Getac PS535F GP PDA

Getac don't like to do things by halves, producing a range of devices for those who work in tough environments. The PS535F is a rugged PDA aimed at those who need a handheld device that can withstand the worst the environment can throw at it.

Unlike the majority of Windows Mobile devices in the consumer electronics category, this isn't a connected device - it lacks any sort of mobile phone technology as was the case with PDAs a few years back. This marks it out as a working tool and perhaps sets it apart from something like the iMate.

The PS535F PDA comes in that typical grey and black livery that Getac have applied the other devices and it is pretty large, measuring 144.25 x 82.25 x 29.3mm. It also weighs 300g, so is it not light by PDA standards. Much of that will be down to the level of protection incorporated here.

The device is solid - you can't twist or bend anything here, it doesn't creak when you grip it or anything else. That's to be expected because it is engineered to meet MIL-STD 810F and IP54 standards. IP54 means it is tight against dust ingress and splashing water, while 810F outlines a range of laboratory-tested environmental stresses, which the device is certified to withstand.

The front features a 3.5-inch 480 x 640 (VGA) touchscreen display, which Getac boast can be seen in direct sunlight thanks to its anti-glare coating. In this device, where function rules over form, it is true. The anti-glare is good enough that we were able to photograph the screen directly, even in bright light, which is very rare indeed. It is LED backlit too, which helps get the most from the battery.

Across the bottom of the front are four buttons, giving you the normal Windows Mobile Start button, contacts, TacLink launcher and power. Of course you can reassign three of these buttons to launch different programs to suit what you are doing. In the centre of these buttons is a small clickable four-way controller, which means you can scroll around manually without having to use touch too much, but not entirely.

As this runs a standard version of Windows Mobile 6.1, you'll need to use the stylus for fiddly tasks like using the on-screen keyboard or closing down windows. The stylus slots neatly into the back right-hand corner and is nice and tight, so it won't fall out.

The buttons are a little too small to use wearing gloves, although if you can grip the stylus, then this shouldn't be too much of a challenge to use in the cold, but we can see that those wearing gloves will probably choose a larger stylus attached by a lanyard or some such.

The bottom of the device features a large flap, well sealed to prevent water or dust ingress, beneath which lies the connections: a DC power point and Mini-USB for syncing with your PC. There is also a hard power switch, meaning you can shut the PDA off completely and not run the risk of flattening the batteries whilst in transit.

The left-hand side features two further weatherproofed flaps, concealing a 3.5mm headphone jack and the SD card slot (up to 8GB accepted). The latter flap is also secured with a screw, so this isn't something you'll be swapping out in the field. It does mean that it won't accidentally drop out or get lost - vital if you are using it to gather data.

Around the back of the PDA is a small speaker and a 3-megapixel camera, as well as an attachment point for an external GPS antenna (available separately) that you might want to consider if you plan to vehicle mount PS535F.

The camera is average for this type of device - it won't replace a decent digital camera, but will grab snaps should you need them. Sadly there doesn't seem to be an option to geotag images straight out of the box. It will also capture video with sound.

In-use the PDA performs pretty much as any other Windows Mobile device, which is exactly what you want. This means you'll be able to use normal Windows Mobile applications and compatibility with your PC back at the office is ensured.

To support the hardware onboard, however, you do get a couple of special applications. The first is TacLink that gives you a detailed display of GPS information, including satellite locations and levels, as well as your exact location information. You can also log this information, so you'll be able to record and extract this data for later use. It isn't a GPS navigator however, so you'd benefit from installing a third-party mapping application if that is a requirement.

The second application is E-Compass, which as the name suggests is an electronic compass. Each time you use it you'll have to calibrate it by waving it around in a figure of eight, but after that you'll get the option of having the needle point north, or the dial point north. You get a digital readout of the bearing the device is lying on, as well as altitude (which can be gathered from GPS data), barometric data and pitch and roll.

These features won't really appeal for those wanting a navigation device as you can get smaller GPS units that will give you routing and mapping information of this type, or a sighting compass is no weight in the pocket and doesn't rely on batteries. The pitch and roll is useful, because you can use this for levelling, however, and the barometric pressure could also be logged. All the details supplied might feed into the pot of information you have to collect at a particular location.

Sitting at the core of the PS535F is a Samsung 2450 533MHz processor, backed by 128MB of RAM and 2GB NAND flash memory for storage. Navigation of Windows Mobile is relatively smooth, although this is the characteristic pause whilst the OS thinks about what you have asked it to do. As this isn't a consumer device, that probably won't be much of a problem.

In terms of connectivity you do get Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0, so you'll be able to connect to networks wirelessly to move data in and out and take advantage of all the connected features that you can add to Windows Mobile if that takes your fancy. Unlike many consumer devices, there is no modification to Windows Mobile here - you don't get a flashy interface or any shortcuts - it is as Microsoft intended.

Verdict

Obviously we couldn't resist the temptation to abuse the PS535F, none of which seemed to have any impact on it. Dropping, chilling or soaking makes no bones with this PDA. It's not bulletproof, but it will let you do your job in hostile conditions and doesn't mind being bashed around too much. You also get 8 hours from the battery, which is a fair whack for a device of this size, but it will depend on what you are asking it to do, of course.

The price, as with all things Getac, sets this well aside from your average consumer devices. At £918.85 (£799 ex VAT) this is a serious PDA for those looking to work in places that many PDAs won't.

With Windows Mobile, at least, you'll pretty much know how and what you can put on here to get the job done: as it is, we're sure that prospective customers will be looking to customise the device with their own software applications to support their particular sphere of interest.