinged rubber plug, the unit's earphone jack.

The front of the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 is dominated by the large display whose surface glass extends well beyond the perimeter of the LCD, a characteristic common to virtually all capacitive touch devices, so that fingers do not bump into a border during touch. The protective rubber cladding of the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 does make for a border around the perimeter of the device, but it's far enough away from the extent of the LCD to not get in the way, and it only sticks up by a couple of millimeters or so.

Beneath the display are three Android controls (Back, Home, Open Apps), implemented here as capacitive touch areas with icons outlined in white. That's a bit different from the Menu, Home, Back layout of the G55.

Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500: design and construction

Today's smartphones are computers, and they are more popular than ever. A staggering two billionsmartphones are used around the globe. Most of them are waver-thin consumer phones that all look practically the same — rectangles that are too large to easily fit into pockets and too thin to withstand abuse. That makes absolutely no sense, but for now it's the way it is.

Industrial handhelds like the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500, on the other hand, are very much tools for the job. They remain mobile computers where form does follow function, a concept that the makers of consumer smartphones seem to have completely forgotten. Kudos to AMobile Intelligent for providing the features and technology virtually all customers have come to expect from a modern handheld, but in a package that makes sense for working professionals who don't have the time nor inclination to baby their handheld out there on the job.

The pictures below show the backside of the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500, what it looks from the outside (left), an then from the inside (right). The nicely contoured backside are a welcome change from the featureless flatness of any contemporary smartphone. Screws are in plain sight, which adds a nice mechanical touch to the design and also makes it so much easier to open the housing should the need ever arise.

The poly-carbonate housing has fused black rubber overmoldings that make the device grippier and easier to hold, and they also provide extra protection. Sealing between the two halves of the GT-500 housing is via an elaborate tongue-and-groove design that uses a precision-cut bright yellow replaceable seal for best possible protection.

The GT-500's battery is replaceable and externally accessible. The polycarbonate battery compartment cover has its own replaceable yellow rubber seal, but here it serves as a friction seal rather than a tongue-and-groove seal, and for that we'd much rather see a conventional o-ring with a round cross section. A rectangular cross section is prone to twisting and thus losing its sealing properties, which is important here as the inside of the battery compartment is open to the interior of the device.

The battery compartment cover is held in place with a slider lock that clicks into the open or locked positions. The battery is a 3.7 Volt, 4,800 mAH Lithium-Ion design that provides 17.8 watt-hours. The spec sheet doesn't list an estimated run-time on a charge. Given that the smaller 13.3 watt-hour battery in AMobile' s G55 handheld is listed as good for up to 8 hours, we assume that the GT-500 battery with its extra 33% watt-hour should be good for at least a full shift.

Inside the battery compartment, beneath the battery, are the GT-500's dual micro-SIM slots as well as the unit's microSD card slot. Of the two SIM slots, one is for 2G only, one 2G/3G/LTE. The microSD card is of the SDHC variety and can handle cards up to 32GB.

In terms of overall construction, just like the G55, the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 has a rigid magnesium frame attached to the front part of its polycarbonate housing, with the display mounted on one side of the frame and the main and subsidiary boards mounted on the other.

The two halves are secured together via 12 Torx head screws. Once those are undone, the two halves separate easily, with no wires that could break or come loose between them. Instead, AMobile is using surface mount pressure contact (speakers and antennae are examples).

The image below shows what it looks like inside the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500:

As you can see, it's a comparatively simple and very clean layout with an absolute minimum of wires than can get in the way or come loose. Note the cutouts and conduits in the magnesium frame, and also how AMobile' s designers made sure the screws that hold the device together are actually outside the seal. That way, there is no danger of water penetrating through screw holes, which we've seen on many other devices.

Unlike consumer products where scanning is done via 3rd party apps that use the integrated camera, the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 relies on an integrated industrial-grade miniature scan engines, the Zebra SE4710 1D/2D imager (see SE4710 info). The GT-500 comes with a barcode scanning wizard app that provides functionality similar to Zebra's DataWedge or Honeywell's ScanWedge.

The image compilation below shows some of the interesting details of the AMobile Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500. On the left you can see a close-up of the intricate camera module sitting next to the tightly integrated scanner module. To the right of it the block with the SD and SIM cards, then the tiny vibration motor next to the intricate yellow rubber seal, and finally the amazing detail of the magnesium frame with guides both for seals and also for wiring.

