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When it comes to businesses purchasing mobile devices, regular smartphones don’t really cut it. Field professionals need equipment with long lifespans, that can handle constant and rigorous use. Here’s where rugged handheld computers, such as the Zebra TC51, come into play, combining essential modern smartphone features with industry-dedicated solutions.

Today, we’ll be reviewing Zebra TC51, a mobile computer created by an industry-leading brand. We’ll cover all the features of Zebra TC51 and list its benefits and drawbacks. We’ll also share alternative options and compare them to the TC51 to determine which may be a better fit for your business.

Overview

Zebra TC51 is a great overall mobile computer that offers all the features a field professional needs at an adequate price. Zebra’s scanning technology is deservedly considered one of the best solutions on the market, enabling high-speed data capture. A dedicated to healthcare industry version, Zebra TC51-HC, offers even more useful solutions for medical workers.

The fully rugged construction makes Zebra TC51 a smart investment, as the device can withstand any extreme conditions, eliminating the need for repair or replacement. Chemicals, drops to concrete, vibration, temperature shocks – the TC51 handles it all. Many field professionals prefer old-fashioned physical-button devices as they can be used with wet fingers or gloves. Therefore, the vivid display, supporting wet-finger and glove touch, is a great bonus. The programmable buttons also enhance work efficiency. As well, Zebra didn’t forget about the importance of usage time, equipping the TC51 with a powerful battery.

Zebra TC51 isn’t perfect, though. A major drawback is the lack of LTE connectivity and GPS sensor. This may not be an issue in areas where Wi-Fi is always available or for professionals who own a GPS tracker and mobile hotspot. However, it makes the TC51 unsuitable for those working in remote areas and looking for an ultimate all-in-one device.

The second drawback arises from the first. Some competitors, such as Sonim, offer GPS, LTE, an improved camera and battery for the same price. Therefore, the TC51 is the best option if you already own some Zebra devices and wish to add another computer to your ecosystem. But if you’re looking to upgrade the entire device set in your company, devices such as the Sonim RS60 may be a better choice.

Pros:

  • Advanced scanning technology
  • Fully rugged
  • Powerful replaceable battery
  • Familiar to many users Android interface
  • Compatible with a range of Zebra professional software
  • The display can be used with gloves, wet fingers, readable under direct sunlight
  • Change battery without powering the device down or shutting apps

Cons:

  • Some competitors offer better value
  • No LTE connectivity
  • No GPS sensor
  • Slightly outdated Android version
  • The front-facing camera could be better

Our score: 6.5/10

Specifications

Before we dive into a detailed overview of Zebra TC51 features, let’s look at the core specs. The device is quite compact, yet heavier than a standard phone, due to the battery. The 5 inch display is protected with Gorilla Glass 5 and is readable under direct sunlight. Furthermore, Zebra’s advanced scanning technology is built into the device. Additionally, efficient communication is ensured by a loud speaker, noise-canceling mic, and push-to-talk feature.

The device runs on a slightly outdated Android 8.1 Oreo version but can be upgraded to Nougat with the Zebra OneCare service contract. 4GB RAM memory and Snapdragon 650 CPU allow multitasking and running professional-grade software. The device also features Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth connectivity though lacks GPS and cellular connection.

