Mobile Data Collection in Emergencies: Which Phones or Tablets Can Do the Job?
Smartphones and tablets have become an indispensable part of field operations worldwide. Whether it is to respond to emails, to update team members via WhatsApp, or to collect data quickly and accurately.
Mobile Data Collection (MDC) is one of the most useful and fastest growing applications of smartphones and tablets in the field. MDC is faster, more accurate and often cheaper than traditional survey methods using pen and paper (see also here).
But the question remains: which phone or tablet will do the job when taken to the field? To help humanitarian organisations select suitable devices, CartONG has tested seven Android phones and three Android tablets for UNHCR. The findings are now available and can be downloaded here.
This year’s report pays particular attention on four focus areas:
- How well can the device read QR codes and barcodes?
- Can GPS data be collected without a SIM card?
- Can the device be used as a wifi hotspot, even without a SIM card?
- How well does the device withstand shocks, water and dust?
Not all these criteria are relevant for each project, which is why there is no clear winner across all categories. For example: project manager who are looking for a particularly large battery will like the Asus Zenphone Max 4, however the fact that this phone has neither water nor dust protection might rule it out in many settings. On the other hand, if ruggedness is a key-criteria, then the Samsung Galaxy Tab Active LTE tablet might be good choice. However, CartONG found that none of the Samsung tablets or phones are able to work as hotspots without SIM-cards. Therefore, if that is essential, all Samsung devices are off the table.
The decision to review phones that can withstand field conditions also resulted in phones being selected that are in the medium price range, rather than at the low end: the phones cost between 200 and 325 Euros, while the tablets were priced between 200 and 390 Euros. Prospective buyers will be able to find considerably cheaper models, if they are not looking for sturdy phones or if they do not expect the phones to be used for multiple surveys per year.
Whatever the final choice CartONG has two recommendations for everyone working on mobile data collection:
- If you buy phones, make sure to buy the same make and model for everyone. Different phones increase the time needed for technical support and training significantly.
- If you are planning to bring phones to the field, make sure to familiarize yourself with the relevant customs regulations before getting on the plane. Nothing is more annoying than having your phones stuck in customs for weeks, while you are trying to sort out the paperwork.
The report “Comparison of Android Phone and Tablets for Mobile Data Collection – 2017” can be downloaded here.