TDS Recon 400X review

Price when reviewed

Tripod Data Systems specialises in rugged handheld computers, designed to handle extreme outdoor and industrial environments, with a focus on usage by field engineers and surveyors. The latest Recon series consists of a pair of models that claim to have what it takes to cope with the most inclement conditions.

TDS Recon 400X review

If build quality is anything to go by, the 400X looks and feels incredibly strong. The case is constructed of reassuringly thick plastic, with protective rubber covers top and bottom. The lower section amalgamates a NiMH battery plus USB and serial ports. The assembly mates with a set of protected contacts on the rear of the case and two latches lock it firmly in place. The upper cap also has a secret up its sleeve, as removing it reveals two CompactFlash memory slots that accept Type I and II cards. For around £180, you can also fit a cap that incorporates a camera. There is a price to pay, as the 400X tips the scales at 490g – the Symbol MC70 weighs in at only 336g.

However, unlike the MC70, the 400X looks capable of handling a lot more punishment. The Recon products are tested to military standards, which include repeated drops onto solid surfaces along with vibration, humidity and pressure, plus high and low temperature tests. An IP (ingress protection) rating of 67 means they’re classed as dust tight and protected against the effects of immersion. The only higher rating is IP68, which passes a product for indefinite immersion.

TDS itself claims the Recon can be submerged in water at a depth of one metre for up to 30 minutes. This was too good to pass up, so we filled a bucket to the brim and simply dropped it in. Was the 400X bothered? No chance, as when we pulled it out 15 minutes later it was working perfectly. We also dropped it onto a concrete floor and kicked it around the lab, and it just kept coming back for more. The worst you’re likely to get is scuff marks on the rubber caps, but we can’t see typical users worrying about cosmetics.

The 400X includes 802.11b/g wireless and Bluetooth capabilities and comes with Windows Mobile Premium 5 pre-installed. However, if you want Linux, TDS can help, as it partners with 10East Corps and can supply the Recon with this OS instead. The touchscreen is easy enough to use with the supplied stylus and bright enough to see in full sunshine. A simple keypad is provided, allowing you to access all Windows menu options and functions without a stylus. Using the supplied USB cable, we found Windows XP identified the 400X as a mobile network device. The TDS had no problems working with ActiveSync 4.2, where we could keep our diary, tasks and calendar synchronised between the two devices. TDS recommends switching off the WLAN and Bluetooth functions when not in use, and this can be achieved easily with a couple of stylus stabs.

As with any ruggedised handheld, you do pay a premium for the extra protection. But the Recon products look comparatively good value. The 400X is extremely well built, with a good range of features. Most importantly, it’s tough enough to handle anything you can throw at it.

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