Consumer vs. Enterprise Tablets: Which to Use in the Warehouse

Tablets are becoming increasingly common in warehouses and distribution centers for a variety of uses. From vehicle-mounted computers to supervisor devices, tablets offer mobility and versatility for warehouse operations. But should you opt for a consumer-grade tablet like an iPad or Samsung device, or choose an enterprise-grade option built specifically for the warehouse environment? In this article, we’ll compare consumer and enterprise tablets and provide guidance on choosing the right device.

Common Warehouse Uses for Tablets

Some of the most prevalent ways companies are using tablets in the warehouse include:

  • Vehicle mounting: Tablets are commonly mounted onto forklifts, order pickers, and other warehouse vehicles and connected to a Bluetooth scanner. This allows drivers to perform transactions and interface with WMS software hands-free.
  • Workstations: Tablets placed at stationary or mobile workstations provide visual instructions/information to workers to assist with assembly, picking, packing and other tasks.
  • Supervisor/manager devices: Outfitting managers with tablets enables mobility around the warehouse floor to communicate, take photos, check inventory levels, and more.

Benefits of Enterprise Tablets

Enterprise-grade tablets from vendors like Zebra and Honeywell are expressly designed for warehouse and industrial environments. Here are some key advantages over consumer-grade options:

  • Ruggedness: Withstand drops, dust, water, extreme temps, and vibrations from vehicles.
  • Battery life: Hot-swappable batteries support 24/7 operation.
  • Wireless connectivity: Consistent roaming with dual antennas.
  • Barcode scanning: Available with integrated, high-performance scanners.
  • Device management: Easier to configure, lockdown, and update devices remotely.
  • Accessories: Cradles, mounts, cases, and holsters specifically designed for each model.

Downsides of Consumer Tablets

While Apple iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tabs may seem enticing due to lower upfront costs, they fall short in a number of areas:

  • Durability: Not built to withstand inevitable drops and spills in a warehouse.
  • Wireless performance: Only one antenna leads to interrupted connections.
  • Battery life: Often inadequate for 12+ hour shifts.
  • Device management: Time-consuming to configure each device manually.
  • Accessories: Very limited options for protective cases, mounts, etc.
  • Lifecycle: Consumer tablets last 1-2 years before needing replacement.

The Importance of TCO

Looking beyond just the initial purchase price and focusing on the total cost of ownership (TCO) is crucial when evaluating tablets. A study found that while consumer tablets are cheaper upfront, they cost enterprises twice as much ($23K vs. $12K) to deploy and support over a 5-year lifespan. The higher IT support burden, accessories cost, replacement rate, and productivity loss add up for consumer devices.


When outfitting the warehouse with tablets, opting for enterprise-grade options like the Zebra ET40/ET45 or Honeywell VM3 offers durability, seamless wireless connectivity, long battery life, and enterprise-class manageability. The higher upfront cost pays dividends through lower TCO and avoiding productivity losses that occur with consumer devices. With options available at multiple price points, investing in enterprise tablets is prudent for nearly any warehouse.

If you'd like a custom quote on tablets for your warehouse, please contact us.