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Fixed vs Portable - Why Car PCs are better

In the automotive environment no other mobile IT device can match a fixed car computer's functionality and versatility. The following table compares our fixed in-vehicle computers to other mobile IT devices such as PDAs (including smart phones), Tablets and Laptops, and discusses many reasons why our in car computers should be your company's first choice for a vehicle-based IT solution.

 

Portable

(PDAs / Tablets / Laptops)

Fixed

(Dedicated Vehicle PC)

Robustness

These devices, which are often very fragile, are constantly handled by the user and are therefore much more likely to be damaged, either during use or transportation.

The PC itself is never handled by the user, reducing the risk of accidental damage to almost zero. The only part of the system that is normally handled by the user is the touchscreen display.  In the unlikely event that this fails it can be swapped for a replacement very rapidly. All programs, data & settings remain on the PC itself.

Total cost of ownership

As discussed above, if standard mobile devices are deployed across a vehicle fleet then the number of failures due to accidental damage is likely to be high, resulting in additional costs for replacing broken (and most likely warranty-void) devices, plus the costs of administering this and the lost productivity. In order to reduce the risk of accidental damage to an acceptable level it is normally necessary to use "rugged" mobile devices, in which case the cost of the hardware skyrockets.  In both cases the total cost of ownership is likely to be higher than for our dedicated in-vehicle computers.

Although the automotive environment is a harsh one, our PCs do not need to withstand the same level of abuse as a fully-rugged mobile device.  For example, once the car PC is correctly installed in the vehicle, there is no conceivable way that it could find itself hurtling at high speed towards a concrete floor.  Because you are not paying for this extreme level of ruggedness our computers offer a much more cost effective solution than PDAs and Tablets. 

Longevity of Supply & Support

Many mobile devices are available to purchase for a relatively short period of time.  This can cause problems if, for example, new vehicles are added to the fleet sometime after a mobile IT solution has been deployed.  If the original devices are no longer being made then new, different, devices will need to be purchased.  Integrating these new devices into the existing system could require significant effort.  A similar concern applies if out-of-warranty devices develop a fault and cannot be replaced like for like.

Our "C" family of embedded in-vehicle computers are typically available for up to 7 years from launch, making it much more likely that identical replacement units will be able to be sourced after the initial purchase, and that faulty units will be able to be repaired to the same specification, rather than replaced with a different model.

Communications (3G/4G/Wi-Fi) Performance

The performance of wireless communication methods such as 3G and Wi-Fi depends to a large extent on the antennas that are used.  Not only are the antennas in mobile devices designed primarily for small size rather than performance, but they are also located inside the mobile device, which in turn is located inside the vehicle.  The vehicle, of course, is mostly made of metal, a very effective blocker of electromagnetic waves.

Our vehicle PCs support a range of external antennas for 3G/4G and Wi-Fi, including high-gain roof-mounted models.  These antennas are designed for performance rather than small size, and because they are located outside the vehicle they do not suffer from the reduced performance that will affect any antenna located inside the vehicle.

Navigation (GPS) Performance

A GPS antenna located anywhere inside the vehicle can never have as good a view of the sky as a roof-mounted antenna, which is necessary for the best performance.  For devices with an integrated GPS antenna, the conflict between good ergonomics (requiring the device to be relatively close to the user) and good GPS performance (requiring the device to be as close to the windscreen as possible) is clear.

Our vehicle PCs support external GPS antennas for the best possible performance.
 
In addition our PCs can carry out dead reckoning - utilising vehicle telemetry to continue to estimate a position when GPS is not available (e.g. in tunnels, forests and around high buildings).

Security

The device moves around constantly and can easily be lost or stolen, resulting not only in the loss of a valuable piece of equipment, but also in the loss, and potentially leakage, of valuable and/or sensitive data.

The PC, where all the data and most of the system’s value reside, remains permanently in the vehicle. Because it is normally completely out of sight, and can be bolted to the vehicle using anti-theft bolts if necessary, it is much less likely to be lost or stolen.
 
Screens can also be mounted securely to the vehicle to prevent theft.

Screen Size
& Brightness

The screen is part of the device and either cannot be changed at all or is limited to a small range of sizes and screen types, which can only be customised before the unit is purchased.

We offer a very wide range of display sizes from 7" to 21", including sunlight readable versions. Screens are extremely easy to upgrade in the future (e.g. for a larger or brighter model as screen technology advances), as they are completely separate from the PC itself.

Screen Mounting

PDAs and Tablets normally need to be mounted on the dashboard using a docking cradle. Because Tablets are often heavy and bulky the range of mounting options can be severely limited.  For PDAs, their small screen size means they need to be mounted as close to the driver as possible,  which is often impractical.
 
