Enabling our field engineers with the right tools for the job is critical to success for any field service organisation. To help you find the right device for your mobile workers, Field Service News is road-testing a number of the leading devices on the market. This time around we turn our attention to the XM5, a rugged handheld computer from Janam…
What the manufacturers say…
The XM5 mobile computer redefines productivity and is built to withstand the rigours of heavy duty use in the field.
It combines the latest technological advancements in mobile devices with a sleek and rugged design to provide the power and flexibility that enterprise and government customers demand.
Equipped with 4G-ready WWAN and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi communications, the XM5 ensures mobile workers will be able to access voice and data anytime, anywhere. Additional features include the choice between a 1D/2D imager or 1D laser scanner, as well as integrated RFID and NFC reading capabilities, front and rear facing cameras, Bluetooth and smart battery power management.
The XM5 mobile computer survives repeated 5ft drops to concrete across a wide operating temperature range, is sealed to IP65 standards and is UL-certified to provide ultimate reliability in extreme and hazardous locations.
In a world where consumer smartphones and tablets are being used more and more frequently by field service companies, the form factor of a traditional handheld computer such as the Janam XM5 can’t help but look ever so slightly dated.
This is not so much a slight on the XM5 but more so on the Handheld form factor itself. However, it’s important to remember that being industrial devices, rugged handhelds are built for functionality not fashion. For example, whilst most smart phones offer barcode scanning ability, the functionality is cumbersome compared to a fit-for-purpose device such as the XM5.
Indeed, the XM5 itself is a sleek and lightweight example of the form factor, whilst remaining undeniably a rugged device capable of withstanding its fair share of bumps and knocks. The XM5 comes with a rear strap that makes holding the device comfortable and it’s 3.5 inch brilliant VGA TFT display was bright and easily read in daylight.
“You get the feeling that the XM5 is all about reliability and even when first getting to grips with the device, you get a sense that this is a device that won’t let you down…”
However, thanks to the aforementioned rear strap such a difference is negligible. The device itself has a profile on par for the form factor with its 2.5cm depth being similar to that of Zebra’s MC45 and Handheld’s Nautiz X4 but the challenge again for any handheld computer is comparison with smartphones such as the Caterpillar CAT S30 which with a depth of 1.3cm has a profile almost half that of the XM5.
The build quality on first impressions seems high and the hard rubber casing features grooves that provide a comfortable grip on the device. Button placement is also sensible with access to the scanning function available in three separate places again conveniently placed to make the device easy to handle. The XM5 comes in two options for the keyboard, either numerical or full Qwerty. The unit we had for review featured the Qwerty layout and, whilst by definition the keyboard is of course incredibly small and a challenge for those of us blessed with stubby fingers, again the build quality is good and the keyboard has just the right amount of responsiveness delivering a satisfying click when buttons are pressed.
Whilst it’s never going to deliver the ‘wow’ factor for an field service engineer that a consumer device or even some rugged smart phones or tablets might do, you get the feeling that the XM5 is all about reliability and even when first getting to grips with the device, you get a sense that this is a device that won’t let you down when you need it the most.
The one area where it does fall down though is the telescopic stylus that just feels that bit more fragile and flimsy compared to the XM5 itself.
In terms of processing power, the XM5 has a 512mb RAM with a 1GB of ROM and uses an ARM Cortex-A8 1GHz processor which again puts it on a par with similar devices such as the Nautiz X4 and more powerful than Zebra’s MC45 which has just a 256mb RAM with a 600Hz processor.
Such processing power should be sufficient to run most basic field service productivity apps that handle activities such as job completion and parts and inventory management whilst some of the more vertical specific CPU intensive applications would potentially struggle. However, in fairness, utilising such apps is not what devices such as the XM5 are designed for and in terms of its form factor it delivers as much of a punch under the bonnet as many other similar devices.
One of the big factors in the XM5’s favour is that it comes both in a Windows and Android flavour with both operating systems being able to run on the same hardware. In terms of Windows, the XM5 runs Microsoft Windows Embedded Handheld 6.5. This is starting to feel a tad cumbersome and dated compared to some more of the modern handheld OS, although Windows 8.1 is seen in many quarters as a not being a viable option for Handheld devices and Windows 10 development in this market is still in its infancy.
One of the big factors in the XM5’s favour is that it comes both in a Windows and Android flavour with both operating systems being able to run on the same hardware.
