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
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