Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 Review: Ultimatum

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Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1

The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 is a powerful tablet computer that runs Windows 8 Pro and is designed to withstand shock and environmental damage that would destroy a standard tablet. Contractors such as builders, plumbers and gardeners are an immediate audience for this hardened tablet PC, but a wide range of configurable features and a massive battery life mean that it'll also be useful to those who work on the move, such as travelling sales people and professional drivers.

Essentially, the Toughpad FZ-G1 is a 10.1in touchscreen tablet with a 1.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-3437U processor with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB mSATA SSD. It's powerful enough to run any standard desktop application with ease, providing comparable performance to the latest Core i5 Ultrabooks and coming close to Core i7 models such as the Dell XPS 12. The Toughpad's 4GB of memory is plenty, unless you're into advanced video or photo editing, although the tablet can be upgraded to a maximum 8GB of RAM.

The Toughpad uses the processor's integrated on-chip Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU, achieving an average frame rate of 16.7fps in Dirt Showdown at High quality and a resolution of 1,920x720. Although that's technically a pass, it isn't playable. Remarkably, the Toughpad scored an average frame rate of 34fps with only a slight reduction in quality, which means you really can enjoy a bit of gaming in your lunch break. Of course, the Toughbook isn't designed for gaming, butthose scores show that it can handle tasks such as displaying rendered  architectural models reasonably well.

Conveniently, the FZ-G1 also has an HDMI output, which means you can connect it to an external monitor or projector when you're working at a desk or presenting to colleagues. The Toughpad's built-in SSD provides fast boot times, taking around nine seconds to boot from scratch and around three seconds to wake from sleep. The physical power button requires a long press to put the tablet to sleep and to start it, which means that it's less likely to power on accidentally if something bangs into it when it's in your bag. Other buttons along the front include a key to enable and disable the accelerometer, a Windows key that primarily functions as a shortcut to switch between the Desktop and Start screens, volume buttons and two user-definable buttons marked A1 and A2.

A special app lets you configure theseto launch a program, act as back or forward buttons or execute a specific key-press combination among many other options. You can also set a different press-and-hold command to each in addition to the short-press functions. These buttons are useful in environments such as motor garages and building sites, where your hands may be too dirty to handle even the FZ-G1's rugged touchscreen. Should you not want to smear the Toughpad's screen with grease and dirt, you can use the supplied digitiser pen, which is held in a slot at the back of the tablet.

It's extremely accurate, even when navigating the high-resolution 1,920x1,200 display in desktop mode. The IPS alpha display is stunning and clearly visible, even in bright sunlight despite the slightly glossy Gorilla Glass 2 finish, and a circular polariser filter, similar to those used on ATMs, helps make the display easy to read in direct sunlight. Colours look natural and the screen is easily visible from a wide range of viewing angles. The 10-point touchscreen is also accurate and responsive, whether you're using your fingers or the digitizer pen.

The entire tablet is designed, tested and certified to withstand abuse. The touchscreen is surrounded by a thick bezel that protects it should you drop the Toughpad screen-down without any risk of damage. It's certified to resist shocks when dropped up to 120cm, and is water and dust resistant in accordance with IP65 the Ingress Protection standard. To protect against water and dust, every port and connector has a tightly sealed rubber cover.

The Toughpad's magnesium alloy chassis is the toughest we've seen on a tablet, and has a protective plastic rim that surrounds the front edge and corners of the tablet. The tablet is also designed to withstand a far wider temperature range than your average laptop, with a rated operating range of between -10 and 50-degrees centigrade. As well as being nigh-on-indestructible, the FZ-G1 is also incredibly adaptable. The default specification has a USB3 port, HDMI and 3.5mm audio outputs and a six-cell battery that provides around eight hours of battery life. There are also a number of optional configurations, including a 3-megapixel rear camera that can also function as a barcode scanner for form processing and item tracking, and a SIM card slot.

3G support, which is present on our review sample, means you can be online almost anywhere and means you don't have to depend on wireless networks. Indeed, 3G support could be a vital feature for anyone who works away from the office on a regular basis. The tablet's integrated speaker is surprisingly good, with very clear reproduction of both music and vox. This makes the Toughpad well suited to video conferencing.

There's also a "flexible configuration port" that you can specify with one of several different hardware options. The FZ-G1 was configured with a Gigabit Ethernet port, but you could have a high-quality GPS module, a USB2 port, a microSD card reader or a serialport. Other options include a smart card reader and a larger 256GB mSATA SSD. The disk is accessible under a screw-on cover at the back of the tablet, but the battery are the only user-upgradeable parts,not even the memory slot is accessible without opening up the entire chassis.

The price of the Toughpad varies somewhat depending on which options you add. Also available are
accessories such as hand and carry straps and a desktop cradle, making the toughpad easy to use both on the move and back at the office. Third-party vehicle mounting kits are available for those who do most of their work out of a van. We were surprised to find that the standard battery only lasted for six hours in light usage test, which might be a problem if you are using it off-site, but changing is battery is simple - it clips into the back of the tablet.

Conclusion:

The Toughpad FZ-G1 is a brilliant bit of design. It's immensely durable, very powerful and massively customisable. You could feasibly run an entire business from a single Toughpad by connecting it to a monitor and Bluetooth input device while working at the office, mounting it on a vehicle when on the road and carrying it with you on site. However, although it very much earns five stars for design and technical merit, its range of features isn't going to be required by every small business. If you require its rugged durability and customisable port, then it's head and shoulders above every other tablet on the market. It's also a fair bit more expensive than other tablets and hybrid laptops, so it's important to consider how it will benefit your business before you buy.
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