07 Mar 2014
Samsung and Sony went head to head at this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC), with the two firms unveiling their latest flagship Android devices, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2, respectively.
Both manufacturers are hoping their high specification devices will win the affections of those in the market for a flagship Android smartphone, and with both the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 boasting similar specification sheets, it's going to be a tough race to call.
We've pitted the Samsung Galaxy S5 specifications up against those of the Sony Xperia Z2 to see which smartphone is worth splashing the cash to buy.
Design, measurements and weight
Samsung Galaxy S5: 142x73x8.1mm, 145g
Sony Xperia Z2: 147x73x8.3mm, 163g
While they have similar dimensions and weights, the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 are worlds apart in design.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 features a dimpled plastic casing edged in aluminium, an improvement over last year's glossy plastic model, and is available in more colours than the Galaxy S4, too - black, white, blue and gold. The Sony Xperia Z2, on the other hand, looks nearly identical to its Xperia Z1 predecessor, featuring the same boxy, eye-catching design that received high marks in our review last year.
While it hasn't seen much of an upgrade in design, the Sony Xperia Z2 improves on last year's model in size, measuring 8.2mm thick compared to 8.5mm. The Samsung Galaxy S5, on the other hand, is a bit chunkier than its predecessor, although it still measures just 8.1mm thick.
Both the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 arrive resistant against dust and water too, with the two smartphones touting IP67 and IP58 certification. However, the Galaxy S5 edges the Xperia Z1 with additional hardware features, including a fingerprint sensor and a heart rate monitor.
Samsung Galaxy S5: 5.1in 1920x1080 Super Amoled display, 432ppi
Sony Xperia Z1: 5.2in 1920x1080 IPS Triluminos display, 424ppi
If you're looking to select your next smartphone purchase based on display, you're going to have a tough decision, with the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z1 sporting almost identical displays. The Xperia Z2 touts a 5.2in HD 1080p screen with a pixel density of 424ppi, while the Galaxy S5 edges it slightly with a 5.1in HD 1080p display with a pixel density of 432ppi.
What's more, with Samsung configuring the Galaxy S5 with Super Amoled screen technology and Sony using its Triluminos display technology on the Xperia Z2, both screens offer very vibrant images and sharp text, so it will be difficult to call a winner out of the two.
Samsung Galaxy S5: Quad-core 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
Sony Xperia Z2: Quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor
Much like with their displays, the Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 should be pretty evenly matched in performance, as both have Qualcomm's quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor. We've had some hands-on time with both devices, and both are impressively quick - so it will be hard to call a winner in this category, too. However, the Xperia Z2 does squeeze in more RAM, boasting 3GB of RAM compared to 2GB of RAM in the Galaxy S5.
Samsung Galaxy S5: Android 4.4.2 Kitkat, custom UI
Sony Xperia Z2: Android 4.4.2 Kitkat, custom UI
Both the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 arrive with the latest version of Google's Android mobile operating system, Android 4.4.2 Kitkat. Both devices also have a custom user interface (UI) from their respective manufacturer, skinning Google's stock UI and stuffing the handset full of custom applications.
Samsung has toned down its UI on the Galaxy S5 compared to the version on the Galaxy S4, and has also given it a lick of paint, making it more stripped down and easy to use, much like Apple's iOS 7 mobile operating system. However, it's still recognisable as a Samsung Galaxy S smartphone, featuring the same widget layout and the same applications on the homescreen.
Samsung has introduced some new features with its latest custom UI, though. Among these is My Magazine, a HTC Blinkfeed-style feed which is accessed by swiping left on the homescreen. Samsung has also included S Health 3.0, taking advantage of the smartphone's built-in sensors to monitor its user's fitness activities. There are several new camera features included, too, including Selective Focus, which allows the user to re-adjust the focus after an image has been taken.
Sony's custom UI, however, remains largely unchanged from the version found on last year's Xperia Z1. We've always found that Sony's UI is more usable than those of other smartphone makers, and while the handset still arrives covered in custom widgets and applications, it's a much cleaner design than that of others on the market. That said, we still find it a little overbearing compared to Google's vanilla Android UI.
