Android versus Windows or Windows Mobile
The IoT Handheld Device G55 runs Android 4.2, and unlike a number of recently introduced industrial handhelds, there's no corresponding Windows or Windows Mobile based version. Why?
Probably because in consumer markets, the vast majority of non-Apple smartphones run Android, and even compared to Apple, Android has a commanding market share. And even though Windows Embedded Handheld continues to hold on in industrial markets, Android is now beginning to make inroads there as well. As a result, many providers of ruggedized handhelds now offer both Microsoft and Android based versions of their handhelds or are leaning towards Android. AMobile's approach seems to be to offer whatever OS platform seems suited best for a certain device class and application; the company offers both Android and Windows in different models of its growing rugged tablet lineup.
Given Android's massive market share, it's quite obvious that Android-based work devices will have instant appeal and familiarity to those who are already using 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.
Additional Android contemplations
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 42Gears.com'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 IoT Handheld Device G55 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. Google does make it possible to customize the look and feel of an Android device (and AMobile did add their corporate logo), and organizations can publish their own Android apps or officially sanctioned apps privately to a dedicated company-owned channel on Google Play.
No shortage of apps
The images below are screen shots of a variety of apps the review IoT Handheld Device G55 came with, and some useful apps we downloaded from Google Play, just like an AMobile customer might do to personalize his or her own device.
The first series of three screen snaps shows the browser. Web browsing has historically been a frustrating thing for users of handheld computers due to small screen size, low resolution, and lack of processing power. On the IoT Handheld Device G55, the screen is large enough, there's plenty enough resolution, and processing power is sufficient for a productive browsing experience (though we wouldn't mind a bit of extra speed).
While some IoT Handheld Device G55 corporate and enterprise customers will likely limit the devices to dedicated applications or perhaps just one task, others will allow personalizing the units to meet individual needs. That might include installing Microsoft's OneDrive to access cloud storage (left), tools such as a handy unit converter (middle), and Skype for calling (right).
Powerful handhelds such as the IoT Handheld Device G55 are also often used to record ideas and observations and perhaps do a quick sketch. Users of Microsoft OneNote (left) will appreciate that the app is available for Android. We also downloaded the electronic equivalent of a little yellow notepad (middle), and it's also possible (via apps like INKredible) to do some beautiful calligraphy (or just quick jotting) on the Gladius. The latter, though, is one area where the precision of a stylus would come in handy.
Next on the list of downloads might be Google Earth for mapping, satellite imagery, mapping with traffic information, or Street View. The large size and high resolution of the IoT Handheld Device G55 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.
There are several office suites available for Android, but enterprise and business users may need Microsoft Office. An Office 365 client is available for Android, and as of November 2014 it no longer requires a paid Office 365 subscription to edit documents and store them in the cloud. Office Mobile, of course, is far from a complete implementation of the full Office 365, but it works just fine.
The scanner app shown in the middle below actually uses the device's documentation camera. It comes in handy for units that do not have the optional industrial grade imager installed (AMobile does offer a special APK scanner app for the dedicated scanner). The picture on the right is a sample snap of a blueprint sketch on the job.
The above is simply a small sample of some of the useful everyday informational and productivity things the IoT Handheld Device G55 can be used for. Thousands of other apps are available, on top of whatever custom or professional software users may wish to install.
Very good cameras
The AMobile IoT Handheld Device G55 has both a front and a rear camera, as one would expect from a modern smartphone. The front one is for video calls and such, and offers 2 megapixel resolution. The rear one is for picture taking and documentation. The specs claimed an 8 megapixel imager, but the pictures we took came out in 4,160 x 3,120 pixel resolution, which is 13 megapixel. Checking with AMobile revealed that the specs had changed, and the IoT Handheld Device G55 now has a 13mp imager. Camera settings allow selecting resolutions from just QVGA all the way up to 13mp. Both cameras can be used for stills as well as for video.
By and large, with few exceptions our experience with cameras integrated into rugged vertical market handhelds and tablets has been underwhelming over the years, with even the best ones lagging behind what's available in dedicated point & shoots and consumer smartphones. This is starting to change now, possibly through the very wide distribution of Android-based smartphones equipped with good cameras. Whatever the reason, the rear-facing documentation camera of the IoT Handheld Device G55 is quite good. The test pictures we took with the device were absolutely good enough for most documentation tasks.
The screen snap to the right shows some of the camera settings screens, and what it looks like in picture-taking mode.
The user interface is quite elaborate, with 14 scene settings, 7 color effects, 8 white balance settings, +/-3EV exposure control, face detection, 2/10 second self timer, 40 or 99 continuous shots, picture sizes from QVGA all the way up to 8mp, ISO settings from 100 to 1600 and auto, HDR capturing, panorama shooting, and more. When using the front camera, the focus can follow your face automatically, which comes in handy if you move around a lot.
Users can edit pictures right on the IoT Handheld Device G55. There is a wealth of functions available, including color effects, frames, cropping, straightening, mirroring, numerous filters, and even such advanced operations as sharpening, hue, vibrance and curves. The camera app also supports social media. You can directly send images to Picasa, Messaging, email, Skype, OneDrive or whatever other social media apps you have on the device. And images can also be converted to PDF.
In video mode, there is a special meeting recording setting for audio recording, and the microphone can be turned on and off. There is also time lapse video with a picture taken shot every one to 10 seconds, and users can set video quality. Video appears to record in 720p (1280 x 720 pixel) mode, with no other size settings apparent.
Having all those many settings and features available will be important to some users, but what's most impressive about the Gladius camera apart is its speed and quality. It is well suitable to document jobs both in stills and in video.
