Choosing what device to use for Data Capture needs can be a challenge. Per se, there really is no “best” one out there, as it depends on a combination of factors unique to each instance or application. As a best practice, know first what those factors are before even thinking of a specific device. Do not commit the mistake of buying a Tablet PC, a Slate PC or an iPad without having a list of limiting or decision factors first; otherwise, you will end up making your desired solution fit the device.
Determine the factors your solution requires. Here are some examples of what you need to decide or know before shopping around for a device:
- Data Inputs – the type of fields that comprise your form(s) – i.e. images, videos, barcodes, GPS. This is where you look into devices with web cams, barcode scanners, and the like, that are incorporated in the device.
- Form Length and Density – the length of the form(s), number and type of input fields. This can guide you on what screen size makes sense. You wouldn’t want to annotate on an image using a smartphone for example.
- Work Environment/ Conditions – the battery life, terrain, moisture, weather conditions. Battery life is very important, especially for deployments that are in remote areas. Having the option of interchangeable batteries is always good to have in such cases. Rugged Tablet PCs are the obvious choice for a lot of field deployments, whereas Digital Pens make sense for inspectors who climb ladders or such.
- End User Comfort Level – the comfort level in technology, weight, size, Stylus / Pen / Touch / or combination. Who is the end-user, and what interface best fits them? Personally, I fill-out forms better using a stylus, while there are others who can type extremely fast using a touch-screen.
- Other Machine/Device Use - if you intend to replace or upgrade existing staff PCs, then having a convertible tablet with a keyboard would be important. Others opt for the device to be purely for data capture purposes, rather than their “multifunction” device.
- Budget – although usually this is an “immovable wall”, keep in mind the savings you’ll expect to get by shifting to an electronic process (of course this applies on Software as well) – saved man hours, more business for most as turnaround time is faster, etc. Keep in mind though that there is a very broad range, and with all the new and more affordable devices coming, you’ll be surprised on the option out there. As some examples, an iPad 1 costs $399 for its base model, a Netbook Tablets like the Nobi Tablet costs around $450. Rugged tablets that the military use go as high as $3,500, but you can get hold of a new rugged tablet like the Motion CL3500 for less than $1,000.
Bottomline, make your list of requirements dictate the device you will use, and not the other way around.