• Barcoding
  • Hardware

Mobile Devices vs Dedicated Barcode Handhelds: Which is Better?

Written by Tim Ingles
April 16, 2020


  • When choosing a mobile barcoding solution, you’ll also need to consider the type of device you’ll use for barcoding scanning: consumer-grade mobile devices or dedicated barcode handhelds.
  • Consumer-grade devices support BYOD, lowering entry costs. Purpose-built, ruggedized devices have higher entry costs but lower TCO.
  • Type of environment, age of workforce and functionality requirements should also be considered.

Choosing the right device for your operation will help increase employee productivity and efficiency.

Choosing the right device for your operation will help increase employee productivity and efficiency.

You’ve decided to implement an automated data collection solution with mobile barcoding throughout your manufacturing and warehouse operations. Now you’ll need to decide the type of barcode scanner to use to capture the barcode’s data and transmit it to your ERP. The question you face: mobile devices vs dedicated barcode handhelds.

First, you’ll have to decide if employees will be using individual mobile devices or if you will purchase dedicated barcode handheld devices, known as enterprise-grade devices. From there, you can dig deeper into specific requirements, such as OS, brands, device type, and more.

Factors to consider first include:

  • Total cost of ownership (TCO)
  • Type of operational environment
  • Age of workforce
  • Functionality such as volume, scan range, and speed per scan

Also Read: Hardware 101: A Definitive Crash Course in Enterprise Mobility »

Total Cost of Ownership

First, let’s compare the total cost of ownership (TCO) of consumer-grade devices versus enterprise-grade devices.

Consumer-grade devices have an initial lower cost of entry, especially if you let employees bring and use their own device (BYOD). Enterprise-grade devices can cost three times as much upfront.

However, enterprise-grade devices typically include “ruggedized” features that make them more durable. This enhances resistance to dropping, dust, water and extreme temperatures, helping offset the initial entry costs. The initial purchase of an enterprise-grade device may also include a service plan that allows for replacements, in the event of damage, or routine upgrades when new hardware versions are released.

Consumer-grade devices also have a shorter length of service, approximately three years or less, and are less reliable, which can lead to unintended downtime or productivity losses. They are also prone to break down under the harsh conditions of warehouse and production facilities.

So, despite the initial lower cost of entry with consumer-grade devices, their estimated TCO is 41.6% higher over their lifetime than a rugged enterprise-grade device.

Type of Operational Environment

Diverse operational environments carry different requirements for mobile devices.

Diverse operational environments carry different requirements for mobile devices.

The type of device you choose should also fit the environment where it will be used.

Picture a mining extraction, yard warehouse or oil rig. The environment tends to be dirty and rough – consumer-grade devices won’t be very effective or last very long.

Now picture a health care facility. Consumer-grade devices will last longer in a sterile, orderly environment, making enterprise-grade devices a closer consideration.

Many industries, such as oil and gas, government, and energy, necessitate field services. The devices used may need to support off-network functionality and be more resistant to rough handling, dropping and outside elements. Enterprise-grade devices are more suited to these requirements.

Age of Workforce

You should also consider your current workforce’s age and ease of use with current technology.

Younger workforces may include more digital natives. They will be more comfortable with technology that uses similar intuitive UI/UX and gesturing (such as swiping or finger controls) as their smartphones or tablets. Older workforces may need devices that support larger screens and physical keyboards. They may not care as much about the interface, handling, or design.

Barcode Scanning Functions

Scan speed, range and volume can all impact which mobile device you choose.W

Scan speed, range and volume can all impact which mobile device you choose.

Other functionality considerations include scan volume, scan range, and speed per scan.

If you have a lower inventory volume, starting with a consumer-grade device may make more sense. Then you can reevaluate as your volume increases. However, if you already process significant volume, enterprise-grade devices are better suited to manage larger workloads. Enterprise-grade devices offer longer scan ranges up to 75 feet and faster speeds per scan, making them necessary for high-volume environments.

Some industries, like food and beverage, may need to complete inventory counts in extremely cold or hot environments. This was the case with top ice cream manufacturer Blue Bell Creameries, who was having issues with connection drops in freezer cabinets.

This necessitated the use of freezer-rated devices, coupled with high availability architecture, since consumer-grade mobile devices would not function properly under these temperature fluctuations.

Consumer-Grade or Dedicated Barcoding Devices?

Choosing to implement a mobile barcoding solution can enhance operations with increased accuracy, efficiency, productivity, and throughput.

However, these gains can only be fully realized if the barcode scanning device, consumer-grade or enterprise-grade, is matched to its use on the warehouse or shop floor.

To review, when making the decision, consider:

  • TCO, over the lifetime of a device – not just sticker cost
  • Realities of the operational environment, including field services
  • Age of workforce and comfort with technology
  • Functionality requirements such as volume, range, speed, and temperature resistance

The right barcode devices will ensure your workforce is best equipped to handle its operational demands.