The Pros and Cons of Various Handheld Barcode Scanners

handheld barcode scanner

The market for barcode scanners remains robust with at least one estimate calling for CAGR growth of around seven percent through 2027. They’ve been around forever and as a result, there exists a variety of hardware to scan barcodes. And each has their pros and cons depending on your goals with barcode technology.

A universal advantage of handheld barcode scanners is in their mobility. You can avoid lifting heavy items to be scanned compared with a fixed barcode reader. This improves productivity and enhances safety.

Their mobility makes them ideal for inventory applications where you can go to the items being inventoried rather than bring items to the barcode reader. But, there are some disadvantages too. For example, some handheld barcode scanners have limitations in scan distances. In looking at three common barcode reader types, each offers distinct pros and cons.

Laser-Based Barcode Scanners

Laser-based barcode scanners have been around for decades. They usually are made of components including moving mirrors. So, laser barcode scanners have a lot of moving parts compared to other types. And, naturally, the more moving parts you have, the more likely it is for something to fail or break. While this is a con, it’s important to note laser-based scanners have been used for decades in industrial applications such as warehousing. So, while they may appear fragile, they’ve got years of improvements behind them.

Generally speaking, laser scanners are better at reading at distances more than two feet, compared to other barcode readers that aren’t so good at it. They are also generally better in low-light situations.

Another related positive is that, through long-term development, it has become a simple, low cost, but still a reliable option. To this day, across many industries, laser scanners are the go-to hardware of choice for their accuracy when you need high-speed barcode reading.

CCD Scanners

Another common hardware type for barcode scanning is the charge-couple device array (CCD array). It basically is a technology that uses diodes to capture light. As detailed below by Wikipedia:

A charge-coupled device (CCD) is a device for the movement of electrical charge, usually from within the device to an area where the charge can be manipulated, for example conversion into a digital value. This is achieved by “shifting” the signals between stages within the device one at a time. CCDs move charge between capacitive bins in the device, with the shift allowing for the transfer of charge between bins.

In recent years CCD has become a major technology for digital imaging. In a CCD image sensor, pixels are represented by p-doped metal-oxide-semiconductors (MOS) capacitors. These capacitors are biased above the threshold for inversion when image acquisition begins, allowing the conversion of incoming photons into electron charges at the semiconductor-oxide interface; the CCD is then used to read out these charges. Although CCDs are not the only technology to allow for light detection, CCD image sensors are widely used in professional, medical, and scientific applications where high-quality image data are required. In applications with less exacting quality demands, such as consumer and professional digital cameras, active pixel sensors, also known as complementary metal-oxide-semiconductors (CMOS) are generally used; the large quality advantage CCDs enjoyed early on has narrowed over time.

A knock on mostCCD-based scanners was that they were linear and, thus, couldn’t read 2D barcodes. There is an advantage in using a linear CCD scanner in that it is purpose-built. So, if your application is geared for linear barcodes, this type of barcode scanner might be ideal over other scanners. There also might be cost savings advantages in CCD linear scanners compared to other options.

2D Imagers for Barcodes

Smartphones in the barcode world can be classified as 2D imagers. They are now widely used as barcode readers, in particular for QR codes. So, it’s certainly a positive that almost everyone is walking around with a barcode reader in their pocket. This has opened a whole new wave of application opportunities.

However, there are various levels of quality to be had. So, reliability varies by platform. Lower-end smartphones will not have cameras as good as more costly smartphones. Thus, barcode detection accuracy and speeds can suffer. There is also the speed of the CPU and GPU to consider as factors in smartphones that may degrade reliability.

Here are also other purpose-built barcode readers that are classified as 2D imagers. These barcode readers are generally more reliable, speedier and more accurate than common smartphones. You can also often customize the barcode reader software for even more speed. For example, if you know you will only be using one specific barcode type, removing recognition of other barcode types in software will speed processing. With the right barcode decoding software, various customizations are possible for improving accuracy and speed.

These imagers also can read a much wider variety of symbologies and better read those that have some damage too. Their ability to capture images also makes them ideal for conveniently implementing ancillary technologies. For example, in addition to decoding a barcode, you could apply OCR technology to also capture a serial number or other similar data.


As with most jobs, it’s about using the right tool for the task at hand. Each barcode reader type still enjoys usage for this reason. In the end, most users will want whichever reader is going to get the job done the quickest. This might mean needing to scan 500 items an hour. Or, it might mean scanning 5 items an hour and capturing rich data to populate a database with. These end results are critical to consider before embarking on choosing a handheld barcode reader.

Credits and Sources:

Subscribe Newsletter

Subscribe to our mailing list to get the monthly update.