Buying a Barcode Scanner : 4 Questions Before You Buy

Posted May 24, 2012

Scanners may have become easier to use than ever but choosing one from the long list of models out there is a challenge.  Luckily, you don’t need to know all the technical ins and outs of scanner technology to find a good fit for your business.  With the following 4 questions you’ll be able to narrow down your options to the right one for you.

Question #1 : What type of barcode are you reading?

This is one of the most important questions since you can end up paying too much for a scanner or get one that doesn’t work at all.  There are essentially 2 types of barcodes:

Depending on which of the 2 type of barcodes you are working with, there are 3 types of scanners you’ll want to choose from.

  • Laser – These are the typical red line laser devices most of you are familiar with. When you line-up the laser horizontally across  the barcode, the light is reflected or absorbed by the black and white lines.  This pattern of reflectance is turned into meaningful numbers and letters.  These scanners only read 1D barcodes but read very well and are the most cost effective option.
  • Linear Imager Imagers take a picture of the barcode and analyse it to extract the information from it.  These scanners still only read 1D barcodes but tend to have a better tolerance for poorly printed or damaged barcodes.  They are slightly more expensive than laser scanners but if you need better performance for about the same cost, linear imagers are the way to go.
  • 2D Area ImagerThese scanners are the bigger brother of  the linear imagers and can read any type of code, 1D or 2D.  Likewise, these scanners have very big scanning areas and read in any direction so they tend to read faster than the others.  Unlike the others, with a 2D scanner you don’t need to aim as accurately to get a good read. If you need to read 2D barcodes or want a scanner that will read very aggressively, a 2D Area Imager is your best choice.

Question# 2 : What will you be using the scanner for?

This question is really concerned about what form factor your scanner should be. Most scanners are the typical handheld gun-style type but depending on where and how you’ll be using the scanner other form factors might be more productive.

  • Handheld These are by far the most common form that scanners come in and are very easy to operate.  Simply aim the scanner at the barcode and pull the trigger. Most models will offer a stand, like the Motorola LS2208, for hands-free operation as well. Handheld scanners are also available in cordless options to avoid cable clutter and increase your mobility.
  • PresentationPresentation scanners, like the Honeywell MK7180, are designed to sit on a counter-top with ever needing to be picked-up.  These scanners are made for hands-free scanning and will not require triggering to read.  Likewise, instead of a single aimer like handheld scanners, presentation scanners have wide reading areas to reduce the need for aiming. You’ll find these types of scanners at retail check-outs since it is easy to scan many items quickly.  Just present the barcode in front of the scanner and it will read it automatically.
  • In-counter In-counter scanners are similar to  presentation scanners in that you just present the barcode in front of the reader, but these are made to be embedded into the counter-top.  You have probably come across these types of scanners at grocery stores and self check-out lines. Units like the Datalogic Magellan 8300, are easy to operate for any user. Many models also have integrated scales to completely serve a POS lane.
  • Fixed MountA fixed scanner is a bit more specialized compared to the other types since it is really meant to be integrated with a larger automated system.  These scanners are made to be mounted on a conveyor line or in a kiosk and do not have a typical trigger or button to scan. Often, these scanners will always be on or get triggered by external sensors or controllers.  Fixed scanners come in a wide range of speeds, like the Microscan MS-9, to accommodate even very high speed assembly lines without any user intervention.
  • Mobile Computer – While they are a bit more than basic scanners, mobile computers provide complete freedom being the PC and scanner in a single device.  Where other scanners need to be connected to a PC, mobile computers like the Motorola MC75A can move around freely while storing information into memory or communicate via Wi-Fi and Cellular (WAN) networks. Mobile computers are ideal for applications that require true mobility like inventory management and asset tracking.

Question #3 : How will you connect the scanner to your PC?

Every scanner has to connect to a PC to transmit the barcode information into the application that you are using. Most scanners are going to connect to a PC or laptop through a USB connection, but Serial (RS-232) and PS/2 are also available.  Corded scanners are easy to get up and running by simply plugging them in.

Handheld scanners also offer options for cordless scanners that allow you to walk around freely. These scanners function the same way a corded scanner does except that the scanner communicates to a base station wirelessly.  This base station is then connected to your PC through a cable.  Your PC does not need to have any wireless support since the cradle and scanner handle all of this. Most cordless scanners, like the Motorola LS4278,  use Bluetooth to communicate, which normally gives you a range of 33ft.  There are also some specialized Bluetooth and proprietary wireless units that can transmit beyond 200ft.

Question #4 :What environment will you be using the scanner in?

Ruggedness should always be a concern when selecting a scanner to make sure it can handle whatever you put it through. Most scanners are designed for daily use in an office or retail environment.  An accidental drop once in a while will be ok, but if you are using your scanners in a warehouse or outdoor environment you will want to consider a ruggedized unit  You can always tell a ruggedized scanner by their bright yellow or red cases like on the Motorola LS3408FZ.  Ruggedized units are completely sealed against dust and can handle repeated 6ft drops to concrete. With a rubberized case, they can handle any mistreatment.  More rugged units may be more costly, but the time saved and costs from replacing broken scanners quickly balances out the initial cost difference.

Finding the Right Scanner

With all the options available for barcode scanners today, it’s important to find the right device for your business needs. Determining how you will use the scanner and what features you need will make the decision process easier. Our convenient scanner selector tool will even help you get to a specific model. If you are still having difficulty or have additional questions, give our scanner experts a call. We’re happy to help you out.

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