The Sony Xperia Z2 is preloaded with Sony's Walkman and PlayStation companion apps as seen on the Xperia Z1, as well as some new camera features and noise cancellation technology to help block out background sounds while listening to music.
Samsung Galaxy S5: 16MP rear-facing camera with autofocus, LED flash and 4K video recording, 2MP front-facing camera
Sony Xperia Z2: 20.7MP rear-facing camera with autofocus, LED flash and 4K video recording, 2.2MP front-facing camera
The Samsung Galaxy S5 and Xperia Z2 both claim to offer huge improvements in their cameras, and despite Sony's higher resolution sensor, the two handsets likely will be fairly evenly matched.
The Samsung Galaxy S5 features a 16MP rear-facing camera, an improvement on the Galaxy S4's 13MP sensor, which arrives with onboard features such as an LED flash, autofocus, HDR, smile detection and the capability to record video and take images at the same time. It's also capable of shooting video at 4K resolution.
The Sony Xperia Z2 features the same 20.7MP sensor as its predecessor, but it also has a number of improvements, such as the ability to shoot 4K video. Much like the Galaxy S5, there are several camera features too, such as HDR, image stablelisation and panorama mode.
Both the Galaxy S5 and the Xperia Z2 feature 2.2MP cameras on the front, both of which are capable of shooting HD 1080p video.
Samsung Galaxy S5: 2,800mAh battery with 21 hours of quoted talk time
Sony Xperia Z2: 3,200mAh battery with 19 hours of quoted talk time
The Samsung Galaxy S5 and Sony Xperia Z2 both have upgraded batteries, but although the Xperia Z2 has the larger cell, it looks like the Galaxy S5 might edge it. The Galaxy S5's 2,800mAh battery will, according to Samsung, offer around 21 hours of constant talk time, while Sony claims that the Xperia Z2's larger 3,200mAh battery is good for 19 hours.
Samsung Galaxy S5: 16GB/32GB built-in, microSD up to 128GB
Sony Xperia Z2: 16GB built-in, microSD up to 64GB
The Samsung Galaxy S5 is the clear winner for storage. Samsung will make the phone available in both 16GB and 32GB storage versions, and thanks to the onboard microSD card slot this can be expanded by up to 128GB.
The Xperia Z2, on the other hand, will be available only in a 16GB model that can be expanded by up to 64GB via microSD card.
07 Mar 2014
It's strange that as mobile tech has developed over the years, voicemails have remained a frustrating affair. Apple iOS, however, does give users the option to listen to their voicemails in a much easier way, using an SMS-like menu system to make navigation a cinch.
Sadly, however, not many operators in the UK offer this feature: currently only EE and O2 do so. So, if you're on either EE or O2, you will first want to know how to enable the tool.
Enabling visual voicemail for EE customers
To activate visual voicemail on EE, simply text "iPhone visual" to 150. Note: if you're an Orange pay monthly customer on a tariff of less than £35 per month, an extra £1 will be added to every bill. If you are an EE customer, visual voicemail is free.
As an O2 customer, you may already have visual voicemail enabled, or you should be able to access it through your TU Go app if you have it installed. If you cannot get access to visual voicemail, you may need to contact O2 by dialling 202.
According to Apple, Three, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone do not support visual voicemail.
How to use visual voicemail in iOS 7
Once you have visual voicemail enabled, you can access it through the dialler/phone app on your home screen. It will appear as the tape icon on the bottom-right of your screen. Once there, you will see a list of messages, with the newest at the top.
By tapping on a message, you will be presented with options that allow you to listen to the message, play it on speakerphone, delete the message or immediately dial the number that called you. You can also delete the message from this screen.
Deleting visual voicemail messages
You can quickly delete a message without opening it by swiping it to the left and tapping the delete button.
If you want to bulk delete messages, you can tap the Edit button on the top-right of the screen. You can then select multiple messages to discard by tapping on the red circles.
If you delete a message by accident, you can access it through the Deleted Messages menu. If you want to be rid of deleted voicemails for good, select Clear All when in the delete messages area.
Setting a custom voicemail greeting
You can set a custom voicemail greeting without having to dial your voicemail number, too. Tap the Greeting button on the top-right and select Custom. Hit record when you're ready to record and hit stop once you're done.