Like the other AMobile mobile computers we've had in our lab, the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 is a remarkably clean and well organized design. Particularly impressive is the elegant, functional magnesium frame with its custom-designed main and subsidiary boards that together form a compact, logical, and very clean solution.

The Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500V model

Why is there a separate model for the network? And where does certification come in? Well, something called Wireless Open Development. It is a program that encourages developers to create new products, applications and services in addition to what Wireless itself offers.

There's a certification process that's conducted by approved external test labs. FCC-approved devices are tested and certified for compliance with Wireless Open Development requirements for LTE. In essence, the testing makes sure that a device fully adheres to technical network specifications and won't cause interference with other spectrum users or jeopardize network security. And the AMobile Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500V has this official 4G LTE certification.

Contemporary display — 5-inch and procap multi-touch

The Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500's 5-inch display would have looked very large for a handheld just a few years ago. The iPhone launched the modern smartphone era with a 3.5-inch screen in 2007, selling tens of millions, and it wasn't until 2012 that Apple introduced the iPhone 5 with a larger 4.0-inch screen. Since then, of course, the consumer smartphone screen size grew to the current 4.7 to 5.5 inches.

As a result, the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 display now looks just about right — not too large but also not too small to work on. It helps that the GT-500 display is crisp and sharp. The screen's 1280 x 720 pixel resolution is not quite as high as the full 1920 x 1080 pixel 1080p screen of the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus, but 294 pixels per inch is still super-sharp and actually beats all of Apple's retina iPads and MacBooks save the iPad mini Retina (324 pp). It's much sharper than the original iPhone (163 dpi), and even the 5K Retina iMac27 this review was written on (218 dpi). And it's an IPS (In-Plane Switching) screen, which means it has perfect viewing angles from all directions, without any color or contrast changes.

The pictures below show a comparison between an iPhone 6 Plus and the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 outdoors, both at automatic brightness. Apple's big 6 Plus is said to have a maximum screen brightness of 550-600 nits. The Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 specs claim 400 nits, but under most conditions, the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 looks as, or almost, as bright. Both displays are glossy, so there are reflections outdoors. Most smartphone and tablet users have learned to live with that.

Capacitive multi-touch works as everyone expects from a handheld these days — quickly and effortlessly. The touch controller AMobile used is more sensitive than that in most earlier capacitive touch devices. That means it can work when wearing certain types of thin gloves. The device doesn't come with a stylus and AMobile doesn't offer an optional capacitive pen. Any 3rd party capacitive pen will work, though those generic pens with their broad tips don't offer much more accuracy than the tip of a finger. It's not that important anyway as Android was specifically developed for capacitive multi-touch with a finger.

Android versus Windows Mobile or Windows 10 IoT

The Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 runs Android 5.1 "Lollipop." According to the Android Developers page, as of July 11, 2016, Lollipop had a 35.1% marketshare among all Android versions in June 2016 (see latest figures), the largest of any Android platform versions (ver. 4.4 "KitKat" was second with 30.1%). Lollipop introduced enterprise-strength security to Android, moving the platform a big step forward. Note that unlike with many recently introduced industrial handhelds, AMobile does not offer a corresponding Windows or Windows Mobile based version. Why?

That's because in consumer markets, a great majority of non-Apple smartphones run Android, and even compared to Apple, Android has a commanding market share. And even though Windows Embedded Handheld remains strong in industrial markets, Android is making significant inroads there as well. As a result, many providers of rugged handhelds now offer both Microsoft and Android based versions of their devices or are leaning towards Android. AMobile's stated position is to offer whatever OS platform is best suited best for a certain type of device and application; the company offers both Android and Windows in different models of its growing rugged tablet lineup.

As far as Windows goes, note that Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise is supposed to be, at last, the successor of Windows Mobile and Windows Embedded Handheld. It supports both the x86 and ARM architectures. The big advantage will be that any binary written for the Windows 10 unified core can run on Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise.

For now, given Android's massive market share in handhelds, Android-based work devices have instant appeal and familiarity to those who already use Android smartphones and/or tablets at home or at work. Though often customized by voice and data service providers, the basic workings of the Android interface are very widely known by now, and a very large number of apps are available for download. Android software development and expertise is commonly available, and making Android devices available on the job can save training as well as deployment costs.

