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ANNOUNCEMENT

For 30 years I have been helping organisations and individuals with their Barcode and Auto ID issues but now I have decided it is time to move on and retire from being the Barcode Man.

I will continue to respond to emails from existing customers about their earlier purchases, their special programming configurations and warranty issues but I regret I cannot help with new purchases or issues nor recommend alternative products or sources.

Lee Allen, The Barcode Man. February 2010

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Executive summary

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This portable device can store around 10000 barcodes for later download to a data file on a PC. Optionally a timestamp can be attached to each barcode. The device reads virtually (*) all barcode types in common use today. Free software is provided to facilitate the download operation via a USB port. The battery is charged by being connected to a USB port. A free lanyard is included.

* Librarians in the UK should note the device will not read UK Plessey or Telepen barcode types which may still be in use on older stock. Contact the sales office for advice if you are not sure - we can identify code types for you.

 
Barcode Man

This article was written during March 2009. It describes my experiences as I unpacked and used the Tiny Collector for the first time.

What's in the box

  • Tiny Data Collector
  • CD containing: USB Driver, Manual (PDF file), Data collection application (KTSync.exe)
  • USB cable (Regular A Type USB to Miniature USB). Length about 1 Metre.
  • Lanyard

Description

The Tiny Data Collector is the smallest barcode scanner I have ever seen and easily fits in the palm of the hand. It is supplied with a lanyard enabling it to be hung around the neck. It can be used to scan from this position but for continuous use I found it more comfortable to remove it from the lanyard. This is easily achieved by squeezing the quick release catch.

The Alpha numeric display is 13 characters wide by 4 rows high. When scanning the top row shows the current time and an icon representing the battery charge status. The other 3 rows show the content of the barcode just scanned. If the scan fails 'Failed reading' is displayed. The characters are a pleasing cyan blue colour. The display uses the new OLED technology (OLED=Organic Light Emitting Diode - Enter OLED into Wikipedia to learn more). This is the first commercial device I have seen using OLED technology and I was impressed. The characters are crisp and bright and unlike the older LCD displays do not need a backlight thus prolonging battery life. The display actually emits light so it can be read in the dark.

The 'scan button' is immediately below the display. When pressed a light beam is emitted from the top of the device. The scanner is moved so the light beam plays across the barcode. A beep indicates the barcode has been scanned and the data stored in memory. Because this is a laser beam there is no need to keep the barcode at a particular distance in order to focus the beam. The only contraint is that the beam passes across the whole width of the Barcode. I had no difficulty reading standard EAN size barcodes as close as 50mm or as far as 300mm. Very wide barcodes can be read by increasing the distance. At 500mm distance the scan width is about 400mm.

This small device has two separate USB Connectors. One swings out from the Base and is a normal type 'A' connector which fits into a standard PC USB socket. The other is hidden behind a small rubber bung on the right hand side (the bung hinges out so it can't get lost). Physically it is one of those miniature USB connectors often found on digital cameras. A 1M cable is supplied and this can be used to connect the miniature USB connector to the PC as an alternative to the 'swing out' connector. On my computer the USB is on the back, where the dust is, so I found the cable method to be the best approach. It would have been better if the cable were longer but it was easy enough to utilise a USB extension cable.

There are two 'scroll buttons' on the left side. These are used in conjunction with the scan button to select a number of different menu options. Their use is described fully in the manual and once you get the hang of it they are quite intuitive to use albeit a little awkward. Once the scanner is set up properly you probably wont need to use them often. In any event some menu options can be selected in the KTSync application on the CD.

First time use

When you first unpack the Data Collector you need to charge the battery before it can be used. It is charged by connecting it to the computer's USB port (either of the Data Collector's USB connectors can be used). A totally flat battery takes about 2 hours to charge. It is frustrating to have to wait for two hours before the device can be used for the first time - I used the time to read the manual (provided as a PDF file on the CD).

The first time you connect the Tiny Data Collector to a USB port after purchasing, the battery is likely to be completely discharged so for the first couple of minutes nothing appears to be happening. As soon as the battery receives a minimal charge the computer springs into life and brings up the familiar USB driver installation window. Follow the steps (the driver is on the CD provided with the Data Collector) until the driver is installed. If you plan to use both USB connectors you will need to install the driver twice - once for each.

The manual says the 'orange' light turns to green when the battery is fully charged. I looked for the orange light but could not see one. In fact the orange light is created by closely positioned points of red and green light. Red and green lights close together should appear to be orange but in this case they are just a little too far apart to create the orange illusion. This is a minor issue but was confusing until I realised what was happening. In my case the red light extinguished and the remaining green light showed the battery was fully charged after a little over 1 hour. I assume the 2 hours specified in the manual is worst case.