That's it. You're now fully prepared to handle the world of opportunity that visual voicemail for iOS can offer.
07 Mar 2014
Sony unveiled the Xperia Z2 at Mobile World Congress (MWC) on 24 February, its latest flagship smartphone boasting 4K video capabilities.
Measuring just 8.2mm thick, Sony mobile fans will be pleased to hear that the Xperia Z2 has a slightly slimmer design but a bigger 5.2in LED display compared to its predecessor, the 5in Xperia Z1.
We got some hands-on time with the Sony Xperia Z2 on the stand right after the launch, where we managed to test out the device's standout feature: its ability to record and display 4K video, a feature not before seen on previous Sony smartphones.
The first noticeable thing about the Xperia Z2 is it feels much lighter than its predecessor, the Xperia Z1, which weighs 169g. Sony hasn't disclosed the exact weight of the Z2 just yet but from our time with it, it was clear that Sony has managed to squeeze in a good number of updates, such as a bigger screen - while reducing the weight.
The Xperia Z2 is very similar to the Xperia Z1, which in terms of design is no bad thing. We're fans of the boxy look. Even better, with this release Sony has rounded the edges meaning it's easier to hold, while packing in a 5.2in screen into the same sized bezel as the Xperia Z1.
The firm has also made it slimmer at just 8.2mm, compared to the Xperia Z1's 8.5mm. The design is therefore much more ergonomically pleasing. Picking the phone up for the first time, we were surprised how comfortable it felt, even with such a large display size.
We do have a couple of gripes, though. The Sony Xperia Z2 is rather prone to picking up fingerprints, which means it can get grubby quite easily, although its glossiness means it's very easy to clean and we are quite used to it, considering most smartphones possess this flaw.
Another great feature about the Xperia Z2's design is that, like the Xperia Z1, it's resistant to dust, water and scratches thanks to IP55 and IP58 certification. It will also launch in a number of colours, including black, white and purple.
The display on the Sony Xperia Z2 is by far its most impressive feature. With a pixel count of 1080x1920 pixels, the Xperia Z2's 5.2in display blew us away. It's an improvement over its predecessor's 5in display due to the addition of some new screen tech giving better contrast and colour representation. As a result, images appear crystal clear and it is truly stunning to use, with both text and images looking sharp and touch operations being smooth between pages and apps.
Sony has also equipped the Xperia Z2's screen with IPS technology, which means that viewing angles on the smartphone are above average.
Performance and software
The Sony Xperia Z2 is powered by a quad-core 2.3GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor with 3GB of RAM, meaning it is quite the powerhouse. The chip is just as impressive in the real world as it is on paper, and we found the device very nippy, with no lag whatsoever, even when playing and recording 4K video.
As with previous Xperia Z devices, there's LTE support onboard, and the handset arrives with 16GB of internal storage that can be expanded by another 64GB with a microSD card.
As for software, the Xperia Z1 Compact runs Google's latest Android 4.4 KitKat mobile operating system right out of the box. However, Sony has skinned Android with its own custom user interface (UI). While we've never been huge fans of Sony's custom UI, finding it overbearing compared to a vanilla Android user interface, the firm's apps are a bonus. The Xperia Z2 arrives loaded with Sony's Walkman and PlayStation companion apps as seen on the Xperia Z1, as well as many new camera features and built-in noise cancellation technology to help block out background sounds while listening to music.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Xperia Z2 is its rear-facing camera, which not only features the same 20.7MP sensor as seen in its predecessor, but introduces 4K video recording for the first time with a resolution of 3840x2160 pixels, four times that of HD.
We gave it a quick go on the MWC show floor, and we're pleased to report that image quality is as you'd expect from a 4K camera, with video recording being super smooth due to Sony's Steadyshot technology that acts as a real-time image stabiliser. Image quality looked better than we've seen on a smartphone before.
Still images taken with the 20.7MP camera were just as impressive as seen on the Xperia Z1, appearing crisp, clear and full of natural colour even under the glaring lights of the MWC tradeshow floor.