Zebra TC51 Specs

Weight8.8 ounces with battery
Dimensions6.1 x 2.9 x 0.73 inches
Display5-inch, 1280 x 720 pixels, outdoor viewable, 600 NITs, Gorilla Glass 5-covered, usable with wet fingers, gloves, or stylus
Battery4300mAh, up to 14 hours of use
RuggednessMIL-STD-810, IP-68, resistant to temperatures from 14 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit
Operating SystemAndroid 8.1 Oreo with an option for upgrade
Memory4GB of RAM, micro-SD slot with up to 128-gigabyte memory card support
CPUSnapdragon 650 64-bit hexa-core 1.8GHz ARM Cortex A72, power optimization
GPSNo
CameraRear camera 13 megapixels with HDR, auto and manual focus, and flash Front camera 1.3 megapixels
Voice and AudioPush-to-talk, mic with noise cancellation, enhanced speaker, Bluetooth wireless headset support
Security and EncryptionWEP (40 or 104 bit); WPA/WPA2 Personal (TKIP, and AES); WPA/WPA2 Enterprise (TKIP and AES) — EAP-TTLS (PAP, MSCHAP, MSCHAPv2), EAP-TLS, PEAPv0-MSCHAPv2, PEAPv1-EAP-GTC and LEAP Data in Motion: FIPS 140-2 Level 1 Data at Rest: FIPS 140-2 Level 1
ConnectivityWi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1, no cellular connectivity
ScanningYes, SE4710 imager (1D and 2D): Scan range – Code 39 barcode: 20 Mil: 1.8 in. to 32.0 in./4.5 cm to 81.3 cm 3 Mil: 3.1 in. to 5.6 in./7.9 cm to 14.2 cm
WarrantyOne year

Operating System and Memory

The Zebra TC51 runs on Android 8.1 Oreo with a possibility for future upgrades. While this isn’t the newest Android version, the system has its benefits. With the Oreo version, Android gained autofill, smart text selection, notification dots, and improved power optimization. There’s also a double-window mode that comes in handy when multitasking. Additionally, the intuitive and user-friendly interface makes the onboarding process simple and quick. Since the device runs on Android, many employees are likely already familiar with the platform, which cuts time and money on training.

Qualcomm Snapdragon MSM8956 with six CPU cores ensures powerful performance. It was considered an industry standard at the time of Zebra TC51 release and easily handles any tasks to this day. 4 GB RAM memory isn’t the highest capacity available yet allows you to run multiple apps at once. For the record, the second generation of Apple iPad Pro offers the same RAM capacity, as do some modern ultra-books. The TC51 also supports microSD memory cards with up to 128 gigabytes capacity that enables easy file storage.

Display and Ruggedness

Zebra TC51 Truck Driver

Zebra is well-known for creating truly rugged handheld devices. The TC51 is a reliable companion for professionals working in tough conditions. Featuring IP-68 certification, this device can be fully submerged in liquids and is dustproof. Furthermore, thanks to MIL-STD-810 military-grade protection, the Zebra TC51 can survive drops to concrete from heights of up to six feet. The device also works in temperatures from 14 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit and withstands rapid transition from -40 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. Lastly, Zebra TC51 can handle vibration up to two kilohertz with a 60-minute duration and exceeds IEC tumble specification. For details on how the tests are conducted, view Zebra’s report.

Professionals working in the most extreme conditions, however, may find Zebra TC51’s vibration, shock, and pressure resistance insufficient. Environments involving vibration reaching five kilohertz and shocks of up to 30G require even stronger protection, which you can find with devices like the Sonim RS60. (That device can even be submerged in chemicals and remain 6.5-feet underwater for 30 minutes.)

Like any modern smartphone, the Zebra TC51 features a vivid 5-inch touchscreen display. Exceptionally bright, it remains readable even under direct sunlight. Additionally, the screen responds even to gloves and wet fingers, a common need for workers in outdoor working environments. Finally, the Corning Gorilla Glass ensures extra durability for the display, protecting it from cracks and shatters.

Data Capture and Compatible Software

Zebra TC51 offers impressive data capture and sharing features. Namely, the built-in barcode scanner which makes this device ideal for numerous industries, including healthcare, manufacturing, warehousing, and delivery services. The scanner supports 1D and 2D barcodes and features an extraordinary scan range with up to 30 inches distance. Apart from barcodes, you can also capture documents, phone numbers, signatures, checkboxes, and images with a single button press.

Data can be shared via NFC, Bluetooth 4.1, or another source Wi-Fi connection.

