Trimble has a long, established reputation in the tech world. When the company announced it would bring out the Nomad, its newest and most versatile rugged handheld computer, a lot of people anxiously anticipated its release. I got my hands on one of the first devices off the block and have been putting it through the ringer for a couple of months. Straight up: This is one well-engineered unit. If your mission requires an ultra-rugged handheld computer capable of withstanding just about any type of outdoor environment, this may well be the device for you.
A Marvell PXA320 806 MHz processor is at the heart of the Nomad, which while using very little power can run just about anything you can put on a handheld. The chip can actually scale down its speed to conserve energy when full computing power isn’t needed. Running Windows Mobile 6.0, the unit comes with a very adequate 128 MB of RAM and either 512 MB or 1 GB of flash memory.
The screen is a full 480x640 VGA (vertically oriented) and is daylight readable. A lot of devices claim to be readable in daylight but then have you looking for shade when you’re trying to use them. Not the Nomad. The screen provides a sharp, legible view even in direct sunlight. The glossy surface is prone to reflections, however.
The Nomad comes with built-in 802.11b/g and Bluetooth. A rubberized boot at the bottom of the unit provides both client and host USB ports, an AC adapter port and a headset connector. There’s room to equip the Nomad with a serial port if you desire. You can also outfit another rubberized boot at the top of the unit with a laser bar-code scanner, full GPS capability and an integrated 2-megapixel digital camera. In other words, you can set this little guy up to meet your specific needs.
The engineers at Trimble spent 14 months in product design, and it really shows. For example, the top boot seals the scanner and camera behind a clear lens. The slot for the SD card is next to the camera with two Phillips-head screws securing the boot. This might seem inconvenient, but the mechanism works smoothly—you simply use the other end of the stylus to turn each of these screws a quarter turn, and presto, the lens comes off, giving you very quick access for card insertion or removal.
You’ll also notice little touches that seem especially designed for those of us who easily lose things. For example, even when loosened, the securing screws remain attached to the unit, and a strong magnet tightly secures the stylus to the back of the unit. Indeed, the magnet is almost too strong, making the stylus difficult to quickly remove if you don’t have fingernails. If you’re wearing gloves, forget it.
The device I used came with a numeric keypad with some extra buttons whose function I couldn’t figure out until I went through the quick-start manual. Even then, some things were a little less than intuitive (such as using the return/enter key to take a picture). You can also get the Nomad with a non-numeric keypad if you don’t have a need for regular number entry, but you’re still going to wonder about some key functions.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a Qwerty keyboard option for the Nomad. Given its size (almost 4” wide by 7” high), it sure looks like this could be a possibility. As it is, you must use the stylus and touchscreen to input text, and this takes a little practice because the keys are miniscule. There’s no way you can enter letters using your fingers; you’ll have to use the stylus. That’s not a design flaw, but I would like to see a thumb-operated keyboard option for those used to entering information in this manner.
As I worked with the Nomad, I realized how helpful the unit could be to anyone who works with an inventory-type situation, whether issuing equipment or keeping track of property and evidence. Because you can submerge the Nomad in water, it could be just what you need if you require computing power inside a drug lab or at a chemical spill. Because the unit is so portable and a fully charged battery can last up to 15 hours, you don’t have to worry about finding an AC outlet.
The Nomad is a powerfully rugged and well designed piece of computer equipment that can perform a variety of jobs in environments that quickly disable most electronics. In fact, the Nomad is so tough that in the hands of law officers it may end up doubling as an improvised impact weapon.
The Trimble Nomad
• Thoughtfully designed;
• Handles well, despite size;
• Bright screen, usable in full sunlight;
• Really tough—meets military specs for drop (multiple 4’ falls), vibration, altitude, humidity and temperature extremes (-22–140 degrees F);
• Long battery life (up to 15 hours);
• Can be configured to meet specific job needs;
• Camera can record short video up to 90 seconds;
• Accepts an SD card for additional memory and storage;
• Bottom communication port boot easily changes out;
• Built-in GPS is great for work in the back country; and
• Outstanding IP67-level dust and water resistance permits washdown after use.
• Too big and heavy for pocket carry;
• Keypad is not intuitive;
• No Qwerty keypad option;
• GPS could be better leveraged (e.g., inserting latitude/longitude into photo metadata);
• Glossy screen sometimes catches reflections; and
• Costs $1,600–$2,300.
Trimble Navigation Limited
935 Stewart Drive
Sunnyvale, CA 94085