The Sony Xperia Z2 also features a 2.2MP camera on its front that's capable of shooting HD 1080p video for all your selfie needs.
Connectivity and battery
The Xperia Z2 has a 3,200mAh battery with a claimed talktime of 13 hours. We obviously didn't have the time to test this during our quick hands-on review, but we'll be sure to test the battery fully when we do a full review of the device.
The Xperia Z2 will be released globally this month. Sony has yet to announce pricing details.
Privacy has been a concern on everyone's minds since Edward Snowden leaked classified documents to the press revealing the US National Security Agency's now notorious PRISM campaign.
These concerns reached new heights earlier this year when fresh revelations broke suggesting that the campaigns had intercepted communications sent from computers and smartphones.
So secure communications provider Silent Circle has teamed up with tech company Geeksphone to produce an NSA-busting, super-secure smartphone designed from the ground up to protect users' privacy, codenamed Blackphone.
Hardware and design
Silent Circle announced the Blackphone in January, though it only made its first official appearance at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona last week.
Visually the Blackphone is fairly unassuming, featuring a basic black handset with a slightly curved chassis that's built out of reinforced plastic. But under the hood it's slightly more impressive.
Geeksphone claims the Blackphone has been built to offer users internal specifications on a par with any other top-end smartphone, such as the Galaxy S5 or iPhone 5S. It comes with a 4.7in HD in-plane switching (IPS) touchscreen, quad-core 2GHz chip, 2GB RAM, 16GB of storage and an 8MP rear camera.
The Blackphone we saw was a pre-production model so the Silent Circle spokesman on staff declined our request to hold the phone – we would have argued our point but considering Silent Circle's tendency to hire ex-special forces personnel, we thought better of it. This meant we didn't get a chance to see how the smartphone's camera performed or benchmark it. However, during our demo we were impressed with the Blackphone's screen. Looking at the display we found it had great colour balance and brightness, and fairly good viewing angles.
The most important aspect of the Blackphone is its software. The Blackphone runs using a radically altered version of Android, codenamed PrivatOS. PrivatOS is a customised version of Android that is designed to secure the Blackphone at a hardware and software level. One of the main ways it does this is by integrating Silent Circle's Silent Text, Silent Phone, Silent Contacts and Silent Keys services directly into the operating system.
These tools allow users to securely make and receive phone calls, exchange texts, transfer and store files and video chat, without fear that their activities are being monitored or recorded.
They work using a custom communications technology developed by Silent Circle, which works by setting up a secure line between the Blackphone and any other device using Silent Circle services. All data flowing within the secure channel is encrypted using a self-generating and deleting encryption key. As an added security measure the key is never stored on the phone or by Silent Circle, so organisations such as the NSA couldn't demand that the firm hands them over should they want to spy on Blackphone users.
The one downside of the technology is that it requires both participants in the call or messaging chain to use Silent Circle's tools. This means communications between a Blackphone and regular phone not using Silent Circle products won't be secure.
Silent Circle has tried to get round this by bundling the Blackphone with three free one-year subscriptions to Silent Circle services that can be shared with friends, families or co-workers. But for business users looking to find a way to make all their communications secure this could be a bit of an issue.
The Blackphone will also come bundled with the Kismet Smart WiFi Manager and two-year access to Disconnect VPN and SpiderOak encrypted storage. The tools make it so Blackphone users should be able to surf the internet on public WiFi networks without giving away their GPS location or IP address.
During our demo we noticed the PrivatOS user interface (UI) was nicely quiet and Silent Circle hadn't radically reworked it or loaded too many custom applications or widgets. Aside from the UI's security services, Silent Circle had limited the Blackphone to Android's core applications, including Camera, Calendar and Clock. Silent Circle also said it would work to ensure any future applications running on the Blackphone are secured.
Value for money
The Blackphone is up for pre-order now for $629. While this sounds quite expensive it's important to note that the Blackphone's software and application portfolio alone would normally set you back more than $700.
Overall, we are impressed with the Blackphone. Despite its price, the Blackphone offers a diverse range of privacy and security services.
