Review: Gladius 5 ruggedized phablet is a mobile office

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1D barcode scanner in action (Photo: Eric Mack/Gizmag.com)

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Today's smartphones are really more like pocket computers that also happen to make phone calls. The Gladius 5, a ruggedized phablet from Arbor, takes this truism a step further with a hand-held device that's more like a complete workplace, including the ability to make phone calls via one of two available SIM card slots.

In addition to everything most Android Jelly Bean devices (yes, it's sticking to Android 4.2 for now) can do, the Gladius 5 is also equipped with a built-in 1D barcode reader or a 2D barcode imager, an RFID and NFC reader and wireless charging capability. There's also a loaded sensor suite including accelerometer, barometer, digital compass, ambient light and triple-axis gyroscope.

Arbor markets the Gladius 5 as an "Internet of Things handheld device," envisioning it as the ultimate field device for gathering data in the warehouse, during transport, at the point of sale or in medical applications. Of course, with dual SIM slots, wifi, and Bluetooth in the mix, the idea is that this data exchange is a two-way thing, so this rugged device is really more like an extension of the office than a "dumb" sensor.

The "rugged" aspect of the device is another key part of the pitch. While not as hardcore as smaller consumer devices like the Kyocera Brigadier, the Gladius 5 is rated to be dust-proof, to withstand a 5-foot drop, and some light splashing of water.

Other software tweaks help further optimize this device for fieldwork, including easy setup of Bluetooth input devices like keyboards, and the included TouchPal app which is a Swype-like interface that also allows for "blind typing," autocorrecting for errors thanks to fat or gloved thumbs.

The Gladius 5 is a purpose-built device, so don't expect it to compete with top-flight consumer phones like the iPhone 6, Moto X or Galaxy Note 4. Its specs are clearly meant for gathering and crunching basic data rather than intense gaming or media consumption.

At the core of this phablet is a 1 GHz quad-core MediaTek processor, 1 GB RAM, 8 GB storage with a microSD slot and a 1280 x 720 TFT display. Its big 3600 mAh battery is removable, which is good because it can run through it rather quickly. Arbor says the Gladius 5 delivers up to eight hours of battery life for typical use, which it describes as listening to MP3 files while browsing the internet via Wi-Fi and checking email hourly. If you're watching video, battery life may be reduced to just six hours.

Clearly, this previous generation hardware paired with a two-year old version of Android won't wow many smartphone consumers, but this is a device that does a nice job of melding consumer and enterprise functions into a single device. Unlike other barcode scanning devices that operate on a closed network or proprietary platform, the Gladius 5 is part of the wide Android universe, and able to access (and be part of) the Internet of Things.

A dedicated button for the barcode scanner is dead simple to use, and it had no problem reading any code I tried, including a few products that I've noticed give the scanners at retail outlets problems.

The Gladius 5 does feel pretty tough with its rubber case and Gorilla Glass 3 screen, but it's also thick, heavy and a little goofy looking and feeling in the hand. It weighs in at 280 grams (9.9 oz), over twice as much as the iPhone 6, and measures 84.0 x 175.6 x 15.9 mm (3.31" x 6.91” x 0.63”).

With a retail price starting at US$867, the Gladius 5 probably makes the most sense for larger enterprise customers, but it could also work well for small business owners or even eBay and Etsy sellers. Pretty much anyone with a need to gather data in the field, scan items while connected or process payments should find it useful.

Product page: Arbor

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