A Comparison of Mobile Time Tracking Input Devices

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We have found that it is not unusual for a company to begin their quest for a better mobile time tracking system without knowing what devices they will be using.  Many of these companies do not realize that just the size and design of these devices can make a significant impact on what they do, how fast they do it, and how much they will cost. In the following synopsis, we try to lay out a straight-forward comparison of these devices.


  • Portability – The most portable of any device. Smartphones can easily slide it into a pocket or holster for storage when not being used. This allows the user to climb ladders, get on roofs, and enter tight spaces with ease.  Smartphones come in touch screen (stylus) and non-touch screen versions.
  • Functionality – Generally offer many functions, i.e. phone, camera, email, contact manager, digital signature capture (touch screen only), etc.  They are probably not the optimal solution when you need to enter a lot of text, unless you are real good at using your thumbs!
  • Screen size – Diagonal display sizes typically run from 3 to 4 inches.
  • Processing speed – Fast and getting faster.  A new 1GHz dual core processor smartphone has been announced by T-Mobile that will be released later this month. Other reports state that a 2GHz dual core processor smartphone is targeted for release by the end of 2012
  • Cost – Prices are all over the place, starting at $49 and going above $600
  • Best Use – When portability is the main requirement, and most input can be done through a stylus or track pad.


  • Portability – Still very portable but not to the degree of smartphones.   A typical laptop will be 12” x 8” and weigh 5-9 pounds.
  • Functionality – With Skype, laptops can be used as phones. For all you Spielberg wannabes, they can also be used as cameras, web-cams, or digital camcorders!  Because of all the programs that can be loaded onto a laptop, they offer great functionality. They should be seriously considered when lots of text needs to be entered as their bigger keyboards allow for faster manual entry.
  • Screen size – The diagonal screen size for laptops generally runs from 12.1” to 17”
  • Processing speed – The laptop processor is typically a lower-powered processor than those found in similar desktop computers, but is faster than all the other devices in this comparison
  • Cost – Typically, laptops will start at around $349 and can go beyond $3,000 for ruggedized versions
  • Best Use – When entering lots of information, when using other programs, especially concurrently, or when speed is a critical issue.


  • Portability – Netbooks are basically just small laptops. Their small, lightweight design makes them a great choice for on the road use. A typical netbook will be 10” x 7” and weigh less than 3 pounds.
  • Functionality – They can do many of the things that a laptop does, maybe just a bit slower.  The come with built-in Wi-Fi, but do not have a CD/DVD drive. Because of their limited resources, you cannot watch movies or videos, edit photos or videos, or play graphics intense games.  Unfortunately, this just leaves work stuff!
  • Screen size – Technically, netbooks come in sizes as small as 7 inches, and as large as 12 inches.
  • Processing speed – PassMark scores for Netbooks typically range from 300 – 600. That compares to a benchmark PassMark score of 1,000 for a low-end laptop. Obviously, they are not as fast as your typical laptop.
  • Cost – The price differential between netbooks and laptops is getting smaller and smaller.  Netbook prices usually start at $249 although cheaper ones can be found.
  • Best Use – When cost is the most important issue


  • Portability – Tablet computers are the latest craze among consumers all over the world.  A tablet PC is equipped with a touchscreen as the primary input device. They offer substantially the same great portability as laptops or netbooks.
  • Functionality – With Windows 7, the tablet pc no longer requires a separate edition of the operating system.  So now, you have many choices of input methods, and pretty much the same functionality of a laptop. Tablets also allow you to capture employee signatures without the need for a separate signature pad device. The rub for mobile time tracking users is that, unless you want to carry around a separate USB-connected keyboard, you will have to type using a virtual keyboard, NOT an easy thing.
  • Processing speed – No problem here
  • Cost – Prices start at less than $200 for some tablets, but you can expect to pay $500 and up for a quality device.
  • Best Use – Really hard to say. Maybe if you want to track time AND watch a movie?


  • Portability – Unless you have a very long extension cord, and like to get your exercise carrying around large workstations, they do not rank high on the portability scale.
  • Functionality – Because of all the resources they come with (memory, disk space, etc.), desktops offer the most functionality of all the devices.  But that functionality comes at a price – bigger size, more weight, and many more peripherals (monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, etc.)
  • Screen size – You can now buy monitors large enough to create your own home theaters (and sell popcorn and cokes).  Screen sizes will range from 15” to 32”.
  • Processing speed – Absolutely no problem here.  Memory comes in Gigabytes and hard drive capacity in Terabytes.
  • Cost – For the functionality and processing power, very cheap.  You can find desktop computers starting at $299.
  • Best Use – For indoor environments like job trailers, remote offices, etc.

Time Clocks

  • Portability – Most time clocks are nailed to the wall.  Only The Hulk would consider them portable.
  • Functionality – Not a tremendous amount of functionality on these devices, but that’s not why you buy them.  They clock you in and clock you out. Some will allow you to put in a few more bits of info, but not much.
  • Processing speed – You mostly need to make sure you have sufficient memory to handle the number of employees and punches.
  • Cost – A very wide range depending on the type of input method you want to use – keypad, mag stripe reader, bar code scanner, proximity reader, or fingerprint reader – and whether you want them to last beyond any 90 day warranty that comes with it.
  • Best Use – When clocking in or out many employees at a time, or for manufacturing type(shop) environments where the conditions require a very rugged, durable device

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