While we still mourn Casio's departure from the consumer PDA arena that it once ruled with such gems as the E100 and EM500 series of multimedia Pocket PCs, the company continues to play a significant role in industrial handhelds. Last year, Casio's DT-X10 won the Pen Computing Editor's Choice award for best "flashlight-style" handheld because of its excellent use of high-tech components in a simple, functional, no-nonsense design. The DT-X10 joined an already impressive lineup of industrial handhelds that ranges from slightly ruggedized Pocket PCs like the EG-800 to business-class handhelds like the IT-700 and industrial-class terminals such as the older DT-2000. Those machines represent different schools of thought and design, and they also stem from different eras as is usually the case in vertical markets where product longevity is a virtue and relatively low volume sales not necessarily a death knell (all of the above are still available). That lineup has now been expanded by a new industrial handheld, the IT-3000 Industrial Data Terminal.
Right off the bat it's obvious that the IT-3000 is a somewhat more specialized machine than for example the EG-800 series which is basically a durable Pocket PC platform. The IT-3000 not only features a more industrial design, but it also has a built-in high-speed thermal printer. Not one that simply snaps onto the head of the device, but one that was designed as an integral part of this new machine. The IT-3000 is a printer terminal. However, unlike some of the basic printer terminals of the past, this one has smarts. It is based on Windows CE.NET 4.1. Microsoft's mobile OS platform pretty much owns the vertical market and, given Microsoft's dominance in corporate backend systems, that comes as no surprise.
Those familiar with Casio's formidable IT-70/700 series of industrial Pocket PCs will feel pretty much at home with the IT-3000. Like that machine, the IT-3000 is built around tried-and-true Pocket PC components. There is the by now ubiquitous 400 MHz Intel XScale PXA255 application processor, a 3.5 inch transflective color TFT with Pocket PC standard 240 x 320 pixel resolution, 64MB of RAM, 96MB of Flash of which 30 MB is available to users, and some of the familiar Windows CE/CE.NET applications. However, the IT-3000 is not a Pocket PC. It is a CE.NET device, which means it has some of the same control panels and applications, but not the overall Pocket PC look and feel. The CE.NET interface is meant to be a flexible starting point for vertical market devices, one that allows customers and developers to configure machines for their particular jobs and applications.
And although the IT-3000 has some Pocket PC components, it is a significantly larger device. This is not one of those little iPAQs that can share your average pocket with a bunch of other stuff. This is a machine that is 10.5 inches long, 4.5 inches wide, and over 2.5 inches thick at its deepest point (the printer head). It also weighs 1.65 pounds with a fresh roll of paper. That is not a lot for an industrial terminal, but you'll definitely know it's there.
The IT-3000 is built to take a beating. Not a major one, but it can withstand the abuse it might encounter while it is used for issuing tickets ("line busting"), printing out readings from gas or electric meters, or the selling of duty-free goods on an airplane. It's made of tough gray-blue plastic material that definitely does not feel flimsy. Casio claims a rather impressive IP54 rating. The IT-3000 can survive four-foot drops, and will operate in temperatures between -20 and 50 degrees Celsius. That is more than we would expect from a printer terminal.
For data input, there is a backlit numeric keypad with some extra functions. You can also use a configurable on-screen floating QWERTY keyboard or Transcriber.
On the connectivity side, the IT-3000 comes with integrated Bluetooth and IR, but not with an 802.11b wireless LAN radio. It may be available through its PC Card slot. The IT-3000 also has a serial port and a SD Card slot.
The sealed thermal line dot printer can use either 80 or 58 mm paper rolls. Replacing paper is simple. Just release the seal, pop the housing open, and drop in a new roll. You can also use pre-cut paper or labels for special applications.
There are actually three versions of the IT-3000, the M53E, the M54E, and the M55U. The M53E is the base model that includes just the printer. The M54E adds a magnetic card reader (ISO Track 1/2 standard) and the M55U has both the card reader and a C-MOS imager for reading bar codes, 2-dimensional codes as well as images.
The IT-3000's battery is a hefty 7.4V, 2200mAH rechargeable and removable Li-Ion pack that Casio says is good for over 12 hours of operation, depending on the type of use (and depending how often you use the printer).
The IT-3000 is not cheap, but vertical market industrial devices rarely are. Pricing ranges from US$1,999 to US$2,799.
A review of the Casio IT-3000 would not be complete without mentioning its handy docking station. It is, of course, not your compact standard Pocket PC cradle, but an industrial device of its own, featuring a full serial port, USB, and C-IN/C-OUT. The dock also acts as a charging station for the IT-3000.
What it all amounts to is that the IT-3000 combines features that used to require several separate mechanisms in the past. There's the high-speed printer that prints up to 28 lines per second. There are full communications capabilities. And there is a powerful computer with an indoor/outdoor usable color display. And it all comes in a package that is quite handy. Best of all, it comes from Casio, a huge electronics company with massive experience in the design and manufacturing of handheld devices. -- www.casio.com