Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 Review

  • MORE

Editors' rating:
The Pros

Mil-spec durability; Supports barcode scanner and magnetic stripe reader; Bright, anti-reflective display; Lots of configuration options

The Cons

Runs hot; Mediocre performance

Verdict

The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 tablet offers a highly configurable chassis and military-grade durability to withstand abuse even in extreme environments.

While most tablets never leave the house, the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 relishes life in the harsh outdoors. Equipped with MIL-SPEC 810G durability, this 7-inch, Windows-powered device has the fortitude to withstand the kind of environments that would make other tablets shiver in their boots. Even better is the option to choose from discrete add-ons such as a dedicated GPS, NFC or barcode reader, allowing the Toughpad to meet your individual needs. Starting at $2,120 ($3,229 as reviewed), this slate is 3.5 times pricier than an iPad mini 3, with the same amount of storage. But if you need a tablet that can stand up to abuse, the Toughpad is ready to serve.

article continued below

Design

With its thick, plastic bumper and bulging backside, the Panasonic Toughpad doesn't look like any other tablet on the market. A thick silver bezel borders the 7-inch touch screen, with a capacitive touch Windows button on the bottom. Status indicator lights for power, storage and battery are on the right. There are three buttons on top next to the volume rocker: one for power, one to call up the Panasonic Dashboard and a third programmable button that can be changed from the dashboard.


The Toughpad has two water-resistant ports: one on the left for power, and another on the right holding a full USB 3.0 port and the headphone jack. There is a large, 24-pin docking connector on the bottom, but you have the option to switch it out for a wired LAN port or a serial port if necessary.

MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps

The back is where the Toughpad gets really interesting, featuring mounts for optional modules so you can configure the tablet for your specific needs. Our review unit came with a barcode reader and magnetic stripe reader, which add bulk to the rear of the tablet. However, there are also slimmer options, such as NFC or GPS.

The back right features an 8-megapixel camera, and below that is a lock for the removable battery. Panasonic equipped the Toughpad with a bridge battery, so the tablet will remain running when you swap out the main battery for a spare.

 

The back right features an 8-megapixel camera, and below that is a lock for the removable battery. Panasonic equipped the Toughpad with a bridge battery, so the tablet will remain running when you swap out the main battery for a spare.

Measuring 7.9 x 5.20 x 0.71-inches and weighing 1.2 pounds, the Toughpad is larger and heavier than a traditional 7-inch tablet, but only 0.2 pounds heavier than the 9.7-inch iPad Air 2 (0.97 pounds). This means that for people accustomed to other tablets, the Toughpad isn't as burdensome as most rugged devices tend to be.

Durability

With an IP-65 rating for ingress protection and a military-grade 810G rating for environmental conditions, the Toughpad FZ-M1 can take on just about anything other than full underwater submersion. To earn the IP-65 rating, the Toughpad was tested for complete dust resistance and protection against water jets from a 6.3mm nozzle. This means operation in the rain is no problem. However, when I held the Toughpad under a running faucet, using the touch screen was much more difficult.

 

The 810G rating certifies the Toughpad against vibration, shock, explosive atmospheres, extreme temperatures (from 14 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit) and more. The Toughpad has also been designed to survive 5-foot drops during use. I dropped the Toughpad multiple times from shoulder height (5 feet) onto hardwood, linoleum and stone floors, and it barely blinked. The rubber cover over the power port popped open after one drop, but otherwise, the Toughpad was completely unharmed.

Display

The Toughpad features a 7-inch touch screen with an anti-reflective coating, making the display easy to view outdoors. While the screen doesn't completely eliminate glare or reflections, it's superior to the glossy screens found on many other tablets. The bad news is that, while bright, the Toughpad display falls short on contrast. When I watched the The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies trailer, blacks looked washed out, and gold text looked more faded compared to other displays.


The Toughpad features a 7-inch touch screen with an anti-reflective coating, making the display easy to view outdoors. While the screen doesn't completely eliminate glare or reflections, it's superior to the glossy screens found on many other tablets. The bad news is that, while bright, the Toughpad display falls short on contrast. When I watched the The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies trailer, blacks looked washed out, and gold text looked more faded compared to other displays.

The Toughpad's luminous screen surpasses other tablets in terms of brightness, producing 453 nits, much higher than the tablet average of 338 nits. Unfortunately, the screen recreated just 58.4 percent of the sRGB color spectrum, far short of the tablet average of 84 percent. Color accuracy is also weak, with the Toughpad registering a Delta-E rating of 10.5 (closer to zero is better), significantly worse than the tablet average of 5.38.

Touch response was swift, although the capacitive display can't handle input from gloved hands like the resistive displays seen on other rugged systems. Swiping in from the right to switch programs in Windows 8.1 was fast, and I had no trouble targeting enemies and selecting cards when I used the touch screen to play Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. The screen also supports stylus input, with the stylus available from Panasonic for an extra $29.

Audio

One of the sacrifices required for the FZ-M1's durability is reduced audio quality. The chunky bumpers that swaddle the tablet in plastic protection also cover up the speakers, affecting overall clarity and bass performance. When I listened to Annie's "Heartbeat," I really missed the soft bass line, and the singer's vocals sounded weak and tinny.

On the bright side, the Toughpad produces an impressive amount of volume, putting out 87 decibels of sound when measured from 13 inches away. The tablet average is 80 dB from that distance.

