Handheld and portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometers have evolved in recent years from being primarily used as metal sorting tools in scrap yards to becoming instruments of high analytical performance. However, this trend has not been fully embraced by the academic and research community, and there are multiple reasons for this. In this presentation we will provide a comprehensive description of the capabilities of these devices, particularly in the context in geo-analysis and archeometric research. We will cover typical analytical performance indicators, including instrument stability, limits of detection, precision and accuracy, as well as reproducibility in quantification. Furthermore, we will discuss how the hardware concept of the instrument influences its performance, allowing for a better understanding of the instrument's capabilities and limitations.
As a practical example, we will focus on the analysis of archaeological ceramics using the TRACER 5g. Ceramic analysis is a common research field in archaeometry that presents additional complexities for accurate elemental characterization. For this application, we will discuss strategies for optimizing measurement time and analytical parameters, tuning existing calibrations for the samples, validating results for publication requirements, and address the challenges of non-invasive analysis of precious artifacts. Additionally, we will explore how the combination of sample characteristics, analytical questions, and XRF physics are directly connected in this context. The presentation will provide a realistic assessment of the analytical performance of portable XRF instruments by offering a robust analytical evaluation that dispels existing myths surrounding this technique.