The Toughpad addresses a clear need, but its niche nature might be its undoing.
Virtually indestructible build, hot-swappable battery, runs for days, barcode scanner
Specifications showing their age, horrible camera, only HD display, over £1,000
Display: 5in HD 1,280x720 pixels
Processor: Snapdragon 810 quad-core chipset
Operating system: Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld
Cameras: Rear 8MP, LED flash
There's not a great deal to choose from when it comes to tech designed to withstand the rigours and harsh conditions of outdoor environments.
In recent months we've reviewed the Cat S60, a ruggedised handset with unique thermal imaging capabilities. It was a phone targeted at a niche audience, for sure, but we wondered whether it had narrowed its focus a little too much.
Panasonic's Toughpad range fits into this same awkward bracket.
The Toughpad FZ-E1 is encased in thick matte black plastic and is the Tonka Truck of the mobile world. The device was never designed with aesthetics in mind, but there's something alluring about the chunky look. It received more attention than most in the V3 office, and many were fascinated by its robustness and unusual looks.
The 5in screen size suggests it's a handset, but Panasonic's Toughpad moniker suggests a tablet. Truth be told it's a combination of the two. The 87.4×165×30.9mm dimensions and 426g weight mean that it's not something you can just casually slip into a pocket or comfortably place to your ear.
Externally there's a lot going on, and if you're anything like us you'll probably spend a good while peeping behind the plastic flaps and covers to see what's inside.
One thing of note: the battery, power connector and micro-USB are covered and protected by locking switches, but the headset jack is not. This means you'll have to be doubly sure to close the flap before entering a wet environment.
The battery in particular is one of the most secure we've encountered. Once the latch has been unlocked, it needs to be slid forward in order for the cover to be removed.
Removing the cover shuts off the device's power, bar a light below the rear-facing camera. It's not startlingly bright but it's enough to be able to see what you're doing in testing situations. It's a useful and thoughtful addition.
There are eight heavy-duty buttons on the front and around the sides. You have to push down just hard enough to register, but they emit a satisfying click when pressed.
It has the usual power, volume controls, back and camera buttons, as well as a dedicated Windows key and two programmable options. One of these fires up Microsoft's Bing as default, but it can be assigned two different functions along with the other customisable button on the Toughpad's left side. One for a short-press, one for long, so that's four different actions if you choose.
The FZ-E1 is rain, spill, dust and vibration resistant in compliance with MIL-STD-810G testing procedures. It has IP65 and IP68 certification too, so it can survive being submerged in five feet of water for up to 30 minutes and falls of 10ft onto concrete.
We'll update this review once we've had a chance to put it through the ringer, but on paper alone it could certainly give the Cat S60 a run for its money in the toughness stakes.
An expansion bus connector lives on the phone's underside for use with the optional cradle accessory, and there are metal hooks used for attaching carry straps. We'll touch on the barcode reader later, but the FZ-E1 also has an optional magnetic stripe reader.