- Review Price: £1244.00
Computer hardware is becoming faster, lighter and more advanced with every passing day, but it’s not really getting tougher. In fact, should we drop our newly purchased, cutting edge equipment, the look of resignation and horror on our faces tells us that we expect it to be broken. Of course, we try not to deliberately put ourselves in situations that could damage our prized equipment, but for some people this is a daily hazard that can’t be avoided.
To this end, TDS has stepped forward with the Recon, the industry’s very first rugged Pocket PC which it claims will meet not just consumer requirements, but even military specifications for durability.
Now, straight out the box, it’s not difficult to see that this is one heavily reinforced machine. The top and bottom of the device has been moulded with thick rubber caps to absorb impact, the yellow body is made from a specially stiffened plastic, it features a deeply sunken screen with reinforced glass, and all the seals are watertight.
As you would expect, these modifications do add to the size of the Recon, and at 165 x 95 x 45mm (WxHxD) and 490g it is much larger than a standard Pocket PC. Having said that, the device feels comfortable in hand and not overly weighty for its bulk. It’s not going to fit smoothly into anyone’s inside jacket pocket, but the Recon was designed for overalls not suits anyway.
Specification wise, there are two flavours of the Recon available, the first running a 200MHz Intel XScale processor with 64MB of internal non-volatile Flash storage, the second an upgraded 400MHz version with 128MB of storage available. We got to test the latter, meatier variant, but note that beyond these primary differences both machines are exactly the same. Each comprises two CompactFlash slots, a 3.5in colour TFT display that runs at the standard Pocket PC resolution of 240 x 320. The screen is viewable in direct sunlight which is obviously a necessity with a device like this. Power comes from a huge 3800mAh battery in a rechargeable boot module with serial, USB and power connectors on the bottom and a massive battery life of up to 15 hours. And both devices run the latest version of Windows Mobile 2003. On top of this, our review model also came with an optional AA rechargeable battery module, which can be bought for just under £65.
So, just what can this machine handle? Well, the answer is just about everything. To list the full array of certifications and specifications is truly mind numbing, but highlights include the ability to operate in temperatures anywhere between -30 to 60 degrees C, and altitudes of 15,000 feet. To withstand 26 consecutive drops from over four feet, and total immersion in up to one metre of water for up to 30 minutes.
”’You’d be scared of dropping any other PDA, but the Recon shrugs off such abuse.”’
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Now, being a hardware tester, these are not the usual kind of standards I have to test out, and a full lab of high tech equipment isn’t really going to help me put this little tough nut through its paces. But using a little ingenuity, from stuffing it into freezers and putting thermometers on heated plates then sitting the Recon on them, from popping it in a sink full of water to quite simply dropping it a lot, I was able to get through just about all of them. And the Recon passed with flying colours, all the while playing the supplied Mozart’s Symphony Number 9 out of its sharp little speakers. I wasn’t able to check the altitude claim, but if anyone gets up the side of Mount Kilimanjaro and finds that the Recon claps out, please feel free to tell me about it.
So having spent the better part of a day bouncing, dropping, heating, cooling, and dunking my Recon (all within the specified guidelines, needless to say), I was now able to relax and discover that underneath that hard exterior, is in fact a pretty warm and welcoming user experience.
For a start, the display on the Recon’s strengthened screen is a joy to behold. Both graphics and text look clear and sharp, while the backlight is one of the strongest I have seen on a Pocket PC. Operation was also smooth thanks to our machine’s 400MHz processor and navigation is instantly recognisable thanks to the familiar four way direction arrows, buttons for Start Menu and Enter and the standard buttons for Calendar, Contacts, Inbox and Power. All of these buttons are reinforced, but they don’t feel clunky in use as a result, and because the Recon runs Windows Mobile (it was originally going to be a CE.Net device) it will run any software that is available for standard Pocket PCs.
With this is mind, the software pack is slightly disappointing. TDS has installed Sprite backup software which can make a one tap backup of all volatile storage as well as make automatic scheduled backups, but beyond this, there is nothing more than standard programs like Word and Excel.
If there is a practical drawback to the rugged styling of the Recon, it’s that being waterproof means that there are no external microphone and headphone sockets. Though if you absolutely must use headphones, you can still plug in a Bluetooth CF card (larger cards can be covered by an elongated optional CF rubber cap made of rugged radio-wave transparent rubber) and get a compatible headset.
”’The Recon is built to survive the British summer.”’
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I have to say, during my time with the Recon, I have become a firm fan of its styling and durability, but as with any product, the consumer pays a price for something that is a “first” and at £1,243.79, that price is steep, no two ways about it. There was a vein of logic that ran through me at one point where I told myself that a person might be better off buying three standard iPAQs instead of one Recon and just replacing each iPAQ that broke, but that doesn’t take into account the frustration of data loss and the insecurity of going out with a product you know won’t last.
At the end of the day, if you need a PDA that will survive everything the elements can throw at it, then you really need the Recon. But buyers can be safe in the knowledge that, for the heavy bending their credit cards are going to take, this is not a machine of half measures, it truly is the real deal.
Drop, sink, heat or chill this little machine and it just keeps on going. Certainly, not everyone is going to need a rugged Pocket PC, but for those who do, the Recon is a godsend.
Score in detail
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