The Toughpad Rugged Tablet

Call me whatever names you will, the easiest way I separate "my" generation from the next is the technology we can remember using. Here's where I sit up straight, roll my shoulders back, practice my assertive voice and proudly state that I, Editor for this publication, remember a time before the Internet and that I, a self-proclaimed technology nerd, remember using my local library's card catalog. I hold that last fact near and dear to my heart.
In this timeframe, I've watched the concept of a "computer" shrink during the evolution from 256 Kb floppy disk to a 7.5 Gb USB drive. Desktops have come from the massive "don't even bother trying to pick up" to something so light I have hardcover books that have more gravitational pull. I've seen laptops come, fold, spin and a superfluous "i" parade in front of a tablet's moniker. This is where the "computer" is taking an interesting twist.

Panasonic's Toughpad name puts two ideas to mind whether intentional or not: the popular Toughbook and the iPad name. Once you have the device in your hand it's very evident the concepts behind its creation. It's also evident where it diverts from an "i" product.

So it runs apps?

This where this "computer" concept becomes interesting—the association between tablet and apps. In case there are any questions regarding the Toughpad, it's not a traditional tablet. Yes it looks like one. It even feels like one in your hand. It even has a response touchscreen and stylus.

All that, yet it's more of a PC. That said, I was sent a clean Windows 8 version (there is also an Android-based alternative) and returned it a bit less pristine. There were a few programs within the Windows operating system pre-installed and I figured I could use a few of them to test basic performance: there was a handwriting recognition program as an alternative for the touchscreen keypad, the camera (front and rear) and Internet Explorer. Out of the box each launched and performed as expected. There were other programs as it was a Windows Operating System.

Key Features

  • Operating System: Android 4.0 (JT-B1), Windows 8 Pro (FZ-G1)
  • Processor: TI OMAP4460 1.5GHz Dual core (JT-B1), 3rd Generation Intel Core i5-3437U vPro 1.9GHz up to 2.9GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Technology (FZ-G1)
  • Memory: 16GB ROM, 1GB RAM, micro SDHC (JT-B1), 128-256GB SSD, 4-8GB RAM, optional micro SDXC (FZ-G1)
  • Rugged: MIL-STD-810G, IP65, 14 degrees to 122 degrees F (operational temp range) (JT-B1 and FZ-G1) 5-foot drop for the Android, 4-foot drop for the Windows version
  • Display: 7 inches, daylight viewable, 500nit, WSVGA (1024 x 600) (JT-B1), 10.1 inches, sunlight viewable, touch screen and active digitizer, 800nit, WUXGA (1920x1200) (FZ-G1)
  • Camera: Front: 1.3Mp fixed focus, Rear: 13.0Mp auto focus w/ LED light (JT-B1)
  • Battery: 8.0 hours - Large 5,720mAh battery (user-replaceable) (JT-B1), 8.0 hours (user-replaceable) (FZ-G1)
  • Dimensions: 8.7”x 5.1” x 0.7” (JT-B1), 10.6 inches by 7.4 inches by 0.75 inches (FZ-G1)
  • Weight: 1.2lbs (JT-B1), 2.43 pounds (FZ-G1)
  • Wireless: Bluetooth V4.0, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, optional embedded 4G LTE + 3G (JT-B1 and FZ-G1)
  • I/O: Micro USB (JT-B1), Full size USB 3.0, HDMI, optional micro SDXC, Full size USB 2.0, wired LAN, true serial port or dedicated GPS. (FZ-G1)

It got rough

The 2.4-pound PC has a MIL-SPEC rating. I have no doubts in this testing standard and it's one I don't question. However, the real life applications of this standard do raise the occasional eyebrow. In other words, with its cost are you really planning on bringing this mountain climbing? (You’re more than welcome…with your own.) The more I used the Toughpad the more I came to realize that these standards brought up extreme images - sandstorms, torrential downpours…handing it to an elephant. While these are the conditions the “rugged” adjective sets out to protect, they aren't realistic to a typical day.

The drop testing is, I believe, four feet for a number of times on each side and corner. Afterward the device has to turn back on (meaning it was tested while OFF) and run without issue. So I did what any self-respecting person would do in my situation—I “accidentally” let it fall and tumble down my stairs…while on. Afterward it launched programs and performed as well as beforehand.

Most of the ports/connections on the Toughpad come with hinged covers, caps if you will. These are meant to block particulate (both dry and wet) from damaging the electronic connection from accessory to computer. Before explaining how I came to simulate this, my suggestion is to lock the touchscreen then wipe it off. A clean microfiber will work wonderfully, I used my sleeve and it worked just fine. I don’t feel locking the screen is a requirement, just a safety procedure. On numerous occasions I've tried to clear the screen and the Windows 8 home screen “squares” slid over. It wasn't an issue, merely an unintended effect.

Putting the durability of the screen and dust protection to task took a bit of creative thought. Using the Toughpad regularly just wasn't enough—it ran for hours on end; I needed to get a bit more messy than my office. I took it outside and stuck each side into a pile of landscaping river rock…while on. Again, I experienced no issues with none of my three “benchmark” programs afterward.

On a bright sunny day I gave the Toughpad to my German Sheppard. While he knew it wasn't something to chew on, this in itself should show I was comfortable enough for him to stand on it. Interesting fact: A dog’s paws will interact with the touchscreen.

With the unknowns of what may happen next year, week, or hour for a law enforcement officer, Panasonic seems to have designed a computer to fulfill the need of a tablet’s mobility while still holding the “tough” part of the Toughbook brand.