Sometimes smart is not smart enough: Why Handhelds are superior to Smartphones


Companies today increasingly need to incorporate new technologies into their business processes and supply chains. Only then can they assert their position and are thus able to grow. 

In this regard, mobile technologies are the leading factors why companies, for example, in retail and logistics, need to keep abreast of this. Especially in any industrial environment, the question arises: what is better – consumer smartphone or classic data collection device? DENSO, part of the Toyota group and inventor of the QR Code, launched the first CCD scanner more than 30 years ago and has always evolved with new innovative technologies. “To be sure, consumer smartphones are increasingly being used in industries such as retail and logistics, and they are certainly creating numerous advantages. However, they cannot serve as replacements for handheld terminals because they cannot compete with them in functionality”, says Sina Haupt, Marketing Assistant at the DENSO Auto-ID Business Unit. 

From the beginnings till now

“When mobile phones first entered our lives, they were basically used only for communication between people, which was to phone someone or to send messages”, Haupt remembers. The evolution of smartphone technology has been enormous. In the supply chain sector, earlier mobile devices were not used until the late 1990s. Multitasking devices were not introduced to the market until the mid-2000s. They were still very different from the models of consumer smartphones, which have been used more and more in recent years in retail and logistics, but also in warehouse and goods management. That was because they had very limited functions, such as small keyboards and a low resolution of the screen. Even though there have been enormous technological improvements and developments in the area of consumer smartphones in recent years, one thing still applies: They may be seen as competition for mobile data acquisition devices, however, handheld terminals for mobile data collection are far superior when making a direct comparison. Why?

Smart, but short-lived

“In direct comparison to the consumer smartphone, handhelds can clearly score”, says Haupt. “For example, how often can a smartphone fall on hard asphalt from more than a meter in height without being damaged?” she asks and laughs. “I would rather not demonstrate that now.” That is quite different from the tests that the handheld terminals, for instance, with Android, have to pass at DENSO, part of the Toyota group and inventor of the QR Code. Before a handheld terminal or scanner can be launched, several hurdles have to be passed before it can meet the high demands of customers in retail and logistics, transport, production, field & sales force automation or in the health sector. The latest BHT-1700 handheld terminal and BHT-1800 handheld terminal are just two examples of the advantages that can prevail when comparing them to the consumer smartphone.

Suddenly broken – the Service counts

Although data collection devices are more expensive to purchase than smartphones, they also last much longer. DENSO, part of the Toyota group and inventor of the QR Code, scores with another aspect: Many of the customers from, for example, retail and logistics have been working with the innovative devices for more than 20 years. “As a reason, they repeatedly emphasized  our service and warranty”, says Haupt. In fact, the mobile data collection experts have more than 190 offices worldwide, including 35 in Europe. Thus, they provide one of the best customer service networks in the world.

“We have also experienced that customers have opted for smartphones instead of our handhelds. However, they regretted this after a short time and returned to our proven products for mobile data collection”, says Haupt. Due to many years of experience and direct exchange with customers who use handhelds and scanners in areas such as retail, warehousing, logistics, POS, production, and field & sales force automation, the experts from DENSO, part of the Toyota group and inventor of the QR Code, have reached a high level of shared knowledge.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Smartphone

Of course, smartphones can prove useful in everyday working life in some areas: They are easy to use and also the costs are comparatively low. But in addition to the lack of robustness, consumer smartphones have more disadvantages than handhelds. The battery power is usually much lower, and the battery life is much shorter compared to handheld terminals because they are not designed to work long hours in, for example, retail, logistics, or warehouses. Furthermore, working with a smartphone is not as problem-free as with a handheld: If employees in the warehouse wear gloves, for instance, they cannot easily operate the consumer smartphone. As such, a touch screen can be operated only with special gloves or clean fingers. Another negative factor is the display of a smartphone: In direct sunlight, it will often be very difficult to read anything on the screen. Hence, working comfortably is not possible.

This is why Handhelds are smarter

This contrasts with mobile data collection devices that have been especially developed for the requirements of the industry, for example in warehousing, logistics, and retail. “Although handheld terminals are more expensive to buy than smartphones, they are also the more sustainable option – both economically and ecologically. They can last for years,” says Haupt. The handhelds from DENSO are particularly robust. Especially the popular BHT series of the experts for mobile data collection include handhelds that are particularly easy to operate – even with gloves or wet fingers. In addition, they offer numerous benefits for users. Furthermore, DENSO, part of the Toyota group and inventor of the QR Code, provides unique quality.

The company has the best DOA quota in the industry, and the high-quality handheld terminals and scanners for mobile data collection can each manage up to one million scans in the product lifecycle. “We are indeed so confident in our data collection devices that we can guarantee up to five years of hardware warranty. In addition, we give up to five years delivery and repair warranty even after product discontinuation. This is already a special feature in the industry – and does not exist for smartphones in this form,” says Haupt. Conclusion: Of course, smartphones are useful companions in everyday life, and they also offer advantages in the industry. However, these are very limited compared to handheld terminals. For long-term planning, companies should always reach for the handheld terminal – it pays off. 

For the European market, the DENSO Auto-ID Business Unit is the contact point for all enquiries on QR Codes, mobile data capture, handheld terminals, and scanners. The durable and robust terminals and scanners manufactured by DENSO are to be found in storage, logistics, at the POS, in production, and field & sales automation applications. Short and informative video clips about the terminals, scanners, and solutions from the DENSO Auto-ID Business Unit can now be viewed on YouTube. The clips include the 20th anniversary of the QR Code, a company presentation, and introductions to the various devices for mobile data capture such as the BHT-1500, BHT-1400 and the GT20 scanner. 

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