Upgrade from Android 5.1 to Android 7
In January 2018, AMobile upgraded the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 platform from its original Android version 5.1 to Android 7, codenamed "Nougat." As of the writing of this update to this article, April 26, 2018, according to the website, Android 5.1 has 18.0% marketshare (all Android 5.x "Lollipop" versions combined 22.9%), and Android 7.0 has 23% marketshare (all Android 7.x "Nougat" versions combined 30.8%). Newer is better, of course, and with "Nougat," the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 platform is now up-to-date as far as the OS goes. There's Android 8.x "Oreo," but its marketshare is still under 5%.

What are the advances of Android 7 over Android 5? Overall, Android 7.0 improves device performance and operation in many subtle ways. Optimized management of background processes means more reliable operation, system updates are faster, and the way all those many notifications work has been streamlined and improved. Split-screen operation is available now, the settings menu has been redone (again), and optimized power management with an improved doze mode allows the device to perform better and run longer between charges.

Kudos to AMobile for upgrading the GT-500! Not every manufacturer does that.

Additional Android contemplations
This section is not specific to the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500; it's a general assessment of Android suitability and appeal in vertical and industrial markets.

Undeniably, the total number of available apps for a handheld software platform has become a crucially important marketing issue, as is how easily users can download apps. Apple has its slick and massive App Store. Android offers the official Google Play store, as well as third party alternates such as the Amazon Appstore for Android, Slide ME, and several others.

There is, however, an important difference between consumer and industrial markets here. Whereas a vast number of easily accessible apps is a big plus for consumers, many industrial and enterprise deployers do not want their workforce download (and distracted by) apps into devices used for work. What are the answers to this potential problem?

One approach is to use Android AOSP, which stands for Android Open Source Project, and is an open-source software stack and project, led by Google itself, but without the ability to use the Google Play store and some of the major Google apps. Android AOSP, however, still has access to alternate app stores.

Another possibility is using something like's SureLock. SureLock replaces the Android desktop and allows control of applications that are available to users. It can even be configured to run in "kiosk mode" with just a single application that is always active. This way, systems integrators or IT personnel can configure units for specific use and applications, eliminating the temptation that comes with a full load of consumer apps.

The Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 review sample unit AMobile sent us for evaluation came not only with a basic selection of useful apps, but also with the official Google Play store. That's because the GT-500 is one of the relatively few enterprise handhelds with Google GMS (Google Mobile Services) certification. This generally means it's certified to run Google-branded apps (such as Maps, Gmail, Drive, etc.) and has access to the Google Play store.

Vast supply of applications
One of the benefits of Android's controlling marketshare in smartphones is the huge and constantly growing number of applications readily available for download. That's certainly a major attractions of Android compared to, say, Windows Phone, which never really got off the ground. Most of the apps are surprisingly polished and many are still free (if you can put up with obnoxious, intrusive ads or incessant nagging about upgrading to "pro" versions).

Specialized and more complex applications, of course, may require custom software development, but chances are that an inexpensive app can be found for almost everything else. By now everyone knows about the vast variety of available smartphone apps and how useful they can be, but we still like to show a few examples, illustrating how today's combination of inexpensive, innovative software and high-powered, flexible hardware can not only entertain, but greatly enhance productivity.

Web browsing, for example, used to be, to put it mildly, painful on handheld computers. Not anymore. With super-sharp displays, lightening-quick zooming in and out, and plenty of processing powers, browsing is hugely useful on handhelds today (and we wish web designers should stop forcing dumbed-down "mobile" sites on handheld users!)

Then there's Microsoft Office, still a must-have for many corporate users. An Office 365 client is available for Android, and while it is not a complete implementation of the full Office 365, it is far more comprehensive than the "mobile" versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint Microsoft used to offer.

Staying with productivity for a minute, one of the first things we always download into a new Android device is Microsoft's OneDrive to access cloud storage. It's great to have access to all your relevant files no matter where you are. Another super-handy utility we can't live without is a good unit converter (see the obnoxious ad at the bottom of this "free" version though). High display resolution has also made it possible to download virtual instruments and meters for just about anything.

Powerful handhelds such as the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 are also great platforms to record ideas and observations and perhaps do a quick sketch. We downloaded the electronic equivalent of a basic notepad (left) for typing in some notes when we didn't want to crank up MS Word, and we also like doodling notes (via apps like INKredible) or even do calligraphy, though that'd work better with the precision of a stylus. Having Skype on a device is pretty much mandatory.

Next on the list of downloads might be Google Earth for mapping, satellite imagery, mapping with traffic information, or Street View. The fairly large size and high resolution of the Ultra-Rugged Handheld Device GT-500 display makes mapping and GIS a natural for the device, and there's a large number of GPS apps that show satellite and location data.

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