Toughpad FZ-M1: One tough tablet


The tough standard: Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 has a 7in 1280 x 800-pixel capacitive touchscreen and yet is built to withstand shock and water.

Panasonic’s 7in tablet is built tougher than most and despite its size, is a fully-functioning Windows 8.1 PC.

THE LAST time we tested one of Panasonic’s military-grade Toughbooks was quite a while back — and boy, did our review unit take a beating that time, since we were encouraged to (and actually did) splash water on it, drop it from 3-5ft, stand on it, and even put it in the oven.

That Toughbook came out of it with only a dented latch, which was easily replaced.

Drop it like it's hot: The Toughpad FZ-M1 can withstand drops of up to 1.5m onto any surface.
DROP IT LIKE IT'S HOT: The Toughpad FZ-M1 can withstand drops of up to 1.5m onto any surface.

Anyway, this time around, Panasonic passed us their latest rugged product, a 7in tablet known as the Toughpad FZ-M1.

While most companies will give you a 7in Android device running on some quad-core ARM processor, the FZ-M1 is a more ­powerful machine than that ­— in fact, it runs a full ­version of Windows 8.1 Professional and is powered by a 4th-generation Intel Core i5-4302Y CPU at 1.6GHz.

This means that the FZ-M1 is essentially a full-blown touchscreen Windows 8.1 PC, except in a tablet-sized body.

Read on as we put the device through its paces.

Durability by design

One of the interesting features of the FZ-M1 is not only that Panasonic managed to shoe-horn an Intel Core i5 processor into the device, but that the thing operates completely using passive cooling techniques — the ­fanless design was essential to keep the FZ-M1 water resistant, since any air ducts would also open the device up to water.

The one downside is that when the FZ-M1’s CPU is working hard, the back does get a little hot — though not uncomfortably so.

Hard back: the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 has weather-sealed ports and the back is made up of magnesium alloy.
HARD BACK: The Toughpad FZ-M1 has weather-sealed ports and the back is made up of magnesium alloy.

I guess if you live in a country with cold winter months, the FZ-M1 can act as a handy little hand warmer as you’re using it.

However, under a light load, the FZ-M1 runs pretty cool so there shouldn’t be a ­problem.

Talking about design, the FZ-M1 has a body built to last — it’s mostly made of magnesium alloy with a rubber frame around the entire thing to help absorb some impact and keep water and dust out.

The device conforms to IP65 standards, which means that it’s totally dustproof and reasonably splashproof — it can take low-pressure water jets directed at the device, but you can’t dunk it completely in water.

The Toughpad FZ-M1 has only a few buttons, arrayed on the top edge of the device. From left to right - the volume buttons, power, rotation lock and a quick launch button for some system settings.
MINIMALIST: The Toughpad FZ-M1 has only a few buttons, arrayed on the top edge of the device. From left to right — the volume buttons, power, rotation lock and a quick launch button for some system settings.

We definitely can attest to that as we tried using it in a variety of situations, including in the rain.

The FZ-M1 can also take a drop of up to five feet onto any surface — we definitely tried this a few times even when the FZ-M1 was powered on.

Suffice to say that the device came out of it completely unscathed.

In fact, we believe the FZ-M1 is actually more resistant to shocks simply because it is lighter and instead of a hard disk drive (HDD), the device comes equipped with 128GB Samsung solid-state drive (SSD).

Since it has no moving parts, the SSD itself is inherently more resistant to shocks and drops than a regular hard disk.

In use

This being a Core i5 device, Panasonic rates the battery life at about eight hours, but that’s only in the best case scenario.

In actual use with the brightness at normal levels, we found it generally runs for about four to five hours playing a variety of video content as well as browsing the Net.

The FZ-M1’s touchscreen is capacitive, which means that you don’t need a heavy hand to get it to register your touch — swiping and navigation was pretty good in Windows 8.1’s Modern interface.

There is one problem, however — the 7in 1280 x800-pixel screen is a little on the small side and when you’re in the Classic Windows desktop, the menus and icons tend to be a little too small to reliably target with your finger.

Hidden ports: underneath the removable battery for the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1is a SIM and microSDXC slot combo on the left. The right side has the connectors for the battery, which are also weather sealed.
HIDDEN PORTS: Underneath the removable battery for the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1is a SIM and microSDXC slot combo on the left. The right side has the connectors for the battery, which are also weather sealed.

This is generally a problem with Windows 8 — it’s high time Microsoft increased the size of the items in right-click menus and other menus to make tapping with a finger easier, especially for smaller screen devices like this.

Incidentally the FZ-M1 has a built-in ­camera on the back which actually produces quite decent 5-megapixel photos.

There’s also an expansion slot on the back which allows you to slot a variety of add-ons to the FZ-M1, such as a second extended battery, RFID module or even a smart card reader, depending on your company’s specific needs.

Conclusion

The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 is a great device for companies which require their workers to work in challenging environments — the rugged design allows it to take quite a beating and still continue to work.

Of course, for this level of durability, you’re going to have to pay for it — at RM7,500 for the base model, it’s certainly not cheap, but remember that it’s not meant to be a consumer device as such. It’s built to be taken into extreme environments where workers spend a lot of time in dusty or wet environments.

Seen as such, we have rarely seen a device that can withstand the kind of abuse that the FZ-M1 is built to withstand.

So there you go — if you are a company that needs this kind of device, your choices are few and the Toughpad series has got to be at the top or near the top of a very small list.

Pros: Rugged design; water ­resistant; ­dustproof; high-performance Core i5 ­processor inside; full Windows 8.1 ­experience.

Cons: Screen is a little small for ­effective touch control when in Windows Classic ­desktop; battery life could be better.

Toughpad FZ-M1
(Panasonic)
Tablet PC
Processor: Intel fourth-generation Core i5-4302Y processor (1.6GHz)
Memory: 4GB RAM
Display: 7in, 1280 x 800-pixel capacitive touchscreen
Graphics: Intel HD 4200 graphics
Storage: 128GB SSD
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Optical Drive: none
Ports/Slots: One USB 3.0, 3.5mm stereo port, microSDXC slot
Battery: 3,220mAh lithium ion
Operating System: Windows 8.1 Professional
Other features: Conforms to IP65 standards, MIL-STD-810G, 5MP rear camera
Dimensions (W x D x H): 203mm x 132mm x 18mm
Weight: 540g
Website: www.panasonictoughbook.asia
Price: RM7,500 (for base model)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Review unit courtesy of Panasonic Toughbook Asia Pacific Group, (65) 6272-1223



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