Well, first impressions are that they may have done just that with the Zebra 3600. Traditionally – certainly as far as the European market goes – Datalogic were probably market leaders with their excellent PowerScan range. That’s not to say that the products from Zebra (previously Motorola) or Honeywell (inc now the Intermec range) were poor; far from it! And each brand had its supporters and evangelists. But looking in from the outside, with no particular alignment to one brand or the other (I’ll talk to anyone for a free lunch) my view is that, historically, Datalogic was the brand to beat.
Will the Zebra 3600 series put Zebra in pole position? I’ll let you judge…
From an external design perspective, it’s not that easy to make a rugged scanner look sexy, sleek and ultra cool. The kind of sleek minimalist scanners found in extremely chic, fashion-conscious retail outlets wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the manufacturing or logistics environment. Instead the casing is a bit angular, adequately chunky and the plastics are two tone dark grey and lime green. Lime Green! I guess you’ll either love it or hate it. It’s the kind of colour you see on a Lamborghini in Sloane Street in August, but on a scanner…? Either way, it’s not anonymous and assumedly easy to spot wherever left.
12 models in the range include corded and cordless variants, whilst beyond the base-line standard 1D/2D short range model, Zebra offer a number of special variants. The DS3608 High Density scanner is specially made to scan those abnormally small bar codes that are particularly seen in electronics and medical equipment production. The HP (High Performance) variant caters for midrange reading – about 40% further than the standard read range – so easily 2 metre read range. Also according to the marketing blurb, this will capture photos, documents, OCR, and signatures.
ER makes me go OOOH
Finally you have to look at the Extended Range variant! Now this baby scans from 3” to 70’, which is quite something and a lot further (+35%) and closer (+60%) than its competitors. For techy geeks like me, I’d like to see how they have achieved such significantly enhanced performance at both ends of the scale simultaneously. Looks like those Motorola – *whoops, Zebra* – R & D dollars are paying off again.
Now, without undertaking our own benchmark field tests, I cannot say for sure whether the real operational performance is a sparkling as the published spec, but my guess is that Zebra are far too smart to make claims they cannot deliver in practice. And they make plenty of claims about their technology being able to cope with any condition of printed barcode – dirty, scratched, poorly-printed, and hidden under shrink-wrap. I also like the multi-code function which allows multiple barcodes on a single label to be scanned simultaneously and the values allocated to the appropriate data fields according to the way the user has configured the device. Speed and error elimination = enhanced productivity and greater profitability. I do wish more procurement managers understood that price has a cost!
Best of the rest
As regards the rest of the package – yeah, that looks pretty good too:
- Ultra rugged 2.4m drop spec and highest tumble spec for any rugged scanner.
- IP65 and IP67 ratings – I can’t think of anyone else offering IP67. But then again I can’t think of many users who would leave a scanner fully submerged in a bucket of water for 30 minutes as a matter of course.
- Bigger battery (with an on-board battery charge gauge)
- BT4.0 for fast data transmission for the cordless devices (incidentally guaranteed to provide zero wi-fi network interference) plus various functions to troubleshoot and reconnect BT.
- A complimentary suite of tools to facilitate end-to-end scanner management including ‘123Scan’ for easy staging and updating/configuration and settings management and ‘Scanner Management Service’ for remote firmware and settings updates and estate management
Zebra 3600 or BMW M3?
So will you have to pay Lambo prices for all this new tech? In a nutshell – no. The RRP ranges from £373 for the bottom of the range up to over £1,300 for the (specialist) DPM variant. I suspect the most widely sold models will be the standard range 2D and high performance 2D models and these are around the £600 mark. All broadly in line with the competition, and the market price will be some way below that – especially if you are buying in volume.
So the Zebra 3600 range certainly looks to have a lot going for it. Other brands will continue to have their supporters, but I can see Zebra’s new range being right up there as a market leader for some time. Is it a Lamborghini – maybe not. More like a BMW M3. Fast, powerful affordable quality product that sets the bar for the competition, but unlike the Beemer – available in lime green!