How to Choose Mobile Devices for Fieldwork

In getting started with the use of mobile devices for fieldwork it is important to consider the functionality that will be of most value.  Once this is determined software can be selected that will meet these needs and then the hardware can be selected – including a suitable protective case.

It is important that the steps be conducted in this order – purchasing a mobile device first and then looking for a protective case and suitable software (Apps) has led some users to end up with an incomplete solution to the information management problem they were seeking to solve.

No matter which device you decide to purchase there are a few considerations:

  • Ensure the device has built-in GPS (if this is important to you).  Better still ensure the device works with both GPS (USA) and GLONASS (Russian) satellite constellations as this improves the position reliability and accuracy significantly.
  • Choose a screen size that suits the intended uses.  A 10” screen works for all purposes but an 8” screen is more of a challenge for reviewing documents.  This is especially true for older eyes – reading glasses may be required for an 8″ screen but not necessarily for a 10″.  I find an iPhone screen to be much too small for most field applications.
  • Before you purchase a device make sure you can get a case that protects it from shock (drops) and from moisture.  There is a lot of selection available for Apple products, as there are so few device sizes.  Recommended cases include:
  1. Griffin and Lifeproof both make cases for protection from water and  shock.   (Note: Otterbox makes a water and shock proof case for Apple phones only, their other products are only shockproof.)
  2. Sealine makes cases that do a good job of protecting from moisture but not impact.  The cases will work for a variety of Apple and Android devices.
  3. Dry Case makes a similar product to Sealine and they will fit a variety of Apple devices.

Cases that provide only moisture protection are a viable option provided an alternative can be found to prevent physical damage.  This could be as simple as tethering the device so that it will not hit the ground if dropped.  An option that will work for almost any tablet is a leather or vinyl case used in combination with a Ziploc bag.  This solves both the physical and moisture protection and is what I used for over a year but thankfully there are now much better options available!

One final note regarding the selection of a case: if you choose a case that is not listed above ensure that the case allows easy access to the power button.  This is essential if you are to practice good “power management”.  Without the ability to easily tap the power button you are unlikely to make it through an entire day in the field.

In the next article I will share a variety of software recommendations for field use. Let me know if you have comments or questions.

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