A delivery driver scans boxes in the back of his truck using a Zebra TC78 ultra-rugged mobile computer
By John Pomerleau | November 16, 2022

This is What Spec Sheets Won’t Tell You About New Mobile Computers Such as the Ultra-Rugged Zebra TC73 or TC78

Do you know why IP ratings, drop specs, processing power, and the different security, UX and workflow-specific features really matter to your business? Or how they work with other tech to help workers deliver results?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to articulate the value proposition of different technologies throughout my career. Decision-makers always want to know, “What’s in it for me?” 

So, I sit down to show them how one device or software platform compares to the next from multiple perspectives, including front-line/field performance, IT manageability, and the resulting customer experience. 

What’s interesting though is that no matter how much I try to convey the value of a platform in terms of business impact, the conversation always (eventually) turns into a “spec sheet analysis” – especially when it comes to enterprise mobile computers. Though quantifying a potential return on investment (ROI) is important, and a side-by-side spec comparison might seem like the best way to arrive at that number, you can’t determine true value without first qualifying the use case, user experience or a dozen other influential factors. 

For example, a spec sheet might confirm that a mobile computer can survive drops and function just fine in environments where extreme temperatures, high humidity, dust and/or water exposure are prevalent. It will also help you arrive at a short list based on your wireless network and peripheral connectivity/compatibility needs. But what the spec sheet won’t tell you is whether that mobile computer is going to do what you really need it to do, which is…

  • help front-line workers be more productive, efficient, and/or available to customers.   

  • decrease your software and hardware IT burden, even as more devices come online.

  • reduce overall operating expenses so you have room to innovate and expand in other areas of your business that will directly benefit customers, employees and other stakeholders.

Therefore, when Zebra launches a new product and people start asking me about how the specs compare to previous generation or competitive devices, I always make a point to explain why certain new features and capabilities will be of interest to all employees, not just line managers or those with profit and loss (P&L) responsibilities.

For example, Zebra just rolled out two new ultra-rugged enterprise mobile computers: the TC73 and TC78. Since they are part of the TC7x Series, which has been around since 2015, you might assume they are simply “next generation” devices - or refreshes of the legacy TC7x mobile computing platform. As a result, you may think to yourself, “I don’t need to upgrade my devices right now. My workers are getting along fine with the older TC7x mobile computers. I’ll wait until the next generation device comes out in a year as it will likely have even more new features – many of which I’ll probably need by then.”

The problem with that logic is that it doesn’t give weight to the critical updates that were made in the new generation TC73 and TC78 devices, including:

  • the physical redesign of the devices to make the screen 28% larger than previous TC7x devices, but the overall device is lighter, easier to hold and more tolerant of drops. 

  • the ability to run more apps simultaneously thanks to significant processing power improvements and up to 4x more memory than previous generation devices.  

  • Device Tracker, which helps facilitate the fast recovery of lost, stolen or missing devices using built-in Bluetooth Low Energy technology.  

  • the integration of the SE55 extended range scan engine, which uses intelligent autofocus to quickly determine barcode distance and then capture it, which speeds up barcode-reliant workflows.

  • the addition of certified mobile dimensioning, mobile payment, and augmented reality capabilities to help speed up everything from package processing and sales transactions to order picking and put away. 

It also diminishes the value of the connections that must now be made to Wi-Fi 6E, 5G and CBRS* networks for the sake of consistent workforce and customer communications. 

Steadiness – of information sharing, task execution, and customer service – is one of the most valued qualities in business today. But maintaining steady data flows, workflows and output is going to be difficult if your employees’ mobile devices aren’t working as they should be.

What can hinder mobile device performance?

  • Too little memory or storage

  • A lack of processing power

  • Difficulties connecting to – or staying connected to – wireless networks or peripherals when working outside your four walls

  • Not anticipating the need for – and installing – new faster, better managed networks as devices and network load increase within your four walls or in your yard

  • Challenges keeping the operating system (OS), applications, security defenses and other “software stack” components up to date

  • A user interface that didn’t take user feedback into account when it was designed

Therefore, upgrading to a device that addresses even one of these issues may deliver countless benefits and extreme value to your front-line teams, customers, and overall business.

