Pen Computing Issue #5

June/July 1995

Pen Lab Review

Inforite Phoenix

Rugged industrial handheld

Though Inforite Corporation is not a household name in the consumer electronics or PC market, the company has sold more pen systems than almost anyone. UPS alone bought over 60,000 Inforite portable data collection terminals for its nationwide package delivery business. Inforite also makes the MP100 pen tablets for signature capture and forms. With the brand new Phoenix handheld computer, the company is now going after the lucrative market for industrial pen systems, a market which is currently dominated by companies like Telxon, Norand, and Symbol, i.e. Inforite had its work cut out for itself.
After an exhaustive series of interviews with prospective clients, product manager Dwight Hunter came up with what looks like a very intelligent and compelling design. The Phoenix measures only 9.9x5.5x1.75 inches and weighs a mere 2.36 pounds, which means it's handy enough to be carried around with ease. It has a razor sharp, 6-inch diagnonal (3.5' by 5'), 64 gray scale, 640x480 pixel VGA LCD screen with a pressure-sensitive digitizer. Hunter chose a paper white screen for easy reading. The unit is rugged and designed to survive a six foot drop onto concrete and submersion in water. The choice of a processor was driven by the requirements of Inforite's target markets (wholesale, field service, parcel delivery, and less-than-truckload), where overall cost per installed seat and good battery life are of primary concern. Inforite decided on a low poer consumption Am386SXLV CPU running at 25 Mhz. This choice enables the Phoenix to run a minimum of eight hours on its rechargeable NiMH battery pack. According to Hunter, a 486 version is possible. The Phoenix comes with 2 MB of low power, slow refresh system DRAM (expandable to 16MB) and an internal 4MB flash EPROM solid state disk. 8 and 16MB configurationas are optional. The base unit does not include a hard disk, but has both a Type II and a Type III PCMCIA slot, providing excellent expandability.
The Phoenix also contains a "point & shoot" internal Symbol SE 1000 laser bar code scanner and decoder, and it has a full complement of ports, including serial (16550 UARTcompatible), parallel, keyboard, and an IrDA compliant inrared link. For vehicle operations, there is a communications/recharging cradle.
While the Inforite Phoenix runs Microsoft Windows and supports PenDOS, PenRight!, C, and other high level languages and databases, many customers may choose Inforite's own Rapid Application Development (RAD) tools, which sit on top of Pen Pal Associates' Power Pen Pal development environment. Four shrinkwrapped applications specifically developed for Inforite's target industries are also available.
Enticingly, Hunter says that Inforite has done quite a bit of research in voice recognition and that the Phoenix already contains a "hook" for a PCMCIA-based voice recognition option which should become available shortly. This will not be a dictation system, but rather a spoken command recognizer geared towards further enhancing real life productivity in vertical applications.
The Inforite Phoenix will become available in late June 1995 at a projected price of $1,900. We predict it will be a very strong contender in the rugged industrial computer market.