On the Android version the device runs Jelly Bean 4.2. Again, this does feel that little bit dated compared to the more recent Android OS, with many devices (both rugged and consumer) running the latest OS of Lollipop 5.1
With most field service management vendors now including apps for Android (as well as IoS) these days the Android Play Store application makes getting the right applications on a device an easy task.
The Ins & Outs
When we look at the device ports, while somewhat limited by the available space the XM5 again comes with the usual suspects in terms of I/O for a handheld computer.
With a 3.5mm headphone jack with a unique locking mechanism (which can be essential for making voice calls in an outdoor environment), a mini USB slot for syncing and charging, and user accessible microSD card slot with SD and SDHC support, the fundamental basics are all there.
The XM5 also comes with a choice of 1D/2D imager or 1D laser scanner, which are accessed by one of three buttons which should allow for the quick and efficient scanning of parts in and out of a field service engineer’s van.
In what is one of the key considerations for selecting a device suitable for a mobile workforce, namely delivering good connectivity options, then the XM5 certainly doesn’t let us down.
The device comes with strong mobile internet connectivity being both 3G and 4G capable as well as good Wi-Fi connections with 802.11a/b/g/n availability.
Alongside this the XM5 also comes with Bluetooth 2.1, Ublox GPS and assisted GPS and features embedded RFID and NFC – again both useful for parts monitoring within the field service space.
Security is also well covered with the XM5 meeting enterprise level EAP standards alongside WPA,WPA2 and WEP encryption.
This is where the XM5 really shines. It certainly a tough little cookie for sure.
Officially the device is protected from low pressure water jets from any direction, meaning it will survive outdoors in the rain as well as being washed down and for clean room environments it can withstand 85% concentration alcohol rub.
The IP65 rating also means it can take a decent bit of drenching. Officially the device is protected from low pressure water jets from any direction, meaning it will survive outdoors in the rain as well as being washed down and for clean room environments it can withstand 85% concentration alcohol rub.
The XM5 is also tested to survive 5ft drops onto concrete. Indeed, having put this to the test ourselves, the XM5 survived numerous drops without even picking up scratch and given the stability in hand offered by the rear strap, it would certainly survive the rigours of all but the most demanding field service environments.
Finally, with an operating temperature ranging from -20°C through to 60°C again the XM5 should be suited to almost all field service operating environments.
With this combination of ruggedised features, the XM5 sits comfortably within its sector as one of the most robust devices available.
In terms of daily usage, the XM5 should be capable of lasting a full shift for most field service engineers as it ships with a 4000mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery, which the manufacturers claim will provide ‘extended battery life as a standard feature, not an optional one.’
In addition to this the XM5 boasts smart battery power management to eke out the very most from the battery.
As mentioned in the introduction, in an age where smart phones have gained massive traction within certain corners of the field service industry, any handheld is going to struggle to win the hearts of field service engineers when it just comes down to sleek modern looks.
One thing is certain though and that is that the XM5 can certainly handle itself in the great outdoors…
However, fortunately for Janam and other handheld computer manufacturers, there is far more to selecting a device than just the ‘wow’ factor and shiny good looks.
But in fact, this is perhaps being a little unfair on the XM5 – it is a decent looking example of the form factor, with a relatively small footprint, decent sized screen and is comfortable and light in hand.
From a processing point of view, again the XM5 can sit proudly amongst its peers and whilst it will fall flat for those engineers who are dependent on CPU hungry applications, equally it should be capable of meeting the demands of most field service applications.
One thing is certain though and that is that the XM5 can certainly handle itself in the great outdoors and when we look at its impressive rugged specs, its strong array of connectivity tools and its more-than-decent battery life, then you can see that the device is going to be unlikely to fail in the field.
A few minor gripes would be the flimsy feel of the telescopic stylus which could potentially be easily lost or broken and the touch-screen wasn’t the most responsive, resulting in a few applications being opened multiple times.
Also the fact that the device can run both Android and Windows on the same hardware could be a major selling point for those companies looking to switch from one platform to the other (generally Windows to Android).
Very much a device clearly designed for industry, the XM5 lives up to the Janam claim that they make business tools not toys.
Overall the XM5 is a good, solid option for companies looking to select a handheld computer over a rugged tablet or smart phone and the ease of scanning functionality, alongside the embedded RFID and NFC, would make this a great device for any field service engineer whose role involves swapping and replacing a lot of parts.