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How to Choose a Passive UHF Handheld Reader

Ergonomics, read range and battery life lead the list of issues that must be considered when selecting the proper reader for your deployment.
By John Edwards
Mar 30, 2014

Passive ultrahigh-frequency RFID handheld readers enable companies to track a wide variety of tagged items in locations where it is impractical or impossible to use fixed readers. Some common uses include tracking apparel and jewelry items in stores, performing inventory counts at data centers and storage facilities, improving patient safety at hospitals, locating files in offices, managing assets in the field and monitoring livestock on farms.

As the use cases for passive UHF handheld readers increase, so do the number of different devices being offered by RFID providers. That's good news for end users, but it means adopters have many factors to consider when choosing a handheld.

Before you begin considering product features and capabilities, you must first determine your business objectives and requirements. "Everything depends on what you're doing inside of the application, who's doing it and what the circumstances are," says Steve Halliday, president of RFID systems integrator High Tech Aid.

Knowing the environment in which the device will be used, as well as the application involved, will help you narrow down your choices to broad categories of handheld readers. "Will the readers be used in an industrial setting on a manufacturing floor or in a distribution center?" asks P.V. Subramanian, Motorola Solutions' senior product manager of RFID product management. "Will they be used for field mobility or by a knowledge worker engaged in a point-of-sale retail environment?" All of these environments drive very different product requirements, he notes.

Here are six important issues to consider that will help you evaluate products and features, so you can make a knowledgeable decision.

Form Factor, Ergonomics and Usability
Handhelds come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Some readers are small enough to resemble a mobile phone, while others look like a small tablet computer and still others are shaped like wands or Star Trek phasers. User controls may consist of a keypad and a display, a touch-screen alone, or no control mechanism other than an on/off switch.

A growing trend is the UHF RFID "sled," which transforms a smartphone or small tablet computer into a handheld reader, according to Jonathan Gregory, RFID program manager at systems integrator OATSystems, a division of Checkpoint Systems.

Some handheld readers can perform double-duty by serving as ad hoc fixed interrogators. Such units can be quickly and securely attached to mobile carts, pallet jacks, skatewheel conveyors and other types of facility assets. This approach allows a company to use its handhelds for a variety of tasks, as the need arises. Adaptable readers also provide an easy and cost-effective way to begin, or expand, an RFID system deployment, Motorola's Subramanian says.

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