The pictures below were shot with the AMobile IoT Handheld Device G55 in 13mp mode. Click on the image to bring up a full-size version.
The IoT Handheld Device G55 camera is capable of taking much better pictures than we generally see from industrial handhelds. There is very good sharpness and image detail, and little of the massive compression that often renders pictures from such integrated cameras useless.
Video is also significantly better than what we've come to expect from cameras integrated into rugged devices. Frame rate and focussing are quick and the camera doesn't fall behind. The maximum 1280 x 720 recording format is very useful, though we wish full 1080p were available also, especially since the imager should easily be able to do it.
The video to the right was taken with the IoT Handheld Device G55 camera. It's an example of a clip that an automotive mechanic or tuner might shoot as an attachment to a work order.
Note that the camera applications that come with mobile operating systems are often replaced with third party applications optimized for certain tasks, or developers and systems integrators include camera and video functionality directly into custom applications.
In summary, the still image and video functions of the IoT Handheld Device G55 are entirely good enough for virtually any documentation jobs.
Docking and charging
Unlike consumer smartphones where customers may want nothing more than a protective case, enterprise market device such as the IoT Handheld Device G55 need mounting and docking options.
For that, AMobile offers an in-vehicle docking mount with a wireless charger as well as a desktop cradle that also includes a wireless charger.
The optional V-Dock lets users quickly insert and remove the device. The Qi-based wireless charging technology means there is no power cable to be inserted or removed from the Gladius handheld. The V-Dock has a standard VESA 4 x 75mm hole pattern and has therefore access to the whole catalog of RAM Mount mounting hardware (see examples of RAM VESA mount options).
The optional D-Dock allows using the Gladius in landscape orientation on a desk. It also uses Qi wireless charging technology.
Much tougher than consumer smartphones
Despite its elegance and iPhone-esque appearance, our detailed examination of its internal design and structure revealed that the IoT Handheld Device G55 is very much a rugged device. This is one handheld that's much tougher than it looks.
First, the IoT Handheld Device G55 carries IP65 sealing where the "6" means it's totally dustproof, and the "5" that it is also sealed against, according to the IP classification system chart, low pressure water jets from all directions. That's far better sealing that standard consumer smartphones have, but in an era where the likes of Samsung offer IP67-sealed versions of their consumer phones, we wonder why AMobile didn't take the extra step and get the unit up to that level as well. it's not totally necessary, but knowing that one's tool could survive an inadvertent drop into a puddle or even shallow stream would offer additional peace of mind. And having perused the guts of this Gladius, it looks like it'd be simple to do.
The device can also handle drops from five feet. Consumer smartphones may survive a four foot drop inside a third party case, and even then there are no guarantees that they can survive a drop, let alone multiple drops.
The stated operating temperature range of 14 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 to 50 degrees Celsius) is wide enough to allow the device to be used almost anywhere.
The display uses Corning Gorilla Glass 3 that provides even more protection against breakage and scratching than the first two generations. That's especially important in large-screen handhelds such as the IoT Handheld Device G55.
As stated, the impressive strength provided by the internal magnesium frame suggests a high degree of toughness and ability to withstand accidents and abuse. AMobile's literature mentions MIL-STD-810G certification, but does not say which MIL-STD-810G or similar tests, specifically, have been performed. Vibration, for example, can be a big issue if a device rattles around in a vehicle or if it's mounted on something that vibrates a lot. Users may also want to know its ability to handle tumbles, altitude, shock, and other punishment that may well be an issue in some of the more demanding IoT or even mPOS applications.
We're quite confident that the AMobile IoT Handheld Device G55 will hold up well in the field and under tough conditions. Its structure and design are first class, its sealing is exemplary, and Gorilla Glass protects the display, but we'd still like to see more official test results.
Summary: AMobile IoT Handheld Device G55 — a compelling Android handheld for IoT and numerous other professional applications
To say that the AMobile IoT Handheld Device G55 is an impressive piece of equipment would be a great understatement. Casual observers might at first sight mistake it for an iPhone 6 Plus or another of the new generation of large-screen smartphones. But the IoT Handheld Device G55 is much more than that. Yes, it can do everything a state-of-the-art smartphone can do. But it's also fully rugged. And it can accommodate industrial-grade dedicated scanners.
What that means is that the IoT Handheld Device G55 can be used for a vast variety of applications. Its scanning and NFC capabilities make it a powerful mobile point of sale device. Its inherent ruggedness make it suitable for any number of field service, transportation and public safety deployments. It can easily be mounted in vehicles with its special V-Dock that even includes wireless charging. And its sleek looks and full modern smartphone capabilities make it perfect for numerous enterprise and business uses.
Sporting a large, bright, sharp (270 dpi) 5.5-inch capacitive multi-touch display with means it's in iPhone 6 Plus territory in terms of screen real estate. The replaceable battery lasts a full shift. There are dual SIMs for those who need to use multiple networks. There's either laser scanning or 2D imaging. There's a 13-megapixel documentation camera. The IoT Handheld Device G55 survives 5-foot drops, can operate in icy cold and blistering heat, and its IP65 sealing means it doesn't mind dust or rain.
In summary, with the Android-powered IoT Handheld Device G55, AMobile provides an interesting, elegant-but-rugged "phablet" handheld entirely suitable for emerging Internet of Things projects, but also as a technologically advanced multi-purpose handheld for numerous warehousing, transportation, healthcare, mPOS and general industrial and enterprise deployments. And its starting price is no higher than that of an iPhone 6 Plus. -- Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, January 2015