Hands On: DAP Microflex CE5320
Professional Surveyor Magazine - March 2001
Al Pepling, LS
My initial reaction to DAP's MICROFLEX CE5320 was that this data collector looked so rugged that figuratively speaking, "you probably could pound stakes with it." It has that look and feel. Yet it is rugged enough to withstand most reasonable use and even occasional abuse or accidents. It is ISO 9001 approved and rain- and water-resistant. With molded corners at the bottom and top of the unit designed to absorb shock, it is designed to withstand a drop from one to two meters to a hard (concrete) surface. It exceeds military standards MIL-STD-810E and meets IP67. Most units are offered with or without integrated laser, RFID reader and support WLAN PC Card(2.4GHz). Units are also available in multiple colors.
The MICROFLEX handheld computers are used worldwide in several markets, including Geodesy, land surveying, GPS/GIS, topography, and data collection for total stations. The new CE devices are compatible with ESRI-ArcPad software.
Despite its massive appearance, it is comfortable to hold and operate. The strap on the backside is ergonomically mounted at an angle that slips over the back of either the right or left hand so as not to restrict finger motion. The bottom of the strap is adjustable to accommodate bare or gloved hands.
The CE5320 works in temperatures from 4EF to +122EF. Water-resistant, the unit also floats, provided the battery compartment and PC Card doors are closed properly and their gaskets have not deteriorated. The CE5320 has also been designed for electromagnetic resistance in relation to the most common working environments.
The battery compartment, easily accessible by four screws, has a 3/32" gasket surrounding the entire compartment and a flat rubber flap that covers the battery and prevents battery movement, which is a good investment in protection against data loss. The battery is a custom-designed 7.2 volt, 1600mAh Lithium-Ion type, available only from DAP. It should last from two to three working days under normal conditions and use. A backup battery, designed to last the life of the unit, is recharged every time the main battery is charged, and is factory replaceable. There is an automatic power down after a period of inactivity that also helps with battery life. With WinCE aboard, battery capacity is easily checked.
The battery is charged while in the unit from a communications cradle or through a LEMO connector. The battery status indicator is located on the lower right-hand corner of the keyboard, and blends with the keyboard color when power from the charger is not detected. A yellow blinking light indicates that an applications program has disabled charging. A steady yellow light is indicative of improper charging temperature. Blinking red signifies a user definable low power warning. Continuous red means that the unit is charging. Continuous green, with the charger connected indicates that the battery is fully charged.
Focus on Quality
DAP has kept its focus on quality, which is evident in the details. Removing two screws accesses the CE5320's compartment, which appears to be socketed for one type 3 or two type 2 cards. A 3/32" x 1/8" rubber gasket mates with a protruding ridge on the compartment door. The screws are designed with shanks and a retainer mechanism to prevent them from falling out of the door when changing cards. The fasteners screw into metal insets to guard against cross-threading. The door itself is attached via a retaining strap.
For communications between peripherals and other computers, the CE5000 series has provision for two IrDA ports, one at the top of the unit, (optional) the other at the bottom (standard). The intended use for the CE5320 is to facilitate cable-less printing. Software configuration is generally handled by the applications programs. The room for the second IrDA port could be used to integrate a laser bar code reader instead. The second IrDA port is usually used for bar code reading. The manual shows one LEMO connector on the right side, although the unit I reviewed had two of them. An environmentally-sealed speaker and a microphone round out the various ways of communicating with other devices.
Printing in the Field to Prevent Data Loss
When I first started using data collection, it was on a now discontinued HP device and I had a portable ink jet printer right out in the field with me. I downloaded data to hard copy at lunch and at the end of the day. This good practice prevented some data loss catastrophies. The CE5320 seems to be designed with this in mind. One of the PC Card slots could be used for modem communications. This would allow transmission of data right from the field on a daily basis.
The keyboard combines the best of both worlds: individual keys and crisp actuation. The unit also integrates a backlit screen and keyboard for easier data entry in poorly-lit areas. Keys are color coded according to their grouping. Rectangular function, tab, cursor, and mathematical function keys are yellow. Oval numerical keys are white, and somewhat larger than the others. Rectangular "chiclet" shaped alphabet keys, arranged alphabetically, are gray and spaced far enough apart to prevent depressing two or more keys at the same time. Earlier keyboards of this type were one large membrane and did not have the crisp actuation of harder plastic individual keys. They work well whether you touch them square on or just catch the edge. This is no small advantage for sloppy two-fingered typists like myself.
The WinCE operating system supports touch screen applications. The stylus is housed in the pad on the back of the unit. A touch screen takes some getting used to if you have not had experience with it, but being a user of a touch-screen-only PDA device, I had an edge. Having the touch screen with the keyboard is just more versatile and easy to use, and I found myself switching between the methods I was most comfortable with. While color displays are supported by WinCE, the DAP I used was monochrome with back light. Monochrome still seems to be easier on the eyes in bright sunlight. Contrast is automatically adjusted via the blue function key and the F4 and tab keys.
Works With Windows CE 3.00
DAP MICROFLEX CE is now available in the new version Windows CE 3.00 from Microsoft. This version integrates indispensable new applications such as CE Internet Explorer, MS Pocket Word and Pocket Inbox, as well as major communication and support improvements.
My unit came equipped with a version of SurvCE that is in the testing stages. Because it has so many features, I felt I should bifurcate the review and report on the software in a later column. DAP Technologies is headquartered in Quebec, Canada. Visit their Website or ask your local dealer for a demo. You may even wish to do your own "hands on." As I was, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
Al Pepling practices surveying in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is the New Products Editor for the magazine.
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