Laptops are unsuited to in-vehicle use due to their extremely large physical footprint. Requiring a user to balance a hot laptop on their knees, or to twist around to view one that is resting on an adjacent seat, is no recipe for efficient or ergonomic mobile working.

Our range of on-dash displays are light and compact, mainly because they don't contain any PC-related electronics (being purely screens).  All models have integrated mounting slots and/or VESA mounting holes, supporting a wide range of mounting brackets.
 
The larger screen size of our monitors means that they can be located further away from the driver than PDAs, making for a much more flexible installation while maintaining excellent usability.

Computing Performance

PDAs and tablets often have very limited processing power and storage capabilities.  Many devices use ARM processors which can only run cut-down "mobile" operating systems such as Android and Windows RT.  Those devices that do feature x86 processors, and can therefore support more advanced operating systems, often have limited performance due to the compromises imposed by being built for portability.

Our vehicle PCs feature a range of x86 processors, currently up to a 2.3 GHz Intel Core i7-3610QE, with hard drives up to 1 TB and RAM up to 16 GB. These support fully-featured "grown-up" operating systems such as Windows 7 and 8, plus various Linux distributions.  If greater performance is required then we can always build a system to your specs.

Compatibility with Specialist Hardware

PDAs and Tablets usually support a very limited range of hardware devices, and don't feature as many external connection interfaces as our fully functional in-vehicle computers.

If you need to use a specialist hardware device in the field, your hardware is far more likely to be supported by a vehicle-based computer, featuring interfaces such as USB, RS-232, Ethernet, CAN, and GPIO. 

Installation

A popular myth concerning PDAs and Tablets is that they can be installed easily by non-experts, but actually this is often not the case.  In order to be used properly while inside the vehicle these devices require docking stations to be installed which, for all but the most amateurish of setups, require professional installation.  The docking station installation cost (and sometimes the cost of the docking stations themselves) is often neglected in the planning stages of a mobile IT project.

Our computers and screens are designed from the ground up to be installed into a vehicle, with features such as integrated mounting flanges and anti-vibration options.  This can make them much easier to install than devices which are not primarily designed to be vehicle mounted, and need to be adapted. 

Customisation, pre- and post- purchase

These devices are usually mass produced, with little or no customisation available prior to purchase, let alone afterwards, offering a very rapid route to obsolescence.

We build all our computers to our customers’ exact specifications, and our PCs are much more upgradable than proprietary mobile devices. Have an unusual request? We’ll do our best to make it happen.

Data Input

PDAs use a very small on-screen keyboard, and if a physical keyboard is available it is extremely cramped.
 
With tablets and laptops the physical keyboard, if present, is often fixed to the chassis and cannot be detached, which makes it difficult to use in a vehicle environment.

Wide range of data input methods, including:

  • Full-size compact wireless QWERTY keyboards
  • Large touch sensitive displays with on-screen keyboards
  • Voice recognition for rapid dictation of documents or emails
Use in the field outside the vehicle

Can be used outside the vehicle, unless:

  • It happens to be raining and the device is not waterproof
  • The device has accidentally been dropped and has broken
  • An unexpected increased total cost of ownership has caused the whole project to be shelved
  • The device has been provided as a replacement for a faulty unit but it is a newer model and for some reason is not compatible with your software
  • Poor 3G performance has prevented job information from reaching the device
  • Poor GPS performance has resulted in the vehicle arriving late and at the wrong location
  • Nobody can remember where the device is
  • The device has been stolen
  • The sun is shining and the device's screen is not sunlight readable
  • The device is too slow to run your application, and can't be upgraded
  • The device's puny internal memory capacity suddenly fills up
  • The device's docking station was not professionally installed and fell off at the last speed bump, damaging the device
  • The thought of entering a large amount of textual data using the device's tiny physical or on-screen keyboard has driven the user to despair
  • Heavy vehicle-bound accessories such as printers tie the mobile device to the vehicle anyway

OK, we do accept that portable IT devices may score a point when it comes to being used outside the vehicle.  But portability is a disadvantage if it isn’t absolutely necessary, and there are many applications that do not require the system to be used outside the vehicle.
 
Our PCs are fully integrated into the vehicle, allowing them to:

  • Turn on and off automatically with the vehicle ignition
  • Play sound over the vehicle sound system
  • Perform driver-related functions such as navigation

If your application really does require mobile devices to be used outside the vehicle then a dedicated vehicle PC can work with these devices, maximising mobile working efficiency by giving users the best solution while both in and out of the vehicle.  For example, a basic, low-cost tablet could be used as a remote screen for the vehicle PC when computer access is required outside the vehicle, or a mobile digital pen could be used for signature capture.


We hope you agree that our PCs are infinitely more suited to being used while in a vehicle, which in most cases is where users spend the majority of their time.  Click here to view our range of fixed vehicle computers.