Tripod Data Systems Nomad 800L review
It's heavy and expensive, but when the going gets tough the TDS Nomad can handle just about any environment, making it ideal for wide ranges of field work.
The moment you pick up TDS's latest Nomad handheld computer you know it will happily go where normal PDAs fear to tread. Designed for work in the field where harsh environments are par for the course, the new Nomad has been tested to US military standard MIL-STD-810F.
This means it can handle just about anything you can throw at it - or throw it at for that matter. An ingress protection rating of IP67 also means it's classed as dust tight and fully protected against the effects of immersion in water from 15cm to 1m deep for up to half an hour.
The main case is constructed from extremely solid plastic and the compact lithium-ion battery pack fits neatly in the back behind a removable sealed cover. Heavy duty rubber caps are fitted at each end and removing the top one reveals CF and SD card slots underneath that are used to augment the unit's standard memory. The lower end cap, or 'boot', has both USB host and client ports, and this can also be replaced with one that has a standard serial port.
The Nomad handled all our tests with aplomb, with it working fine after a 30-minute dunking in a bucket of freezing, scummy garden water. We washed it off under a hot tap and left it to dry on top of a radiator for an hour, after which it went into a domestic freezer for a couple of hours. At no time did the Nomad stop working and repeated drops onto concrete from five feet merely left a few scuff marks on the rubber caps.
There is a price to pay for this ruggedness as the Nomad weighs nearly 600g, making it one of the heaviest computers of its type. Nevertheless, it fits comfortably in the palm and we found the touchscreen and accompanying stylus easy to use. The backlit colour TFT screen has been uprated from previous models to a 640 x 480 resolution and is bright enough to see in full sunlight.
Note that if the unthinkable happens and you do break the Nomad you may have to do without it for a few days. The main European distributors, HandHeldEurope, advised us that at present it has no UK service centres so faulty units will need to be returned to Sweden for repair.
The review unit came with 802.11bg wireless and Bluetooth and we had no problems linking up with a range of wireless access points over WPA encrypted links. It also has a GPS receiver which ties in with the optional BackCountry Navigator software to provide satellite location tracking.
As standard you get Windows Mobile 6 preloaded, complete with Windows Office Mobile. Using the supplied USB cable Windows XP SP2 identified the Nomad as a mobile network device and had no problems working with the bundled ActiveSync 4.5, where we could keep our diary, tasks and calendar synchronised.
The Nomad is without doubt one of the roughest, toughest handhelds, making it a top choice for working in a wide range of extreme environments. It comes with a good software bundle and has plenty of options (including a colour camera), but the industrial strength protection comes at a high price.