Ag Leader Technology introduced its SMS (Spatial Management System) Mobile Field PC kit at this year's National Farm Machinery Show. If you stopped by the company's booth or watched Farm Industry News TV online, you saw one of the Ag Leader sales staff drop the field PC on the convention center floor to demonstrate its rugged construction. To see how it would perform under more typical farm conditions, we took the kit home to our Indiana farm to try.

The SMS Field PC measures 6.5 × 3.5 × 1.7 in. and weighs only 17 oz. The lightweight magnesium body is encased in an easy-to-grip, bright-orange elastomer overmolding with a feel similar to rubber.

Configured with on-board 256-MB flash disc storage, 64-MB RAM memory, and an Intel XScale PXA270 processor operating at 520 MHz, the field PC has sufficient resources for SMS Mobile software.

Designed for field use

Unlike many devices designed for outdoor use, the SMS Mobile's backlit display is easy to read in all environments, even in direct sunlight. Below the screen are six round keys with automatic backlight (orange glow), which can perform standard Windows functions. We could use the buttons even when wearing gloves during the March snows.

The lightweight Li-Ion battery pack recharges consistently in 4 to 5 hrs. and operates approximately 8 to 10 hrs. on a full charge when using GPS and SMS Mobile software.

At the top of the field PC is a fully sealed cap that conceals a compact flash (Type I or Type II) and secure digital (SD or SDIO) card slots for devices such as a keyboard, flash drive, modem, or network or memory card. A USB host (Mini A) to control other devices, USB client (Mini B) for desktop synchronization, 12v DC jack power input and battery charging, and nine-pin RS-232 ports are on the bottom of the PDA. All ports are sealed.

The SMS Mobile is preloaded with Windows Mobile 5.0, ActiveSync, Office Mobile (MS Excel, MS Word, MS PowerPoint), Internet Explorer, Outlook, Bluetooth and Ag Leader's SMS Mobile Version 1. During testing, we experienced problems with the software. Ag Leader Support Services helped us resolve the installation issues.

The SMS Mobile software includes Field Boundaries, Soil Samples, Coverage Logs, General Logs and Crop Scouting modes. SMS Mobile software detects the GPS receiver and displays GPS status, position and satellite distribution. Importing an existing data set from SMS Desktop gets the mobile software ready to take to the field quickly.

Performance

The field PC performed well in most areas. Data entries are easy with the touch screen. The battery life provides adequate time to complete most tasks.

Windows Mobile 5.0 has some limiting features. It allows applications of only 32 MB of operating memory. If the field PC runs slowly or locks unexpectedly when running SMS Mobile, it may be because large image maps or other programs are in memory.

The Wintec Gray 1 receiver may not provide the degree of accuracy for some mapping applications. Attached to the bracket, it fits neatly at the top of the SMS Field PC.

The SMS Mobile Field PC kit is $2,295. It includes the field PC preloaded with SMS Mobile software Version 2, 1-GB SD card, stylus, power cables, Bluetooth GPS receiver with mounting bracket, instruction CDs, a one-year warranty, one year of unlimited support, and free software upgrades. Additional maintenance can be purchased for $120/year. Contact Ag Leader Technology, Dept. FIN, Box 2348, Ames, IA 50010, 515/232-5363, or visit www.agleader.com.