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Barcode Scanner Buyer's Guide

What kind of barcode scanner should I buy?

Consider the following questions:

  • Are you reading 1D 1D barcode or 2D 2D Barcode barcodes?
  • How many barcodes do you expect to scan in a day?
  • In what kind of environment (retail, industrial, warm, cold, etc.) will the scanner be used?

1D Barcode Scanner Types

Handheld Scanner

Handheld Scanner: These scanners are a staple of retail data capture. With a trigger grip and ergonomic design, 1D handheld scanners are built to perform for a variety of uses.

We separate handheld scanners into three different sub-categories.

Entry Level Scanners - $ Mid-Level Scanners - $$ Professional-Level Scanners - $$$
Least expensive, close range scanning, limited capabilities

Low volume scanning across multiple industries

Try: IDTech Econoscan II
ID Tech Econoscan II
Mid-range pricing, can read poorly printed barcodes, greater programming options

Medium to high volume scanning across multiple industries

Try: Symbol LS2208
Symbol LS2208
Most expensive, many are shock and contamination resistant, usually highly programmable

High volume scanning for industrial environments

Try: Datalogic Gryphon I GD4400
Datalogic Gryphon I GD4400

Wireless Scanner Wireless Barcode Scanner: If you need added mobility when scanning, a wireless scanner may be right for you. These barcode scanners use Bluetooth or RF radios to send data to a communications cradle connected to your computer, allowing you to travel up to three hundred feet from your computer to scan barcodes. Bluetooth models have the added bonus of compatibility with Bluetooth-compatible mobile computers, laptops, or smartphones, giving you greater mobility.
Models to try Motorola LI4278 or Honeywell Voyager 1202g
Omni Directional Scanner Omni-Directional Barcode Scanner: Also known as presentation scanners, an omni-directional scanner sits on your counter and you have to present the barcode to it for scanning. Available with 1D laser scanning or even 2D imaging, a good presentation scanner will speed up the checkout process dramatically. These are great for fast-paced retail, where customers may purchase more than a few items at a time.
Models to try: Honeywell Fusion or Motorola DS9208
Industrial Barcode Scanner Industrial Barcode Scanner: Industrial Scanners are built with heavier duty plastics and sealed components, designed to hold up against the extreme conditions of industrial environments. These devices can usually read either incredibly damaged barcodes or long distance barcodes, ideal to accomodate the rougher surroundings of warehouses & shipping centers. Most are brightly colored so as to make them easily spotted.
Models to try: Datalogic Powerscan D8300 or Symbol LS3578
Wand Barcode Scanner Wand Barcode Scanner: One of the original scanner designs, a wand barcode scanner looks a bit like a pen. Barcodes are scanned by dragging the tip of the wand across the barcode, usually relatively slowly. While these devices aren't as efficient as other handheld scanners, they still find use in libraries, office document management, or any place where few barcodes are scanned in a day.
Models to try: Unitech MS120 or UniTech MS100
Scale Barcode Scanner Scanner / Scale Combination: Commonly seen in grocery stores and hardware stores, combination scanner / scale devices give you a mix of fast omni-directional barcode scanning and weighing of products. These are a great space-saving solution if you sell products by barcode as well as weight. Although more expensive than other scanners, a scanner / scale combination provides tremendous durability and longevity, maximizing your return on investment.
Models to try: Magellan 8500XT or Honeywell Stratos

2D Barcode Scanner Types

2D Handheld Barcode Scanner Handheld Scanner: Handheld 2D barcode imagers offer advanced barcode scanning in a similar form-factor to their 1D counterparts. These fast scanners offer additional functionality including advanced data parsing, optical character recognition, and image capture. With the increase in 2D barcode scanner use, a handheld 2D scanner is a great addition at any retail business.
Models to try: Honeywell Xenon 1900 or Motorola DS4208
2D Wireless Barcode Scanners Wireless Barcode Scanner: With a wireless 2D imager, you get the functionality of a handheld barcode imager but with tremendous mobility, fantastic for shipping, inventory management, or any application where products are too large or out of reach to bring to a computer. Advanced data manipulation, including driver's license parsing, make these scanners terrific mobile data collection tools.
Models to try: Symbol DS6878 or Honeywell Xenon 1902
2D Omni Directional Barcode Scanners Omni-Directional Barcode Scanner: 2D barcode imagers, by design, are omni-directional. However, 2D presentation scanners are tuned to scan barcodes quickly, ideal for high volume retail or even manufacturing use. Advanced imaging technology captures even fast moving barcodes, ensuring checkout processes are fast and hassle-free.
Models to try: Honeywell Genesis 7580g or Symbol DS9808 or Datalogic Magellan 1100i
2D Omni Industrial Barcode Scanners Industrial Barcode Scanner: Industrial 2D imagers are built to handle tremendous abuse and the environmental extremes you may experience in field services, cold storage inventory management, or heavy duty manufacturing environments. Usually sealed against dirt and water harming internal components, these barcode scanners are built for maximum uptime and usability.
Models to try: Honeywell Granit 1910i or Symbol DS3400

Barcode ScannerHow do scanners work?
Barcode scanners read encoded data (the barcode), decode it, and output the information, usually in text format, to the computer. The most popular method to send the data is via USB connection, acting as a secondary keyboard connected to your PC. There are two main types of barcodes in use today: 1D barcodes and 2D barcodes. The first step in choosing the right scanner is knowing which type of barcodes you will need to read.

1D barcode1D Barcodes

1D barcodes appear as a series of black lines with varying widths. The combination of black bar and white gap widths determine what data is in the barcode. Most consumer goods have a UPC-format barcode on them, making it easier to quickly lookup data in retail settings. A good 1D scanner will read virtually any 1D barcode you encounter in a retail store.

2D Barcode2D Barcodes

Rather than use one row of vertical bars, a 2D barcode uses multiple stacked rows of vertical bars creating what looks like a series of small squares to encode data. These barcodes can store significantly more data than their 1D counterpart, and so they are often used for shipping tracking info or manufacturing data. A popular 2D format, QR, is often used by advertisers to direct smartphone users to additional online content. With a 2D scanner, you can scan both 1D and 2D barcodes.

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