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Hardware

A look at the hardware I've used for collecting data using Open Data Kit:

Pantech Element - This has been my go-to device since I started using ODK.  It's a perfect size, waterproof(!), and has a long battery life.  With WiFi and Bluetooth turned off, a fully charged unit can go for weeks of daily use.

These units are starting to age, though, and finding replacements is getting difficult.  I scooped up as many as I could on eBay, sometimes for as little as $40.  We're beginning to encounter dead pixels and sometimes getting satellite fixes takes too long.  Photo quality on the Element has always been so-so.  The biggest problem, though, is the version of Android.  Pantech Elements can be only be upgraded to Android 4.0.4.  And while the older versions of ODK Collect works fine on this, the newer capabilities beginning with ODK Collect v1.5.1 require hardware running Android 4.1 or newer.

Personal phone - As ODK Collect can be run on any Android device, I have always installed it on my personal phone, including those made by Motorola and Google.  While I generally avoid using my phone in the field, it's quite handy to quickly record that herp on the road or one you find while at a family function.  I even once used it to document a hatchling Northern Ring-necked Snake found inside a room at a conference!  I've found the experience of the phone (vs. a tablet) to be very good, and the newer ODK Collect on these modern devices really makes the Pantech Element experience feel old. (🎵 If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor.🎵)

Trimble TDC100 - This is the most expensive piece of equipment I've used to collect data.  Trimble is considered a leader in ruggedized, high-precision field data collection, but this unit has done nothing to impress me.  I've found it slow to acquire GPS fixes and no more accurate than the phones and tablets we've used.  It also holds the distinction of being the only unit on which I've ever lost any data.  In our first year of field work, a drop onto the ground caused the unit to stop functioning.  Trimble repaired the unit at no cost, but the single data sheet that was stored on it was lost.  For the cost of one TDC100, I can purchase 10-20 used tablets or phones.

Sony SD6708 Xperia Z3V - The search for a replacement to the Pantech Element led me to this unit, mainly for the following reasons:

  • Shipped with Android 4.4.4, up-gradable to 6.0
  • Waterproof
  • Good reviews
  • Used units available at a reasonable price
I've only just began using the Xperia, deploying several (used) units for the 2019 field season.  One issue I've had is that used phones often are missing the port covers, rendering them no longer waterproof.  Another downside: the amount of bloatware installed is staggering, and most of this can only be disabled, not actually removed.  Overall, though, I think these are good units and are certainly a step-up from the Pantech Element (and about 1/7th the cost of a new Trimble TDC100).  Note that I don't have carrier plans with any of these phones (they don't even have SIM cards installed), instead the data is uploaded via WiFi.   
 
Next: Open Data Kit Collect (the data sheets)