Like all Android devices, Zebra TC51 works with any Android software. What’s more important, all Zebra devices within your company are backed by the native Zebra ecosystem. this means that you can easily manage the device configuration and track their performance from a single dashboard.

Zebra also offers software solutions dedicated to specific business needs and industries, all compatible with the TC51. Solutions include intelligent automation, analytics, tracking, load optimization, inventory management, and many more. In other words, Zebra TC51 offers full-blown working station functionality in a compact body. The only drawback is that dedicated solutions come at an additional price.

Design

The Zebra TC51 looks like a regular smartphone, though it functions as a handheld computer. Take this important distinction into account when judging the device, as the dimensions and design don’t reflect those of a standard smartphone. While the Zebra TC51 can feel heavy and slightly bulky for a phone, the build makes it highly portable for a computer. With the device measuring 6.1 x 2.9 x 0.73 inches and weighing under nine ounces, you can easily carry your entire working station in your pocket.

Another point to consider is that some working environments involve loud sounds that can distract communication. Accordingly, the Zebra TC51 features two speakers and two microphones, on the top and bottom of the screen, to ensure you hear everything clearly.

You’ll find volume control buttons and a scanner button located on the side. Additionally, the device has a dedicated push-to-talk button that converts the computer into a kind of a walkie-talkie. As well, the programmable back button enables quick access to the most used functions.

Camera

Zebra TC51 has two cameras. The rear 13-megapixel camera features LED flash generating balanced white light for a natural-looking picture in dark environments. In addition, the device includes a helpful flashlight mode, which is common in most modern devices. The camera is comparable to the best modern smartphones, featuring panorama mode, touch focus, phase-detection autofocus, face detection, and HDR mode.

The front-facing camera enables efficient communication with colleagues across different business channels. However, a 1.3-megapixel quality is far from the best available today.

Battery Life and Power Options

Battery life is crucial in field work often involving long shifts and a lack of power outlets. Accordingly, the Zebra TC51 is made for lengthy use, utilizing PowerPrecision technology for improved battery optimization. Though the 4300mAh battery provides up to 14 hours of continuous use, it’s not the most powerful battery on the rugged device market, if sufficient for a whole shift. However, the battery is replaceable if you need to further extend the device’s life. Thanks to Warm Swap mode, you can change the battery without powering the device down or closing running applications.

Communication

Zebra TC51 HC Medical Worker

Communication is key to work efficiency, so professional-level mobile device manufacturers place great importance on it. The TC51 features pre-installed push-to-talk functionality to enable convenient communication right out of the box. As well, due to the noise cancellation, the mic delivers your voice clearly, eliminating any background noise. The speakers also provide four times the volume of most popular smartphones.

Accessories

Zebra TC51 is compatible with a wide range of accessories. The brand offers a selection of battery replacements to extend the device’s life along with holsters and cases for comfortable handling and additional protection. Furthermore, vehicle cradles will be appreciated by delivery drivers, field technicians, and logistics professionals.

Additionally, if you’ve got many Zebra devices, you can utilize multi-slot cradles to keep all the devices charged and organized. With a fiber-tipped stylus, you can use the device in any weather without damaging the screen. There’s also ethernet cables that deliver fast and reliable data sync, and headsets to improve communication efficiency.

Zebra TC51-HC

Zebra TC51-HC Hospital Workers

Zebra TC51-HC is a version of the TC51 dedicated to healthcare workers. This device offers all the functionality of a regular Zebra TC51 with additional perks. For example, the fully sealed construction allows sanitizing and prevents the device from cracking due to constant chemical exposure. Additionally, the TC51-HC handles disinfection with harsh chemicals such as Clorox bleach, Purell, Metrex, and Steris.

Another point to consider, is that efficient and accurate communication is key in a fast-paced hospital environment. Here the TC51-HC comes with built in solutions. Namely, you won’t need to battle with auto-correct, as you can create your own dictionary of healthcare terms and define shortcuts for most-used words.