Just consider what happens in some of the most physically demanding work environments today, such as airline baggage handling and freight, package courier/postal, and warehouse sites. 

Front-line workers are under immense time pressure to turn around planes, packages, and more without delay. If they can’t do their jobs, then the people you serve and products you promise won’t reach their destination on time, and that’s a problem. Not only will you be dealing with unhappy customers, but you’ll be facing increased shipping, labor and fuel costs down the line while struggling to improve on-time metrics among other key performance indicators.

Now, I know a mobile computer like the TC73 or TC78 won’t be able to prevent or solve every business challenge you face, such as soaring inflation or labor, petrol, and material shortages. But it will give you the means to introduce new work processes in response to each emerging or evolving challenge. It’s the tool that gives your workers the guidance, information, and mechanisms they need to quickly finish different tasks that, in summation, lead to the completion of one big job: keeping people, packages and products moving from one point to the next. 

Of course, if you give your workers a mobile computer with limited capabilities (such as a consumer-grade device or an older enterprise mobile computer), their work capabilities will be limited, too. They may not be able to work as fast or consistently as you want, troubleshoot issues, respond to customer inquiries, or pick up the slack when the team is shorthanded. It’s like giving someone two sticks to start a fire versus giving them a log lighter. There will eventually be flames either way, but the lighter will deliver immediate results. 

Case in point…

  1. We know that when mobile devices fail on the tarmac, planes don’t fly – at least not until the crew working under the wing can manually get through their maintenance and safety checklists and verify that all bags/cargo/people have been loaded. And there are very few mobile computers that are built to survive an hour on the tarmac. 

  2. Mobile workers rely on voice and video tools to solicit and provide help to colleagues, customers and partners from a distance. Could they use a chat app on a consumer-grade device to get in touch with the right people? Perhaps. But will the wireless signal be reliable? Will they be able to maintain communication on the same app with all parties – or sync that app with other business guidance tools like a workflow-specific AR app or headset? Probably not. It’s when things are not going right and processes are breaking down, that you rely on your mobile device the most to get you out of the jam. Your workers are no different. That’s why they need devices built for business use and business communications if they’re going to be able to do their job without having to fuss over different apps, settings and connectivity issues. But if you look at spec sheets for both consumer and enterprise devices, you’ll see things such as AR, dynamic communications, and more listed, leaving you to believe your workers will have what they need. Context matters, especially if compatibility with other business systems, software and peripherals are key to executing certain tasks and sustaining collaborative operations.

  3. Not all mobile workers are mobile all the time. Sometimes they need the functionality of a desktop computer with a keyboard, mouse, desktop printer/scanner and full-size monitor. With a solution such as Workstation Connect, the TC73 and TC78 can transform from a rugged handheld computer into a fully featured desktop computer when the user wants to work in an office or vehicle. You can set up a desktop workstation practically anywhere – on a cart, at an airline gate, or at a drive-through – without  the time and cost of dropping another Ethernet location. 

  4. Efficiency is gained when mobile workers don’t have to walk as far to get their job done. So, if you give a worker a mobile device that uses a camera to capture barcodes, you’re going to see their productivity significantly diminish compared to workers who are using a mobile computer that has a long-range scan engine built in that can capture barcodes from 40 feet away. Likewise, giving workers an enterprise mobile computer that can enable them to cleanly capture barcode data up close without having to wait for a device to focus will deliver similar productivity gains. Everything from inventory to full orders – or full planes – can be turned around much quicker. 

  5. The faster payments and packages can be processed, the more customers you can serve and the more you can protect revenue. If a postal worker has a certified mobile dimensioning application built into their device, along with mobile payment capabilities, they can confirm the package’s dimensions and process fees right there on the spot. That’s more convenient for both the customer and courier, as no one has to go back to correct or collect payments later. It also reduces operating expenses, as workers’ actions translate into revenue capture versus lost revenue recovery.

So, when you’re comparing the spec sheet for the new TC73/78 against the spec sheet for an iPhone or even another Zebra device, consider whether those specs translate into real-world value for you. Will the device you’re leaning toward…

  • be unphased by the weather as crews load freight into the cargo hold of a 737 airplane on the north slope of Alaska in January or deliver packages in a Bangalore courier scooter in the heat?

