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Product Testing: What we look for in handheld device specs

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By: Conrad H. Blickenstorfer[/mks_pullquote]


It’s easy to dismiss a product specification sheet as just so much technical mumbo jumbo in smallish print. And, truth be told, technical specifications can be a bit dry and they are often quite incomprehensible. However, while product literature does a great job in visually presenting and describing a product, highlighting its features and advantages, and explaining what it can do for you, the tech specs tell you what’s under the hood, and that’s just as important, if not more so. Let me tell you what as a product reviewer and analyst I look for in product specs. And what you should look for, too.

Note that there are significant differences between small handheld computers and larger tablets. For this article, I’ll concentrate on handheld computer specs.

First you probably want to know if the underlying technology of a product you’re interested in is new or old. The processor is the engine of any computer, and just like in vehicles, engines come in many designs and levels of performance. A powerful top-of-the-line Intel processor in a laptop, for example, can cost dozens of times as much as a basic low-end chip in a handheld. Few people know exactly how much power is needed in a product, but it’s always good to google where else a processor is used, and how old those products are.

Memory, both the RAM that’s used for computations and the type and amount used for storage are important. If a product doesn’t have a card slot for data storage expansion, make sure that it has enough integrated storage for its intended use.

On the operating system side, almost all handhelds these days run either a version of Windows or a version of Android. There are ample pros and cons for both. But you’ll want to know what version, exactly, of an operating system is on the device. Depending on the intended deployment, older “legacy” versions may still get the job done. But if you’re looking for state-of-the-art gear, the OS best be a recent version and, better yet, be upgradeable as well.

How much capacity does the battery have?
How much capacity does the battery have?

Power is always an issue with handhelds. How much capacity does the battery have (and remember, you need to know watt-hours, not just amps as amps alone doesn’t tell you anything about battery capacity)? What’s the estimated battery life? Does that sound reasonable? Is the battery user-replaceable or is it internal? And if it’s replaceable, is it “hot-swappable”? For charging, is there a separate power jack or is it done via a USB cable? Are there chargers for multiple batteries? For international use, are foreign country plug adapters included? And does the power brick support different voltages?

Conrad H. Blickenstorfer
Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, Ph.D., co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Pen Computing Magazine, has extensive experience in all aspects of rugged computing from his many years at the helm of the Pen Computing industry journal, Digital Camera Magazine, Handheld Computing Magazine, and his years of service as Director of Information Systems and Chief Information Officer with the New York State Dormitory and project manager for the New York State Urban Development Corporation. He has also written for numerous technology journals and wrote the mobile technology section in Fortune Magazine's semi-annual technology buyers guide for years. Blickenstorfer has visited numerous rugged manufacturing operations in the US, Japan, and Taiwan.