GCN LAB REVIEWS
Rugged Trimble phone conquers battery of Mil-Std tests
Nomad also packs a wide array of tools into its case
Sure, smart phones are small and light, and they can perform all sorts of tasks. But none of that does you any good if you go into the hot desert sun or accidentally drop it in a lake.
If you need to expose your device to such risks, you might consider the Trimble Nomad 900XE. At 7 inches by 4 inches by 2 inches and weighing 1 pound, 6 ounces, the Nomad is a bit larger and about twice as heavy as a typical mobile device. But that's not unusual in a fully rugged one.
The Nomad uses the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system and offers mobile versions of Microsoft Office applications. That should suffice for most tasks that occur on the move, such as taking notes or checking e-mail messages.
But what impressed us most about the Nomad was the sheer number of gadgets Trimble managed to pack into the device. It has a cell phone, Bluetooth, 802.11g wireless adapter, Global Positioning System receiver, digital camera and bar code laser scanner. Honestly, we wouldn’t have been surprised if we had pulled out a corkscrew and nail file. The Nomad is like a Swiss Army Knife of mobile devices.
Trimble Nomad 900XE
Pros: Durable; good battery life.
Cons: Touch screen a bit small.
Ease of use: A-
Price: $2,699 ($2,025 government)
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With the right software. these devices can work together in all sorts of ways. If you need to take readings at a weather station, you could check a digital map with the GPS to find an access road. Once at the station, you could scan the bar code at the gate, and the GPS could confirm your latitude and longitude. You could then take notes on the readings and photos of any devices. After you’re done, you can use the cell phone to connect to the Internet and upload all the info to home base. And that’s just one example we tested in the field.
All the Nomad's features are easy to use, with the arguable exception of the camera. Because the screen is fixed in relation to the camera lens, accuracy at certain angles is hard to achieve because you might not always be able to see the screen when aiming the camera. But as most users won’t be taking self-portraits, this is probably not a major inconvenience.
The Nomad has two USB 2.0 ports — a standard port for connecting to devices such as printers and flash drives and a miniport for connecting to a computer. When connected to a computer, Windows automatically starts synchronizing contacts, calendar entries and e-mail. That is great if that’s what you wanted it to do.
Trimble has certified the ruggedness of the Nomad 900XE to Mil-Std 810F specifications for low pressure, humidity, low and high temperature, sand and dust exposure, water immersion, vibration, and shock. It also has an Ingress Protection rating of 67, meaning complete protection against dust ingress and immersion in as much as 1 meter of water for as long as 30 minutes. The Nomad passed all our tests for these rugged specs with flying colors.
For the shock test, we dropped the Nomad on all sides, edges and corners from a height of 4 feet onto 2 inches of plywood over concrete. In this test, we thought we actually had scratched one corner, but a damp paper towel revealed it to be a smudge of dirt that we wiped right off. So it came out of this test without a scratch.
We also tested the device in our GCN Rainforest environment. We ran the device constantly at room temperature as the relative humidity rose to as close to 100 percent as we could get it. After running for an hour, we then turned up the heat to about 120 degrees Fahrenheit and tried to keep the humidity as high as we could while the temperature rose. After the atmosphere was stabilized, we ran the device for another hour. The Nomad continued to operate flawlessly throughout this procedure.
The one shortcoming for the Trimble Nomad 900XE is price. We felt that $2,699 was a bit too high, even for a fully rugged device such as this. The government price of $2,025 was definitely an improvement, in the range of what we’d want to pay. We would recommend Nomad 900XE for any remote user who needs a maximum number of features and performance in the middle of nowhere.
Greg Crowe is a staff writer covering mobile technology for GCN. Follow him on Twitter: @GCNLabGuys.