  • survive multiple falls from the cargo hold of that 737 at 10 feet to the tarmac, or tumbles 2000 times out of the Bangalore courier’s hand at 30 km/h? Will the worker be able to just pick up that device and continue with their day without interruption?

  • be fully available – meaning work at “day one” peak performance levels – for the next five years? And will you receive an additional five years of support from the device manufacturer if you want to make the device last you 10 years?

  • still connect to public and private wireless networks five or 10 years from now?

  • be readable in both dark and sunlit work environments? Easy to handle by workers wearing gloves? 

  • be scalable in terms of both applications, security, and feature sets? Or will you always be locked into the use cases and settings you start with today? 

  • have enough processing power, storage and memory to support AR, mobile payments, or even basic image capture for your core use cases, whether that’s order picking, deliveries, or baggage transfers?

  • support mobile dimensioning (if that’s important to you) without requiring you to buy and manage secondary hardware or software components?

If you’re considering either the TC73 or TC78, then the answer to all the above will be “yes.” 

These new models deliver the utility of a truck with a performance of a sports car. They can connect to 5G, Wi-Fi 6E and CBRS networks and offer leading-edge processing speed, advanced camera and imaging technology along with more memory and RAM than previous TC7x devices (and most consumer and enterprise devices). They also enable you to locate lost devices easily using the Device Tracker tool, give you several different battery options, and enjoy full Android roadmap support for the next 10 years.  Plus, the screen is 28% larger than previous generation TC7x devices, which means it’s easier for workers to view more complex applications. The touch screen is also glove and stylus compatible, so workers will be able to log their activities or accept customer signatures whether it’s 0°F or 105°F.  

And as I mentioned before, I think you’ll really come to value how the TC73 and TC78 works with the Workstation Connect platform. Workers will be able to transform their mobile computers into desktop computers anytime they want (and the Workstation Connect cradle is plugged into a display, keyboard, mouse and/or printer). I can see airline maintenance crews going back to a cart at the gate to pull up/print a report for the flight crew or a postal worker setting up a temporary package acceptance station outside the post office during peak holiday season to help queue bust. The mobile dimensioning and mobile payment features will come in exceptionally handy with that last use case, too.


You should always take the time to look at new mobile computers when they hit the market and consider whether it might be valuable to make the switch to the new model now, even if your current devices seem to be working well. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re missing until you see it. (Just don’t expect to see everything on a spec sheet.)

Something else to remember: Zebra doesn’t control mobile technology’s evolution. Industry standards do, along with your continuous innovation (driven by competition and customers’ demands). So, if we’re bringing a new device to market or refreshing one of our most popular platforms, it’s because customers like you – or even front-line workers – are telling us that new mobile computing capabilities are needed. Our job is to make sure you have the tools to efficiently execute your business operations.

That said, we believe the TC73 and TC78 devices offer all the connectivity, UX, performance and device manageability features you need to scale your business over the next 5-10 years. Of course, we don’t know what the future will demand, so we’re also giving you access to the full suite of Zebra Mobility DNA tools so you can make feature, software and security updates during the devices’ lifecycles as needed. And as time goes on, we’ll continue to reassess which feature combinations will be needed by customers in different industries and “refresh” platforms such as the TC7x as needed to give you more capabilities and user/application-customized options.  But in the meantime, know that you have a strong business case for replacing your front-line workers’ current devices with the TC73 or TC78, whether they’re currently using consumer-grade devices or a previous generation TC7x model. 

Their job is getting harder by the day. Giving them just one new tool or a more reliable wireless connection can go a long way to relieving their stress and boosting their ability to deliver the results you and customers want.

If you want to learn more about which types of front-line workers/workflows will benefit most from the ultra-rugged design, new features and unique performance capabilities of the TC73/TC78 devices, either reach out to me or your local Zebra representative to schedule a call. They can tell you what the spec sheet doesn’t about how the TC73/TC78 will (or won’t) work in your environment, support your intended application, and integrate with other hardware and software components in your overall technology solution stack.

In the meantime, this video is worth checking out:

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John Pomerleau
John Pomerleau

John Pomerleau has been working in mobile computing for over 30 years. He is currently an Advanced Product Manager at Zebra Technologies and has been leading the TC5X product family, the most successful handheld to date for Zebra.  

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