Since the Zebra TC51-HC software was specifically developed to help healthcare workers perform mobile computing, you’ll find well equipped solutions that will enable you to access patient records, and capture data easily. Medical field professionals can also manage inventory, administer blood transfusions and medications, and track prescriptions all with built-in tools. Unsurprisingly, the device received the Medtech Breakthrough Award in 2018.

Zebra TC51 Alternatives

A handheld computer is a long-term investment, so you may be willing to consider other options before purchasing it. Below, we’ll share the best alternatives to Zebra TC51.

Zebra TC56

The Zebra TC56 may appear to be the TC51’s twin, though it offers additional specs that may be highly useful to some professionals. The main distinction is the presence of a GPS sensor and LTE cellular connectivity. With Zebra TC56, you can access internet even in remote areas where Wi-Fi isn’t available and share the connection via a hotspot. Most importantly, you won’t get lost even if the job requires you to visit areas you’ve never been to.

Sonim RS60

Sonim RS60 Mobile Computer Scanner Energy Electronics Rugged Tablet

Sonim RS60 is priced the same as Zebra TC51 yet offers slightly better specs all-round. Just like Zebra TC51, the RS60 device features MIL-STD-810 rugged protection and waterproof certification. It’s also chemical-resistant for safe disinfection and operates in temperatures from -4 to 131c degrees Fahrenheit. While such a temperature resistance difference may not be important for most users, it could be crucial for professionals working in extreme climates. The humidity resistance is also 10% better than that of Zebra TC51.

Additionally, the Sonim RS60 features programmable keys and a dedicated scanner button. Furthermore, Sonim’s industry-leading scanning engine offers high-speed 1D and 2D barcode capturing. Moreover, the device runs on a newer Android 10 operating system. Although the difference between the interface appearance of Android 10 and 8 isn’t significant, a newer version often means better software compatibility.

Efficient communication is ensured by three mics with noise cancellation, push-to-talk function, and speaker with up to 95-decibel output. The device is also hearing aid compatible. While the rear camera is no different from that of Zebra TC51, the front-facing has a better quality of five megapixels. As for additional features, the RS60 has a gyro, compass, barometer, LTE connectivity, and GPS. Finally, the battery capacity is nearly twice higher, 8000mAh as opposed to Zebra’s 4300mAh. And quick-charge is available with a dedicated cable.

Honeywell Dolphin CT60

The Honeywell CT60 is a mobile computer that is designed for businesses that require real-time connectivity. It features 3GB of RAM, 32GB of Flash memory, and has LTE connections across multiple bandwidths. The CT60 has fast and accurate 1D/2D scanning for barcodes and EAN labels. Data capture is possible even on the most damaged barcodes. The rugged design is built to withstands accidental drops and falls, yet is lightweight for comfortable, everyday use. The 4.7in screen incorporates Corning® Gorilla® Glass 5 and can be easily read indoors and in direct sunlight.

Sonim XP8

Sonim XP8 offers a similar specs set to the Zebra TC51, only the retail price is lower. While the specs are equal in terms of operating system, memory capacity, and connectivity options, the front-facing camera is much better, with eight-megapixel quality. Although Sonim’s battery is slightly more powerful, 4900mAh opposed to Zebra’s 4300mAh, in practice the difference is insignificant. The XP8 also features programmable buttons and a scanner. Another notable distinction is enhanced communication due to speakers with 100-decibel output and noise-canceling mic.

Get the Best Price Offer

Energy Electronics is a certified reseller of rugged devices from leading brands, including Sonim, Honeywell, and CAT.

Contact us directly for a consultation or price quote on the Zebra TC51, the Sonim RS60, the Honeywell Dolphin CT60 or the Sonim XP. We always strive to offer the best prices on bulk orders and find our customers the most suitable devices.