Mobile computing hardware, software

Given the increasing array of daily computer-aided tasks that service contractors can perform in the field, on sales calls, while working at jobsites and traveling to and fro, a lightweight full-featured tablet that is easy to carry and use throughout the day can be a smart investment.

For example, the semi-rugged Motion F5v Tablet PC by Motion Computing Inc., www.motioncomputing.com, with dual-input capabilities, touch and pen, built-in handwriting recognition, and a generous complement of workflow-enhancing productivity capabilities, features a sealed, field ready design with an extremely damage-resistant surface, a sturdy magnesium-alloy internal frame and Elstomer overmolding, an LED backlit display for optimal outdoor viewing, and avirtually unbreakable Gorilla Glass screen. The tablethas survived stringent IP54 testing for moisture and dust and MIL-STD-810G drop testing.

The Motion F5v Tablet PC, which uses Intel Core vPro technology and runs Microsoft Windows 7 Professional,comes with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity and optional mobile broadband with Gobiconnectivity (WWAN) for greater Internet access in the field. Weighing 3.3 lbs (heavier than the latest iPad, but quite lighter and much smaller than a conventional laptop), the Motion F5v Tablet PC has a hot-swap battery feature which enables replacement of the battery without turning off the unit or interrupting work.

The Motion tablet offers two methods for gathering, accessing, or transmitting data, at the point of service or anywhere on the go: capacitive natural two-finger touch navigation and high-resolution digitizer pen convenient for capturing signatures, filling in forms, and other smaller target input that requires that type of higher accuracy. Pen input is also handy for drawing sketches and diagrams of field conditions for documentation or as an explanatory aid.

The handwriting recognition software worked right out of the box, converting script and printing into text with admirable accuracy. Corrections of the few errors were easily handled via the straightforward onscreen editing tools.

Abundant productivity enhancing features include a microphone for talking in notes from the field, a barcode scanner for maintaining inventory, an RFID reader, a rear facing camera for documentation and a front-facing camera for remote consulting. A fingerprint scanner provides security and limits access only to approved users. The integrated handle provides easy portability.  

Optional accessories include various docking and mounting solutions, EasyConnect that adds USB 2.0 and 10/100 Ethernet ports for additional connectivity, a Magnetic Strip Reader for secure credit card transactions, and a rugged vehicle charge.

Business Apps

Motion Tablet PCs and other tablets running Windows are compatible with a wide range of third party critical and productivity business applications, including punch list applications, markup applications, Microsoft OneNote note-taking and management program and Bluebeam Revu.

Bluebeam Revu, www.bluebeam.com,enables users to create, edit and markup PDFs on a tablet PC. The software's pre-loaded tablet profile includes features for transitioning from a desktop-based workflow to a mobile one by optimizing screen real estate and providing quick access to markup tools and editing capabilities. When using Revu, the user's digital pen simulates the characteristics of writing with pen on paper and has pressure-sensitive ink. The harder the user presses on the screen the thicker the ink line, while a lighter touch creates a thinner line.

If inking notes in a markup, you can turn on auto recognize text and Revu recognizes what is being written and places the associated text in the comments section of that mark-up. Those notes immediately become searchable when the search terms are inputted, also by pen.    

You can utilize Bluebeam to open, view and comment on existing PDFs stored on the tablet using the File Access tab or in the cloud using Revu's collaboration feature, Bluebeam Studio. Using the Studio projects feature, users can store PDFs and other file types in the cloud for free and invite others to access the files as well.

The software can convert handwriting to text for text markups. You can view a PDF in full screen mode with a customizable floating toolbar, to gain visual access to more of the screen and can preview and organize PDFs both locally on the tablet or on the network. You can also color highlight individual words or phrases.  

To create new PDFs on the tablet, you can start with a blank screen, a lined or a grid background, or a template for sketching or taking notes. The screen can be split to display multiple PDFs side by side. Control via the pen enables zoom and pan.

It is possible to copy and paste ink between Bluebeam and Microsoft OneNote and Journal, two other tablet-specific applications.  

HVAC contractors can download for free into their Revu "tool chests" any or all of the HVAC- and plumbing-specific symbol sets available at no additional cost from the Bluebeam website. Tool sets include HVAC symbols: ducts and devices, heat and power devices, heating and ventilation, refrigeration. It also includes the following plumbing symbols: drains, fixtures, pipe fittings, valves and input and output devices. Also available: various punch list symbols, including a set specific to plumbing.

Bill and Patti Feldman write articles and web content for trade magazines and manufacturers of building products. They can be reached at productpad@yahoo.com

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