Our only initial concern is that by requiring the person at the other end of the phone to also be using Silent Circle services to be secure, the Blackphone's overall effectiveness as a mass rollout device for businesses is diminished. That said, it could still be useful to businesses to roll out to select teams with a specific need for privacy, such as C-level executives, or engineers working on confidential projects.
Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Silent Circle Blackphone.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
04 Mar 2014
Mozilla recently released the latest beta of its Firefox browser for Windows 8, and we downloaded it to a Windows 8.1 tablet to take it for a spin.
As this is a beta, it is available to download directly from Mozilla's website, rather than from the Microsoft Store. That said, we found the beta remarkably stable and polished – much more so than many of the release versions of apps we have tried from Microsoft's Store.
Our other first impressions of Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta are also positive; the browser is responsive, even on a relatively low-powered 8in tablet based on an Atom processor, and looks slick and modern when viewed in the Modern UI or "Metro-style" environment.
When used in Metro mode, Firefox follows the design conventions that Microsoft has dictated, using as much of the screen real estate for content as possible, while menus and controls are accessed by sliding in from the edges of the screen. Here, users will find an option to relaunch Firefox in the legacy Windows desktop instead, which keeps all your current tabs open.
In Metro mode, Firefox opens with a tile-based start screen giving one-tap access to recent or frequently accessed sites. The left and right edges of the screen also feature overlaid buttons to go back a screen and open a new tab.
Relaunching Firefox in desktop mode shows off a look and feel that will be familiar to existing users of Firefox for other versions of Windows, and provides access to all of the standard menus, including bookmarks, options and access to Add-ons.
Mozilla warned that the Windows 8 mode version of the browser does not share bookmarks, history or passwords with the desktop version at present. However, as a workaround, users can sign into the Firefox Sync service.
We ran Firefox for Windows 8 Touch Beta through the HTML5 compliance test website, which produced a score of 466 out of 555 points, compared with 372 for Microsoft's IE11 on the same system.
We also ran both browsers through Futurmark's Peacekeeper browser performance test. Firefox produced a score of 924 with 7 out of 7 for HTML5 capabilities, while IE11 produced a score of 680 with 5 out of 7 for HTML5 capabilities.
Overall, Mozilla's touch-based Firefox project is shaping up nicely, and looks set to be a viable alternative to IE for Windows 8 users when ready. We would be happy enough to use it as it stands, thanks to its responsiveness, ease of use and slick user interface.
Mobile World Congress 2014 saw a wave of new processors appear on the scene. This kicked of with Intel, when it launched a major offensive into the smartphone market, unveiling its dual-core Merrifield and quad-core Moorefield Atom processors. Not wanting to be outdone by the PC heavyweight, Qualcomm answered back, unveiling its latest top-end Snapdragon 805 64-bit processor.
On paper the Snapdragon 805 is pretty impressive. Built up of four Krait 450 cores with a maximum clock speed of 2.7GHz, the chip also integrates an Adreno 420 GPU and 128-bit memory interface. But a chip by itself is never the whole story, and it's all about how it works with the other parts and software in the device.
We got to test the Snapdragon running inside several demo Android tablets at Qualcomm's MWC stand, and we were very impressed by how well they ran. Trying out the first tablet with a variety of pre-installed applications, the device was lighting fast. We were particularly impressed with how well it dealt with heavier, more demanding tasks such as 1080p 3D gaming.
We're guessing this is due to the chip's upgraded Adreno 420 GPU, which is listed as offering 40 percent better performance than the older 320. It's also likely a consequence of the fact that the Adreno 420 GPU supports new hardware tessellation and geometry shaders for 4K rendering.
Hardware tessellation is a feature traditionally only seen in discrete GPUs for PCs and it has only recently been incorporated into DirectX and next-generation games consoles such as Sony's PS4 and Microsoft's Xbox One. For us the feature's inclusion on the Snapdragon 805 is sign that Qualcomm is working to further close the gap between PCs and tablets.
4K ultra HD resolution display
We noticed the biggest Snapdragon perk on a second tablet, which had a 10.1in 4K ultra HD 3840x2160 resolution display. This display quality is only possible on the tablet thanks to the advanced GPU and CPU combination in the Snapdragon 805, and we have to concede that the 4K display is a serious technical achievement.
