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Panasonic's Toughbook laptops and Toughpad tablets are well established in the ruggedised portable computer market, and we've reviewed a good few of them over the years. The Toughpad FZ-G1 is the first Windows 8 Pro tablet in the range, and like all ruggedised devices it carries a price premium. Even so, starting at £1,500 (ex. VAT; £1,800 inc. VAT) for the entry-level configuration, we think the premium is pretty steep in this case.
Panasonic describes the 10.1in. Toughbook FZ-G1 as "the world's thinnest and lightest fully-rugged Windows 8 tablet", which we're not going to argue with. However, you'd be mistaken if you supposed that the FZ-G1 is in any way thin and light compared to a regular Windows 8 tablet, or is able to withstand extreme levels of mistreatment.
Measuring 26.92cm wide by 18.8cm deep by 2.03cm thick (10.8in. x 7.4in. x 0.8in.), it's a chunky device even compared to Microsoft's Surface Pro — which is hardly svelte at 27.46cm by 17.3 cm by 1.35cm (10.8in. x 6.8in. x 0.53in.). The Toughpad also outweighs the Surface Pro, to the tune of 1.13kg (2.5lb) versus 903g (1.99lb).
Aimed at field workers, mobile professionals and the 'hard hat' community, the Toughpad FZ-G1 is designed for use outdoors and in challenging environments. To this end, it has a sturdy magnesium alloy chassis with reinforced corner guards and covers for the ports and slots. This and other ruggedised build components give the FZ-G1 military-grade (MIL-STD 810G) capability to survive 120cm (4-foot) drops and an IP65 rating for resistance to dust and water. The tablet is well protected against dust, scoring 6 out of 6, but will only handle 'water jets' — a score of 5 out of 8. To get the full 8/8 water-resistance rating, the FZ-G1 would have to survive 'immersion beyond 1m' (see the useful infographic on IP ratings here).
Overall, then, the Toughpad FZ-G1 will handle accidental drops from around waist height, and moderately bad weather. However you shouldn't expect it to survive, for example, being run over by a truck and/or a full-immersion soaking.
The Toughpad FZ-G1's 10.1in. screen is an LED-backlit IPS-alpha panel with a native resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 pixels (224ppi). It's a 10-point capacitive multi-touch screen with stylus support — the pen lives in an accessible housing on the left-hand side, on the rear. A number of features make the screen suitable for outdoor use in demanding circumstances, including strengthened glass, high brightness (800 cd/m2) plus anti-reflective and anti-glare treatments. The result of these coatings, and perhaps also the toughened glass, is that the display isn't as vibrant as you might expect given its resolution and brightness rating. The stylus, which has a single button (configured by default for a right click) worked fine once we'd recalibrated it using the supplied utility.
The Toughpad FZ-G1's basic specification is similar to the Surface Pro's: a Core i5-3437U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000; 4GB of DDR3 RAM (with an 8GB option) and 128GB of Toshiba solid-state storage (with a 256GB option). The operating system is Windows 8 Pro.
Wireless connectivity on our review sample included dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (4.0), with 3G mobile broadband (Gobi 3000, up tp 14.4Mbps) available as an option (mobile broadband is not available on the Surface Pro). Another option, which was fitted on our review sample, is a wired Ethernet (RJ-45) port, which occupies a configurable covered slot on the top of the device, next to the fan vent. This slot can alternatively accommodate a USB 2.0 port, a 9-pin serial port (for accessing legacy peripherals) or a MicroSD card reader.
The right-hand side of the tablet has a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI port and an audio jack — all under a sturdy protective cover. The proprietary 24-pin docking connector is on the bottom, while the power input jack is on the left, under another flip-out cover. Our review sample had a 1.3-megapixel 720p front-facing camera and a housing for the optional 3-megapixel rear camera with autofocus and LED flash.
The back of the Toughpad FZ-G1 houses the removeable battery: our review unit had the standard 6-cell 45Wh unit, which delivers a claimed 8 hours' life (see benchmarks below). An optional high-capacity 9-cell battery, which protrudes a little from the rear surface, doubles the estimated battery life to 16 hours. Elsewhere on the back there's the aforementioned housing for the optional 3-megapixel camera, the fan intake and screw-down covers for the SSD compartment and the SIM card slot.
There are seven buttons at the foot of the screen, in the bezel: two user-programmable buttons for firing up your favourite apps; volume up and down; the familiar Windows button; a screen autorotate on/off toggle button and the power button.
A number of accessories are available for the Toughpad FZ-G1, including the long-life battery pack, a rotating hand strap and a desktop cradle.
Performance & battery life
The Core i5-based Toughpad FZ-G1 is a decent performer, with a Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 4.9 out of 9.9. The overall score is determined by the lowest-ranking subsystem, which in this case is the Intel HD Graphics 4000-driven Graphics (Desktop graphics performance). The remaining scores range between 5.9 and 8.1, with the best-performer being the (solid-state) storage subsystem:
By way of comparison, Microsoft's Surface Pro delivered a WEI of 5.6 (again for the Graphics subsystem), with remaining scores ranging between 5.9 and 8.1.
Looking at a series of browser benchmarks, it's clear that the Toughpad is comparable to the Surface Pro here too:
The Toughpad FZ-G1 also broadly matches the Surface Pro when it comes to battery life — no surprise given that both have similar specs and battery capacities (45Wh for the Toughpad, 42Wh for the Surface Pro). To estimate longevity with the Toughpad's standard 6-cell battery, we measured the tablet's power consumption with a Voltcraft VC 940 Plus multimeter, under idle and load conditions, using the Power Save (PS) and High Performance (HP) power settings. Dividing the resulting figures into the battery capacity gives a spread of battery life estimates under different conditions (Wh/W=h):
Judging from our tests, you can expect the Toughpad FX-G1 to last between 1.3 and 7.2 hours, these being the estimates for running a load (in this case, Microsoft's Fishbowl HTML5 test) in High Performance mode and idling in Power Save mode. With judicious tweaking of power management settings and a real-world mix of load and idle time, you should get around four hours of work out of the standard battery. This means you'll need to carry a spare standard battery or use the high-capacity 9-cell battery to get a full day's work done on battery power.
Once the Toughpad has been running for a while, the fan kicks in. You probably won't notice this if you're working outdoors or in a noisy indoor environment. However, it's definitely noticeable in a quiet room.
The Toughpad FZ-G1 has a high-resolution outdoor-visible screen, is moderately rugged, and delivers decent performance and middling battery life with the standard battery. It'll certainly do the job for a wide range of mobile and field workers, although it's definitely on the bulky and heavy side.
The biggest drawback, however, is the price. At £1,500 (ex. VAT) for the entry-level configuration reviewed here, this is one expensive tablet. If you're likely to want any of the options and accessories, be prepared for further 'sticker shock'. Large companies with a track record of buying Panasonic Toughbooks may go for it anyway, especially if they can get volume discounts. However, it's likely to prove too pricey for small businesses and individuals.