Panasonic New Rugged Toughpads are Master Scanners

BARCELONA — Panasonic, known for its rugged electronics, took the wraps off a pair of rough and tumble handheld devices at Mobile World Congress 2016. The Panasonic ToughPad FZ-F1 ($1,599) and FZ-N1 ( starting at $1,499) both feature barcode scanner set at 70 degrees and have styluses. One handheld comes with Windows 10 and the other with Android 5.1.1, and both hope to catch the eye of the IT set.

Barcode scanners have been around for decades, and in today’s world where everyone has a smartphone, it’s pretty easy to download a barcode scanning app instead. However, those apps just can't cut it when it comes to enterprise uses.

In a smartphone, the scanner is simply in the wrong place. When it’s positioned on the top edge of a device, you have to point the phone down at an item to scan it, which prevents you from seeing the screen and can also cause repetitive stress injuries over time. And if the scanner is one the back of a device, it’s difficult to look at the item and your screen at the same time. Plus, the best scanning apps are slow, fidgety and not very reliable. So by putting a scanner with a 70-degree field of view on its new Toughpad, Panasonic solved both problems.

Unlike older Toughpads, Panasonic’s new handhelds support both passive and active styluses, with 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity for the latter. When the tablets are used to record signatures they can match the pressure used against previous records to stop fraud.

Since these devices are meant to be used by in warehouses and outdoors, the Toughpads come with touch recognition for gloves up to 5mm thick, and an IP-67 protection rating which includes water resistance up to 3.3 feet for 30 minutes. When the screen is wet, it’ll still respond to your fingers unlike traditional capacitive touch displays.

For a rugged device, the FZ-F1 and FZ-N1’s specs aren’t bad either. They feature a 4.7-inch, 1280 x 720-pixel anti-glare screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU, 2GB of RAM and 32GB of onboard storage. You also  get an 8-megapixel camera in back, a 5-MP cam in front, and the option to choose between the standard 3,200 mAh battery or a double capacity 6,400 one that Panasonic says will last an impressive 16 hours. And if that's not enough, the new Toughpad’s can hot swap its battery, so you don’t need to turn of the device to switch out a power pack.

In a hands-on testing area at MWC, I got a chance to really see how much abuse the new Toughpads could take. I dunked them, I chilled them in a bowl of ice, and simply threw them around to room, but the Toughpads didn’t crack. Conveniently, there were also some thick work gloves laying and in accordance with Panasonic’s claim, the new FZ’s responded to them just as accurately as if I was using my bare hands. I also found the Toughpad’s total of 5 programmable features really handy, and something I wouldn’t mind seeing on non-rugged devices.

At the end of the testing session, the new Toughpads felt as sturdy as a brick, but without all the extra weight. I think the best testament to their strength is that after the surviving a drop from Panasonic’s general marketing manager Jan Kaempfer, other Panasonic employees urged him to drop it again, but this time even higher from above shoulder height. And after it lived through that fall as well, it seems safe to say some businesses should give these a look.

The Android model should arrive in June, with the Windows 10 version coming sometime after that.