Operating System

The Panasonic Toughpad comes with Windows 8.1 Pro, meaning you have full access to thousands of Windows programs such as Media Player Classic, Microsoft Office and your favorite full-featured Internet browser.

The downside is that with the Toughpad's small, 7-inch screen, it can be difficult to close programs by hitting the tiny X in the top right corner. Also, Windows 8 still suffers from the divide between full desktop apps and full-screen apps launched from Modern UI, making it difficult to keep track of open programs. However, we expect most Toughpad users ill stick to the desktop environment.

Performance

Featuring a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4302Y CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128 GB solid-state drive, the Toughpad FZ-M1 delivers adequate performance for its size. While the Toughpad is not quite as powerful as tablets such as the Dell Venue 11 Pro, I didn't have much of a challenge browsing the Web with multiple tabs open and a movie playing.

The 128GB SSD delivered good performance, turning in a transfer rate of 65 MBps. That's better than some Windows tablets we've tested with 32GB SSDs, such as the Toshiba Encore 2 (39.5 MBps) and Acer Aspire Switch 10 (23 MBps). However, the Venue 11 Pro's 128GB SSD hit 94 MBps.

However, when we used Geekbench 3 to measure overall system performance, the Toughpad FZ-M1 scored just 1,201. That's far behind the tablet average of 2,375 and the 2,041 showing by the Toshiba Encore 2, which has a 1.33-GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735G processor and 1GB of RAM. The Core i5-powered Dell Venue 11 Pro notched 3,557.

The Toughpad took 13 minutes to complete our OpenOffice Spreadsheet Test, which involves matching 20,000 names and addresses. That beats out Atom-based Windows 8 slates like the Encore 2 (22:23) but trails the Venue 11 Pro (7:29) by a significant margin.

The integrated Intel HD 4200 graphics in the Toughpad struggled with the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited graphics test. While the Toughpad's score of 6,515 is slightly ahead of the Venue 11 Pro's mark of 6,451, it's just half the tablet average of 12,118. When I played Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft at its native resolution (1,280 x 800) and medium settings, I encountered some periods of lag and stuttering.

Heat

With its fanless design, the Toughpad had a tough time properly distributing heat. On most tablets, temperatures rarely rise above 100 degrees F, but on the Laptop Mag Heat Test (15 minutes of streaming HD video from Hulu), the Toughpad reached 101 degrees F on the front side, just below the camera.

Things got even worse when I was browsing the Web while installing Hearthstone, as the same area reached a scorching 125 degrees. This is way above our 95-degree comfort threshold. The underside stayed a little cooler, at 93 degrees.

Cameras

The Toughpad features two cameras: a 720p webcam with mic in front and an 8-megapixel camera on the back. The rear camera did a fair job taking photos in bright-light situations, but struggled with low-light scenarios, producing dark, grainy photos. When I took a photo at the park in Union Square, the Toughpad captured good detail on the shrubbery in the fore- and mid-ground, although the camera struggled with exposure. The grass looked a little too dark, and the sky was blown out.

A selfie taken using the front camera showed an overall lack of sharpness, with very obvious grain despite plenty of light in my office.

The rear camera shoots videos at 1080p, but only at 15 fps. This makes recorded video look jerky, and my clip of NYC traffic was jumpy and far from smooth.

Apps

The Toughpad comes with Windows Pro 8.1, and is devoid of any bloatware or intrusive software trials. Instead, the Toughpad features pre-installed software to use with the modular components on the tablet. With our configuration, there were three shortcuts for the barcode reader. The shortcuts sit right on the desktop, so I had no problem locating the software.


The other important software addition is the Panasonic Dashboard, which can be activated by pressing the "A" button on the top of the tablet or the handy shortcut on the desktop. The dashboard is used for quickly checking info such as battery status, changing settings such as text size and brightness, and quickly launching the camera utility and power plan menu.

Battery Life

With the stock battery, power runs out quickly. The Toughpad lasted only 4 hours and 37 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits), 4 hours less than the tablet average of 8:37. Thankfully, the Toughpad features an optional high-capacity battery ($180) that doubles endurance, and a bridge battery so you can swap the main battery without powering down the device.

MORE: 10 Tablets with the Longest Battery Life

Additional Standard batteries are also available for $120.

Bottom Line

For contractors, law enforcement agents, and other professionals who need a device that can keep up and adapt to their rough-and-tumble jobs, the Toughpad offers durability in spades. The anti-reflective display is easy to see outdoors. And while the low-voltage CPU struggles with more intense apps and games, the internals are more than enough to handle tasks such as data entry or swiping a few credit cards.

The biggest drawback to the Toughpad, other than its high price, is the amount of heat it generates. But if you're willing to pay a premium for a tablet that can keep working in the wild, the Toughpad will leave you satisfied.

Ask a Question
CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4302Y CPU
RAM Included 8GB
RAM Upgradeable
Storage Drive Size 128GB
Storage Drive Type SSD
Display Size 7
Display Resolution 1280 x 800
Graphics Chip Intel HD Graphics 4200
Graphics Memory Shared
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Has Bluetooth Yes
OS Windows 8.1 Pro
Camera Resolution 8MP
Front-Facing Camera Resolution 720P
Ports 3.5mm audio jack
Ports USB 3.0
Ports Ethernet
Ports Docking Port
USB Ports 1
Card Reader Size
Warranty / Support 3-year limited warranty
Size 7.98 x 5.20 x 0.71 inches
Weight 1.2 pounds
Company Website http://shop.panasonic.com/
Add a comment