Viewing a variety of images on the device, we found it one of the crispest and sharpest displays we've seen on a tablet. From, what we've seen of the test device so far, the display easily beat the iPad Air's performance. Holding the tablet as close to our face as we could, we still couldn't discern individual pixels on the screen.
As an added bonus the Snapdragon 805 also offers 4K video playback, featuring support for the hardware 4K HEVC (H.265) decode for mobile. Sadly, we didn't get a chance to test this during our hands on.
There's currently no word about when the first Snapdragon 805 tablets will be go on sale, but from what we've seen of the Qualcomm demo devices, we're pretty excited. The demo tablets we tried seemed lightning fast and, while we didn't get a chance to benchmark them, they did seem to offer substantially improved performance on Qualcomm's previous Snapdragon 800 processor.
That said, the real question isn't how the Snapdragon 805 compares with the 800, it is how it will match up to the performance of Intel's Moorefield. We're yet to get a chance to test this, but with Dell, Lenovo and Asus confirmed to be working on devices using the upgraded Atom chips, hopefully we won't have to wait long to do so.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
BARCELONA: For the past few years technology companies have been working hard to improve tablet and smartphone displays. To date, most efforts have focused on improving screen resolution and pixel per inch (PPI) density, but this Mobile World Congress (MWC) Japanese giant Fujitsu moved beyond this, demonstrating a new touchscreen technology designed to emulate how textures feel.
How it works
The haptic feedback screen technology was demoed on a test tablet at Fujitsu's MWC stand. The screen works using sensors under the display, which are designed to detect when a finger is touching the screen and emits low-powered, regulated, ultrasonic vibrations. The vibrations are designed to mimic the feedback sent to our fingertips' mechanoreceptors – sensory receptors in the skin's surface that respond to mechanical pressure or distortion – when they touch specific texture types.
Our demo unit let us try the haptic display in a variety of scenarios. These included a digital dial lock on a vault, a set of strings on a musical instrument, a crocodile's back and a sand box.
Testing the dial lock we noticed one issue with the haptic display – it only works if you interact with it using one finger. Trying to physically grab the digital lock with two fingers – like you would in real life – the display only reacted to our index finger. This could be a bit of an issue as most tablet users are currently used to 10-point touch connectivity.
Once we put this issue aside we found the display's feedback was quite impressive. Turning the on-screen dial lock we felt realistic resistance that did simulate that of a real one. The display also responded to the force of our movements with the lock turning more easily when we applied more force.
We were also impressed with the string demo, and the screen reacted and responded differently to each input we attempted. For example, forcefully plucking one of the digital strings the screen's feedback was sharper and more forceful than when we smoothly stroked our finger over it.
The same could be said for the crocodile demo, where we found the haptic technology was able to realistically emulate smooth and bumpy surfaces. While our healthy fear of crocodiles means we can't attest to the texture's accuracy, we did notice a difference in feedback with smooth textures having a slightly more slippery feel than the protruding or rough parts of the crocodile's back on the screen.
The sand box demo proved that the display is able to deal with multi-layer textures. This demo required us to brush sand off a mosaic image, and we found the haptic display offered convincing feedback on both layers, changing the feel of the underlying mosaic's image after we'd rubbed the sand off.
But we noticed one final flaw with the tech. Picking up the tablet to test the sand box demo we found the display stopped offering feedback to our commands. After quickly grabbing the tablet back, the spokeswoman explained that the haptic display tech currently only works if the tablet is laid flat, so the technology as it currently stands would be of little use for tablet users on the move.
When to expect it
There's currently no official date for when we can expect to see Fujitsu's haptic display technology implemented in a commercial product, but the spokeswoman told us this will most likely be sometime in 2015.
We were generally quite impressed with the haptic display. After going through all the available demos we found Fujitsu's demo display can emulate a variety of textures. But it does have a couple of issues we'd like to see ironed out before it hits the mainstream. These include the fact that it only works if you interact with it using one finger, and if the tablet is laid flat. Here's hoping these issues are fixed before the first tablet with a haptic display goes on sale.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
BARCELONA: Panasonic's previous Toughpads have been some of the sturdiest devices we've ever reviewed, with their rugged IP68 certification meaning they can survive everything from a dip in a lake to a three-metre drop onto a concrete floor.
