Pen Computing Issue #11

July/August 1996

Pen Lab Review

Itronix X-C 6000

Telxon subsidiary introduces a full-function mobile PC for mission-critical applications

Itronix Corporation is a subsidiary of Telxon Corporation and calls itself "The Mobile Workforce Systems Company." When listening to the Itronix people, it's clear that a lot of thought went into the design of their X-C 6000 Cross Country computer. They explain how the unit was designed to withstand one-meter drops (3'-3") under any circumstances. This necessitated that all components be designed with this in mind, and that the product design was built around protecting the hard drive and the LCD, the weakest parts. With that in mind, Itronix chose a very rigid magnesium case, which has the additional advantage that all screw attachments are in solid metal instead of those time-bomb metal/plastic combos, and that it offers good heat dissipation. All corners and edges are covered with a rubbery substance called Santoprene rubber elastomer. This is because impact resiliency is related to G force over a certain time, and the force is greatly reduced by generous quantities of energy-absorbing protection. The hard disk is another crucial element in a rugged design: choose the wrong disk and head slap (when the head slams down onto the media surface) and damaged spindle motor bear-ings can gradually destroy a disk. So Itronix chose the new 1.8" disks in PC Card form factor, which have much lower mass and are therefore more resistant to shock, and mounted it on a suspension frame specially tuned to eliminate troublesome resonant frequencies. Ours had the 260MG base disk. 340 and 420 ruggedized disks are optional.

Another perennially weak spot in clamshell designs is the hinge of the LCD display. Itronix countered the shearing force which can break the screws by setting the hinge inside a well in the housing, and also used a custom designed hinge that can withstand torque twisting and feels tough enough to stop a Terminator. Another advantage of the design is that the screen does not flex back when you operate it with a pen, a common problem in less sturdy clamshell pen computers.

As far as weatherproofing goes, wherever case halves meet, there are gaskets almost like those found on an engine's valve cover or manifold. The 93%-size keyboard is the same as found in Epson's ActionNote series, but it is completely weather-sealed. The keys have adequate travel and feedback. The keyboard is recessed toward the back to provide a palm rest area. This area also contains a cursor knob and two conveniently placed mouse buttons.


Screen design

The X-C 6000's 640x480 VGA LCD screen itself is protected threeways: the magnesium case prevents the display from twisting and breaking, the whole display is encased in an elastomer boot, and a special design keeps the display from sliding upon impact. If you do need to manually adjust the contrast, you do so by pressing a key combination. Itronix worked with Epson on this customized transflective display until it reliably operated at -4F to 140F. The screen has automatic temperature contrast compensation, a must when you work outside. The display measures 8.2". Not very large, but Itronix says this was the perfect compromise between readability and compact design. The touch screen is an option for the X-C 6000. Since it is pressure-sensitive, it can be operated with either a pen or a finger. Resolution is 154 x 204 dots per inch, more than adequate for point-and-clicking, less so for handwriting recognition.



Speaking of compact design, the X-C 6000 is indeed smaller than it looks on the photos. It has a footprint of only 10.5 x 7.5 inches, smaller than most notebooks. It is, however, three inches thick and weighs a comparatively hefty 6.5 pounds.


Good ergonomics

You generally don't expect great ergonomics on a rugged field computer (though Symbol and Telxon have started to prove otherwise), but the X-C 6000 fares quite well in this area. All that rubbery protection makes for a very grippy surface whatever way you hold the unit, and the computer also has an ergonomically formed rubbery handle and a carry shoulder strap.


Power management to the max

Itronix takes power management into a new realm. The X-C 6000 logs all power related activity onto the hard disk, including charging, discharging, cycling, how much energy was put into or taken from the battery, and even the battery's serial number. All of this information is presented in two excellent battery utilities. The smart battery itself has a gas gauge register that indicates remaining capacity. With so much information, your battery sort of becomes your friend and you start worrying if things don't quite look right. Of course, all this information also helps to manage batteries much better. However, despite all of this terrific battery management, I still would rather have a Lithium-Ion power pack.


Windows 95 ready

Our X-C 6000 came with Windows 95 installed, including the 2.0 Pen Services. This was somewhat of a surprise. A touchscreen computer doesn't really need the pen services, and seeing how difficult it is to get the new pen drivers from such notable companies as IBM and Compaq, we didn't expect a full implementation of the 2.0 pen services on the Cross Country PC. Well done, Itronix! I should mention that the unit also supports OS/2 and older versions of MS Windows.

The other interesting thing is how well the unit performed under Windows 95 with relatively modest resources. Win 95 is quite a resource hog, yet the X-C 6000 with "only" a TI 486SXLC2-V50 processor and 8MB of RAM didn't feel sluggish at all.

The unit comes with X-C 6000 Radio software for either RAM or ARDIS. There is also a speaker phone application with eight speed dial buttons, HyperTerminal, that very full-featured battery status panel, and the equally impressive battery maintenance utility. The speakerphone is full duplex and uses the microphone which is built into the top of the unit.


Superb documentation

Another area where the Itronix X-C 6000 shines is in documentation. Both the User's Manual and the Product Information Book are very, very well done. Some manuals are barely worth the paper they're printed on. Every single aspect of the computer is described clearly, logically, and comprehensively. Someone who really understands this computer, and cares for it, and who can write must be responsible for this fine effort.


A good buy!

The bottomline is that the Itronix X-C 6000 Cross Country computer is a machine that is not likely to break, no matter how hard you use it. Its bulldoglike ruggedness means you never have to worry about it. Windows 95 means that you have access to the very latest software. And since Itronix is a subsidiary of Telxon, you have the backing of one of the foremost companies in vertical market computers.

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