I found it easy to read all sorts of barcodes. You just point the scanner and press the button with your thumb. Some people do not like to have to press a button for every scan but for a portable device the battery would be discharged very quickly if the scanning engine were left running. The device drops into sleep mode after a few seconds of non use - another feature to extend battery life. But even when the device is in sleep mode I found the response to pressing the scan button to be instantaeneous. I could not detect any time lag while the device restored itself to full scanning order.

A good read is indicated by a short beep. The sound emanates from a small hole close to the scan button. I found my thumb often covered the hole when scanning thus muting the beep. I think the design would be improved if the hole were located elsewhere.

As you scan each barcode its content is displayed on the screen. This provides useful feedback and gives confidence the scan was successful. The top row also shows the current time and a battery icon indicating the current state of charge. The display is excellent and I could not fault it.

The manual says the device can store more than 10,000 barcodes. For this first test I read just a dozen or so and proceeded to the KDSync application to download them to my PC.

Data download application: KDSync

The data collection application supplied on the CD is called KTSync. It enables the data to be downloaded to a disk file or sent direct to a running application such as Excel. It also allows the data to be configured in different ways and provides some control over the data collector hardware.

The manual says the application needs either Windows XP or Vista. For my initial tests I was using Windows 2000 which I hoped would be 'good enough'. I did have some initial difficulties with the application saying the collector was not present when it was and other problems with an occasional unintelligable error message. I was able to overcome these problems by quiting and restarting the application but I was becoming concerned about the software quality or maybe the application really did need Windows XP rather that Win2K. I decided to upgrade the firmware inside the device by downloading a file from the manufacturers web site. The file contains instructions and I had no problems upgrading. After the upgrade I had no further problems with the application. To be fair my initial difficulties could easily have been due to my inexperience with the application (with software I often find it takes a number of false starts before I get a feel for the programmers concept behind the application).

KDSync needs to know which COM port the software has reserved for the data collector hardware. Although it scans each port looking for the hardware it may save some time by entering the correct port manually. You can discover this by looking in Windows Device Manager...
(Start > Settings > Control Panel > System > Hardware > Device Manager > Ports > Koamtac Data Collector)
...on my computer it connected to COM3.

The manual provides detailed use instructions for the KDSync application though I found the manual provided on the CD was not the latest version (You can download the version I used - there is a link at the foot of this page).

I wanted to download my data to a disk file and I found the process relatively straightforward. To get the result I wanted I had to changed a couple of the options in the Settings menu page. I changed the record delimiter from TAB to CR and selected File button under Data Destination. I noticed the box "Clear KDC memory after synchronization" was checked. If my data was important I would have concerns about this particularly if I had just spent several hours collecting it. I would not want to clear the source data until after I had confirmed its successful receipt. As I was just testing the software I left the box checked. In fact the download proceeded perfectly. Nevertheless I would not recommend auto clearing the memory in a real world situation. After clicking OK I was returned to the main page. Downloading is initiated by clicking 'Synchronize'. All proceeded as expected and after the operation I found my data file located at C:\myData\2009-3\20090303_130201.txt. Notice that the data file name is generated automatically and represents the date and time the data was downloaded.

Summary

I am often asked for a low cost device to provide an occasional stock check for library use. I believe this Tiny Collector meets that requirement although it should be pointed out that the scanner will not read UK Plessey or Telepen barcodes which may still be in use in some libraries.

In general this Data Collector meets the needs of those on a tight budget who need a very simple data collection tool. It records the barcode number and, if needed, a timestamp against each barcode. Its ten thousand scan capacity makes this a serious business tool. Its lack of a numeric keypad limits its use to those applications which do not need to record a quantity figure against each barcode. Overall I found this device a pleasure to use.

 
 
Prices & Ordering
The Web Prices shown here are specially discounted and apply only for automated credit card orders made from this web page. If you need a special configuration mention it on the order form and I will contact you if further details are needed. Purchase orders from existing customers, educational, public sector and other organisations are accepted. Normal prices and conditions will apply. Please ask if you need help or a quote.
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Tiny Data Collector. Starter Pack: Everything needed to collect barcode data and download to a PC. tdc100  £ 284.00 add to cart

Free Downloads for the Tiny Collector Download
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Manufacturers specification sheet 92Kb  Free pdf
Tiny Collector User Manual. 2.2Mb  Free pdf
KDSync v1.42. Application software to download data from the collector to a data file. 540Kb  Free zip

 
 
Tiny Data Collector and Tiny Collector are Trademarks of Altek Instruments Ltd
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