In the past, though, these tablets have been fairly large and have lacked any telephonic abilities. Luckily for those working in hazardous industries – who the tablets are designed for – Panasonic unveiled its new 3G-enabled 5in FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 Toughpads at Mobile World Congress.
Design and build
The two Toughpads look identical and are the same design as their larger predecessors. They both have the same reinforced glass front and ruggedised rubber sides. In keeping with their IP68 certification, the Toughpads' micro USB, power, audio and dual-micro SIM inputs are also all securely covered.
This means they are nowhere near as pretty as more consumer-focused devices and are far heavier, weighing 430g. The trade-off is their IP68 certification, which means the Toughpads are seriously robust and should be able to survive being submerged in liquids at depths of up to 1.5 metres for 30 minutes. They can also survive direct drops from up to three meters.
As an added perk for business customers, Panasonic has also designed the Toughpads to feature the same barcode reader and peripheral upgrade options as its previous tablets. The barcode reader lies at the top of the Toughpad's long edge, while the upgrade USB dock is underneath the removable backplate. The dock lets users connect a number of Toughpad peripherals to the device, like a second battery or chip and PIN reader.
As an added bonus Panasonic has added removable batteries, so users can carry a backup with them when they are away from a power socket for a prolonged period.
We've not been fans of the displays on previous Toughpads. This is because, while very tough, the touchscreens have been resistive, not capacitive, so they could sometimes be unresponsive and difficult to use.
Panasonic has rectified this on the new FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 Toughpads, loading them with HD capacitive touchscreens. While colours and brightness levels were not on a par with most consumer devices in the same class, they were very responsive to the touch and are a definite improvement on previous models.
The screens can also be used when wearing gloves, and considering the conditions these devices are designed to operate in, this is definitely an advantage.
A Panasonic spokesman told us that the display is very rugged and should be able to survive direct impact from a "dropped brick", for example. Unfortunately our request to test this during our hands on was declined.
Operating system and software
The FZ-E1 runs using Windows Embedded 8 while the FZ-X1 uses Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. Windows Embedded is the enterprise version of Windows Phone. It is designed to offer users more robust security and includes the option for companies to partner with Microsoft to tweak it to meet their needs.
The Panasonic spokesman told us the company chose to release the 5in Toughpad with two OS options as a "play-it-safe move", arguing that the mobile market in enterprise is still quite volatile and companies are divided over which is the better option. There is definitely some truth in this claim and we're happy to see that Panasonic has tailored the Toughpads to work for businesses using both Microsoft's and Google's enterprise ecosystems.
The Windows-powered FZ-E1 is confirmed to run using a 2.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor. The Android-powered FZ-X1 uses an older 1.7GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 chip. Both versions boast 2GB of RAM.
We didn't notice a massive difference in performance during our hands on. Both tablets proved capable of dealing with every task we gave them, opening webpages using the busy showroom WiFi in seconds and navigating smoothly between menus.
We didn't get a chance to benchmark either Toughpad or see how they perform when challenged with more demanding tasks, but we'll be sure to do this in our full review.
Both Toughpads come with 8MP rear and 1.3MP front cameras. Image quality, while far below top-end camera phones, was reasonable. We wouldn't want to use it unless we had to, but images generally came out in focus and featured reasonable colour balance and brightness levels. We were also impressed with the cameras' shutter speeds, with both capturing images milliseconds after we hit the capture button.
Panasonic has loaded the 5in Toughpads with a large 6,200mAh battery, which it claims will last 13-14 hours off one charge.
The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 live up to their names and offer business users based in hazardous environments a robust device. The added perks of full telephonic 3G connectivity has the potential to upgrade the Toughpads from productivity tools to communication tools as well.
But this promise is likely to come with a premium price tag. Though Panasonic is yet to officially confirm prices, a spokesman told us the Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 would likely cost around €1,000, making them close to twice as expensive as more consumer-focused, top-end smartphones and tablets.
Check back with V3 later this year for full reviews of the Toughpad FZ-E1 and FZ-X1.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson