Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 review


Panansonic Toughpad FZ-M1The Toughpad is a worthy replacement for a rugged PDA, but the base unit has few I/O ports and any industrial peripherals are optional extras. Nevertheless, it packs a decent amount of processing power into a surprisingly light device with reasonable battery life for its size.
Pros:
Fully rugged, Core i5 processor with vPro, removable battery pack
Cons:
Few I/O ports, industrial peripherals extra, stylus extra
Overall Rating:
4 Star Rating: Recommended
Price: £1,183 (base unit)
Manufacturer: Panasonic
Model: Toughpad FZ-M1
Display: 7in WXGA (1280x800) sunlight-viewable IPS LCD with 10-finger multi-touch
Processor: Intel dual-core 1.6GHz Core i5-4302Y with vPro
RAM: 4GB (max 8GB)
Storage: 128GB SSD (256GB optional)
Wireless connections: 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth, Sierra Wireless EM7305 LTE/HSPA+ mobile broadband
Ports: USB 3.0, headset jack, expansion connector, microSD memory card slot
Camera: 2MP front, 5MP rear
Dimensions: 203x18x132mmmm
Battery: Two-cell 22Whr lithium-ion (four-cell optional)
Weight: 540g


REVIEW

Panasonic's Toughpad FZ-M1 is the latest in the firm's line of rugged devices aimed at workers out in the field. With a 7in screen and weighing just 540g, the slate-mode tablet is highly portable, without compromising too much on performance. However, I/O is minimal on the device as standard, with many features delivered via optional add-ons.

Announced at the start of the year and available now, the Toughpad FZ-M1 might be viewed as just another mini tablet among the many announced following the release of Windows 8.1 last autumn, albeit one in a fully rugged casing, but Panasonic is instead pitching the device as a successor to the rugged PDAs operated in various industry sectors.

When viewed in this light, the Toughpad is ironically not much more costly than many of those devices, although its £1,183 price is much higher than many consumer tablets with a comparable screen size. It does, however, offer much greater performance and full Windows app compatibility than the devices it is intended to replace.
Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1
Panasonic also has an eye on public-sector and even military markets with the Toughpad FZ-M1, and so has teamed up with security firm Becrypt to offer its Disk Protect technology to encrypt data and password protect the device, and this was pre-loaded on our review unit.

Design
 
As you might expect from a fully rugged device, the Toughpad FZ-M1 is not exactly thin or pleasing to the eye, at least at first glance. In fact, it is about twice as thick as a consumer tablet such as Toshiba's Encore, although at 540g, it does not weigh much more.

The first thing you tend to notice about the Toughpad is the tough protective elastomer band enclosing the sides and corners of the device, and the fact that the 7in display looks a little small for the size of the device itself. However, you soon get used to the look of the device.

The Toughpad is in fact shock resistant under MIL-STD-810G for heights up to 150cm (about five feet), and is also certified to the IP65 rating against water and dust ingress. This is aided by the fact the system is a fanless design. We didn't deliberately test out its rugged credentials, but the Toughpad did accidentally slide off our desk onto the floor at one stage, without the slightest ill effect.

That protective band around the Toughpad is punctuated by a sturdy protective cover for the power socket on the left edge, and a second one covering the headset jack and the device's solitary USB 3.0 port. It also has lugs behind each corner of the case for attaching a lanyard.

Along with a docking connector on the bottom of the case, the headset jack and USB port are the only I/O fitted on the device as standard.

However, Panasonic offers a number of hardware options that can be added via an Expansion Module including an RFID sensor or Smartcard Reader, plus one of an Ethernet port, serial port or 2D Barcode Reader. The Expansion Module fits onto the rear of the Toughpad like a backpack, but is an option that must be factory fitted. Our review unit was not configured with this.

Ranged along the top of the Toughpad are a set of controls, comprising the power button, volume up/down, a button for toggling the display auto-rotation on and off, and a button labelled ‘A' that appears to be configured to launch Panasonic's Dashboard software.
Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1
At the rear of the Toughpad is the device's camera with LED light, plus a removable battery pack. This latter is a must for any serious enterprise-grade mobile device, as the unit otherwise has to be returned to the supplier if the battery develops a fault. A removable battery also allows a field worker to carry a spare to swap in if they are using the device for an extended period away from any other power source.

A nice touch is that the latch that locks the battery into place also pops it out of the casing when you move it from the lock to unlock position. It takes a reasonable amount of force, so the battery is not going to accidentally come lose like this.

Inside the battery cavity is a cover protecting the slot for a SIM card to enable the device's mobile broadband service and a micro SD memory card slot.

Next:  Specifications, hands-on

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About Doru Somcutean

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