Handheld Inventory Scanner
Gone are the days when a simple corded barcode scanner was the only option for keeping track of inventory.
Today there are dozens of options, so how do you know you're making the right choice?
We’ll review laser scanners, linear scanners, 2D scanning devices, as well as corded and wireless scanners. We also explain the extra features best suited for your requirements.
So before you go out and buy the first scanning device you see, check out our handy guide to the best models in each category.
Supports 2D barcodes
328ft (bluetooth version)
General purposesPoint-of-sale integration
Up to 256GB (via microSD)
Data Collection Terminal
5 000 codes
Up to 1300+ft
100 000 codes
Budget and Range
The 5 Best Handheld Inventory Scanners
#1 Zebra LI3678-SR Ultra-Rugged - Best Industrial Handheld Scanner
#2 Datalogic Gryphon GM4500 - Best General Purpose 2D Scanner
#3 Datalogic Skorpio X5 - Best Data Collection Terminal
#4 Symcode Wearable 2D Barcode Ring Scanner - Most Compact 2D Scanner
#5 Namadoo 433MHz Wireless Barcode Scanner - Best on a Budget
This high-end linear imager is designed to read a wide array of 1D barcodes under almost any conditions and regardless of the condition of the barcode label.
Designed to withstand extreme temperatures from -40 to 70°C, as well as dustproof, waterproof (including under jet pressure), and resistant to drops of 10ft onto concrete, this Zebra linear imager really puts the hard into hardware.
In terms of performance, the Zebra LI3678-SR can perform over 140,000 scans on a single battery charge. It has a mobility range of well over 300ft from the base hardware, and a wifi-friendly mode which makes it less susceptible to interference than other cordless handheld scanners.
As a linear imager, it can only scan codes in 1D but is able to recognize these when damaged, dirty, or even wrapped in polythene. If your scanning requirements involve harsh conditions and the ability to scan items that have been exposed to those conditions, an Ultra-Rugged from Zebra is an excellent choice.
Zebra do also offer 2D scanning models in the same range, so if your specific needs include the processing of more complex data and even taking document photographs they can still facilitate these business processes. Industrial 2D technology is expensive though, so most firms will save money by sticking to a linear imager.
General-purpose scanners may not be as resilient as their industrial counterparts, but for many businesses, the ability to operate under extreme conditions simply isn't necessary.
If your scanning requirements are based more on the flexibility of scan type, point-of-sale software compatibility, and reliability of scanning, the Gryphon GM4500 from Datalogic is an excellent choice.
This versatile handheld inventory scanner uses Motionix motion-sensing software to identify and compensate for movement during the scanning process.
Along with a 4-dot and cross aiming system, this makes for user-friendly, reliable inventory scanning, avoiding missed scans or errors effortlessly whether scanning from close distances or farther away.
The 4500 series integrate fully with most point-of-sale systems, so you can scan barcodes straight into your stock control and inventory tracking module.
This helps you make the best use of features such as end-to-end and in-transfer stock tracking, which are far more effective with full integration than if using devices that require separate processes for making scans and importing the barcode data into your point-of-sale suite.
While the devices in the Gryphon GM4500 series handheld scanner range are sold as general-purpose scanners, you aren't making too much compromise on hardware durability.
The casings are IP52 rated and tested against repeated drops from 6ft. While a Gryphon handheld scanner may not operate under the same range of temperatures and other adverse conditions as an industrial scanner, it's plenty tough enough for most applications without such extreme specific needs.
A data collection terminal such as the Android 10 powered Skorpio X5 from Datalogic is so much more than just another Handheld inventory scanner.
They're a must for business processes that require inventory data from stock scans to be used on the go, rather than returning to a fixed terminal location to perform data operations. The cordless Skorpio X5 is capable of scanning 1D or 2D codes at close distances or from up to 5ft away.
There's also an Extra Long-Range (XLR) version available which can scan at distances up to 65ft! Being a wifi-enabled handheld computer, the effective transmission range of this cordless scanner is only defined by wifi coverage. You can take and use this inventory scanner anywhere, even away from your main site of operations.
Being an android device, there are almost unlimited features you can add to the Skorpio X5, depending on the needs of your business.
The system allows you to use your point-of-sale application directly from the terminal, so your most recent scans can be used for inventory data analysis immediately, wherever you are.
However, these features do come with a hefty price tag so think carefully about the needs of your business before investing in this type of handheld inventory management system.
If you need to keep your inventory scanner with you all day and scan barcodes on the go, this model from Symcode is one of the smallest and lightest (95g) barcode scanners on the market.
Designed to be worn as a ring on the user's index finger, the unit can be slipped on at the start of a shift and used continuously for around 6 hours, with a standby time of up to 720 hours.
For such a small unit, the Symcode wearable scanner has an impressive set of functions, supporting 2D barcodes as well as most 1D formats, and easily handles scanning from a screen as well as physical labels. It also features both a light and a buzzer which are activated on scanning, so you always know when an item has been successfully registered.
One small drawback of this impressive little cordless scanner is the range. Being a Bluetooth unit, it can only transmit up to 33ft(10m) from the receiver. However, inbuilt offline storage does allow you to scan and store up to 5 000 sets of barcode data before you have to return to range and transmit.
In addition, this smart little Symcode scanner is iOS and Android compatible. This means, depending on the nature of your operation, the "receiver" could itself be a mobile phone or tablet. If the operator needs to go further from their usual workstation, they can bring their receiving device along, giving complete freedom of movement.
If you need to be able to scan barcodes anywhere on your premises, even for a large warehouse or outdoor site, this 1D laser barcode scanner with long-distance connectivity might well be the best handheld scanner for this purpose.
The Namadoo 433MHz scanner has a whopping range of over 1300ft in an unobstructed environment and still manages well over 300ft with obstacles. Having such an impressive operational area significantly reduces the number of fixed stations and receivers you need in your premises, helping to keep overall costs down.
Even if you need to scan outside this range, the offline mode allows you to store up to 100 000 codes on the scanner for upload when your connection is reestablished.
Another great feature of this Namadoo system is the option to switch between one-to-one and many-to-one transmission. This means you can either allow multiple scanners to transmit to one receiver (if multiple personnel are working in one area) or use a single dedicated unit for each receiver if you're operating distinct departments and want to keep the inventory data separate.
One of the only real drawbacks of this unit, compared to others in a similar category, is the beeping noise on scanning is quite quiet. This means the automatic scanning feature may not be suitable for use in noisy warehouse conditions, where an employee may miss a beep and accidentally end up double-scanning items. In such environments, it's advisable to use the manual, scan-on-trigger setting.
Factors To Consider When Buying
Type of Scanner
There are three common types of handheld inventory scanners: laser scanners, linear imagers, and 2D (area) imagers.
Laser scanners are the cheapest but require good lighting and struggle to read damaged barcodes or those with faint print effectively. They are mostly suitable for indoor, well-lit jobs using newly printed barcodes (such as in a manufacturer's shipping department).
Linear imagers do not require the same levels of light or barcode condition as laser scanners. They are still limited to reading 1D barcodes however and are more expensive than their laser counterparts. If your laser scanner isn't efficient due to operating conditions or regular label damage, these are the logical replacement.
The gold standard of handheld scanner technology is the 2D imager. They scan 2D labels such as QR codes as well as linear barcodes, and work from any angle, even in low light or with some damage to the barcode. Aside from the higher cost, the only real limitation is they don't work particularly well at ranges under 6", so can be tricky if your inventory is packed into small spaces.
Cordless vs. Corded
If you only need to scan individual items in a relatively fixed position e.g. on an assembly line or at a checkout point, a corded scanner is the cheaper option. The power cord also helps prevent scanners from being lost or easily stolen.
However, for operations such as warehousing, it is easier to have a cordless scanner that staff can use anywhere within range of the receiver. For many models this range can be 100' or more, giving employees plenty of mobility.
Another advantage of a cordless scanner is the option of batch processing. This lets you scan multiple distinct items (e.g. on a mixed pallet) but have them transmitted and coded as a single batch.
Do I Need an Industrial Model Scanner?
If your scanning requirements include operating under harsh conditions e.g. extreme temperatures or high humidity, an industrial scanner will be less prone to failure and outlast a general-purpose model. They're also much more physically durable, able to withstand being dropped or knocked when working in a rugged environment.
In addition, industrial handheld inventory scanners tend to have extra functionality, including the capacity to store data when operating in situations where network coverage may be patchy.
These models are very expensive, however, and most smaller businesses or office-type environments will find the extra features surplus to requirements.
If your business operates a full POS system, an integrated scanner allows you to track inventory via the POS interface and generate discrepancy reports. This means getting notified if your items in stock don't match up with your purchases and sales, so you know exactly what's unaccounted for and can investigate accordingly.
A simpler, non-integrated inventory scanner will export data to a spreadsheet rather than your pos. Some POS systems allow you to import that data and generate discrepancy reports but this is not as streamlined as an automated transfer. If your POS doesn't allow spreadsheet imports for scanned inventory, you'll have to run your comparisons manually, which is a very time-consuming and tedious process.
From the cheapest laser scanner to the most feature-rich handheld data terminal or most rugged cordless industrial handheld inventory scanner, there's no one "right" answer to the question of the best barcode scanning system. This is a highly subjective decision that rests primarily on the features and operating conditions required by each business.
In my review, I've covered some of the very best systems for a wide range of budgets and specific needs. Now you should have all the information you need to choose the handheld inventory scanner best suited to your own requirements.
Our Pick - Zebra LI3678-SR Ultra-Rugged