Panasonic has carved a very nice niche for itself in the tablet space. By combining its ruggedised technology with the latest tablet fad, it’s managed to create some uniquely positioned tough tablets, like the ToughPad FZ-A1 and the new Windows 8-based FZ-G1.
The catch is that the tablet is exclusively designed for a corporate or business environment, so you won’t be able to pick one up from the local gadget shop.
You’ll also have to pay for all that rugged technology, with prices starting at $3,299 a unit.
The benefit of that higher up front cost though is a device that can withstand some of the toughest conditions of any gadget on the market. Weighing just 1.1kg, the FZ-G1 boasts military grade specifications to keep out dirt and water. It’s IP65 certified, and can handle drops of up to 1.2 metres without fear of shattered screens and damaged internals.
The 10.1-inch, WUXGA 1,920 x 1,200 pixel screen is nice and bright, and according to Panasonic provides a nice, clear viewing experience even in direct sunlight. Sadly, we couldn’t test that out, but it did look great in a dimly lit room.
Compared to the sleekness of the iPad, the FZ-G1 is a chunky device. Like the A1 before it, there’s an over-abundance of silver plastic and chunky rubber corners.
From the front, it doesn’t look too bad, but the back shows that this device isn’t designed to look pretty, it’s designed to be worked out in the field.
The 10.1-inch screen takes up the bulk of the front of the device, with a 720p camera above the screen for video conferencing. There are seven physical buttons running along the bottom of the screen.
In addition to the obvious power toggle button, there are also dedicated volume keys, a Windows button, an orientation lock and two user-definable custom keys.
On the back, there’s a 3MP camera with integrated flash, while a user-replaceable battery is evident across the lower half of the device.
Because the tablet is designed for business customers rather than consumers, there’s a level of customisation available when it comes to ports. The unit we saw had the 3.5mm headphone port, HDMI connector and USB port all under a waterproof seal, while an additional USB port and an external antenna connector also surround the device.
It’s far from the most attractive tablet on the market, but it serves a very particular service. And for those businesses looking to drop the hell out of their tablet, or dunk it in water, or cover it with dirt or sand, that sacrifice to style is hardly the biggest sacrifice in the world.
We didn’t get a chance to really put the FZ-G1 through its paces during our brief hands on, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t try. The Intel Core i5 3537U 1.9GHz vPro processor does a pretty decent job of running the full version of Windows 8 – there’s no Windows RT happening here.
Flicking around on the browser, opening different Windows 8 apps and switching between programs was all super fast and slick. It might be a bit different if you started running a heap of different, intensive apps, but we didn’t get that chance sadly.
Panasonic claims an eight hour battery life, which means you can probably expect less than that in most cases. The replaceable battery pack will more than make up for that in the majority of business cases though.
3G is an optional extra for the FZ-G1, and the unit we tested didn’t feature it. But the standard Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections were all present.
The attached stylus works as well as any other touchscreen stylus. There’s a delay in how quickly it presents your writing on the screen, but it’s no worse than any other stylus on the market.
We could only test the on-board cameras in a dark room inside, so it’s hardly the best test case, but the photos we did see were noisy, grainy and otherwise unusable. Not an unexpected result given the shooting conditions, but disappointing nonetheless.
This is very much a niche product, in every sense of the word. Panasonic were keen to let everyone know that the Australian Surf Life Savers had placed an order for some for the tablets, and that’s a business that could definitely take advantage of the ToughPad’s ruggedness and waterproof nature.
But the price is shockingly high. Starting at $3,299, you could easily pick up three or four iPads for the same price, which offers you the wide selection of apps on Apple’s App Store.
That said, for companies with an army of road warriors tied to the Windows ecosystem, this does become an attractive option.