The rugged Allegro CX handheld is a tough Windows CE .Net handheld designed for some harsh conditions. Itís not the type of device youíll find inside corporate offices, unless itís on its way to the big outdoors.
Its polycarbonate ABS body is waterproof and dustproof. I havenít tested this myself, but the documentation says it passes the MIL-STD 810F and IP67 leak test (immersion). The manual describes these tests in simple words: to pass them the Allegro is submerged in .5m of water for 30 minutes. It is also shockproof (MIL-STD 810F), and the tests are not easy either: the unit is dropped from 1.5m (5 feet) onto a hard surface, on each face and corner.
Where users would take the Allegro CX? Well, Iím glad the New Zealand distributor, Lat37, sent us a couple of copies of a magazine called Field Computing News. Reading these I found lots of applications for rugged devices: from a fish measuring board used in Alaska, to bar code reading in a plant nursery. Or on board a lobster boat in the New Zealand South sea. And since the Allegro CX works in very harsh conditions (-30C to 54C or -22F to 130F) itís ideal for companies that deal with frozen foods. Perhaps the most intriguing application though is archeology site survey. Add to this the GPS expansion, the built-in Bluetooth and you can have a complete data collection and processing solution. If you want more ideas, visit their website or the manufacturerís at junipersys.com.
The Allegro CS is powered by Windows CE .Net 4.2, running on an Intel XScale CPU @ 400MHz. There are different memory options, but the model Iíve tested here came with 128MB RAM and 512MB internal solid state ďhard driveĒ. This memory can be used as a standard storage and it will not be lost if the device has no power. When browsing the Allegro CXís memory itís shown as ďC_DriveĒ. Other options are 64MB for the user RAM and 128MB or 1GB of internal solid state memory.
The basic software comes with Pocket Wordpad, Pocket Inbox, and Pocket Internet Explorer. This last one is quite usable, supporting most of the functionality from Internet Explorer 6, including CSS and iframes. The ActiveSync software included is only used for file synchronisation, unlike the functions available for Pocket PC devices. The package also includes PTAB, a spreadsheet program compatible with Microsoft Excel (excluding embedded graphics and macros).
Dimensions are 256mm x 133mm wide (at display level), 38mm deep. Even though the Allegro CX weighs 836g, it can float thanks to its air tight case. For easy of use there are four metal cleats, one in each corner of the Allegro CX case. Users can attach a shoulder strap or hand strap to the metal rings, making it an ideal unit for data collection while in the field.
Internet Explorer with CSS support
PTAB: spreadsheet program compatible with MS Excel
E-mail support with built-in Inbox program
The Allegro CX is full of communications ports. On the top of the unit we find two sealed Serial (RS232) ports, and a USB port on the bottom. This port is used when connected to a host PC for ActiveSync. It also comes with an infrared port, and built-in Bluetooth, using the Socket software. If this is not enough, there are options Expansion Pods available, that allow to integrate either a GPS receiver, a bar code scanner, RFID reader or a 802.11b wireless LAN adapter.
The built-in Bluetooth is a Class 2 device, with a 10m range. It supports the SPP (Serial Port profile) for serial communication, HCP (Hard Copy profile) for printing, DUN (Dial-Up Network profile) for dial-up access and the LAP (LAN Access profile) for networking with a Bluetooth LAN Access Point or a PC Internet sharing.
Built-in Bluetooth from Socket Communications
On its back we find two sealed doors. One hides an internal PC Card slot, type I and II, and the second door protects the battery. Its power pack is impressive, and the 3.6V 3800mAh NIMH battery promises up to 20 hours usage.
The display is a touchscreen TFT active matrix, ľ VGA, with 320x240 pixels, working in landscape mode. The Allegro CX has options for monochrome or colour displays (the unit test had a colour LCD). It also has a touchscreen disable function, to allow cleaning the screen or using it under rain. As expected from a device to be used outdoors, itís quite bright, and visible under sunlight. For extreme cold, when a LCD may stop working, the monochrome display provides a heater, with automatic control.
The keyboard is divided in distinct function, number and alphabet keys area. In the centre thereís a very convenient cursor pad. The keys are large, but not organised on a QWERTY layout, so it may need some practice to master it. It is however very nice to use, with good feedback.
One thing that I miss in most mobile devices is a good manual. This is not the case here. The Allegro CX comes with a manual on the software CD, and itís complete, including configuration, connection instructions, and how to use Windows CE. Using the Windows CE shouldnít be a problem: users with a minimum knowledge of Windows will be able to use the Allegro CX, due to the similarities between the standard Windows user interface and the Windows CE implementation. On the software CD we also find the ActiveSync software and a SDK, useful for companies that want to develop in-house applications for this handheld.
The Allegro CX is an interesting handheld for niche applications, with plenty of documented applications deployed in the field. I'd recommend companies looking for field devices to have a look on this model.