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Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1: Hands on with a hulking powerhouse

HardwareFeatures
by Alysia Judge
, 16 Jan 2014Features
Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1: Hands on with a hulking powerhouse

To describe the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 as the little brother of 2013's Toughpad FZ-G1 is to run the very serious risk of belittling what is, in tablet terms, the technological incarnation of Mohammed Ali.

Measuring 18mm thick and weighing 544g, this 7in bruiser is designed for those working in heavy impact workplaces. Its development phase saw the tablet endure military-grade drop tests, freezing temperatures, extreme heat and jarring vibration before being declared fit for "mission-critical workers of all types."

The result is a tablet that can be air-dropped into war zones, thrown around a building site, and even withstand the destructive rampaging of clumsy children. All this toughness comes from a stringent set of design features that make the iPad Air look like a twig.

A jet black strip of toughened rubber wraps around the tablet's edges, providing protection whilst elastomer inserts at the corners provide extra cushioning from drops. The strip also houses a USB3 port and 3.5mm headset jack behind a waterproof flap, alongside the tablet's 19v input.

Flip the FZ-M1 over (as roughly like you like) and you'll find a removable 3,220mAh battery that can pop out to reveal sealed microSIM and microSD slots. Critically, here you can hot-swap this standard battery with a smaller, secondary 6,800mAh "bridge battery" without having to switch off the tablet first. Clocking in eight and 16 hours of use respectively, clever use of both means you could be up and running with the FZ-M1 for an entire 24 hour period.

We particularly loved the fanless design, made all the more impressive when you consider that the new Toughpad boasts a powerful Core i5-level processor, known as the 1.6GHZ Core i5-4302Y vPro. Perfectly combining power with protection, this processor has a power consumption of just 4.5 Watts. By removing the need for a cooling fan, the design is completely sealed and resistant to both water and dust.

The WXGA screen is also treated to resist even the most aggressive of car key scratches. With a 1,280 x 800 resolution, it's not eye-poppingly sharp, but its brightness can't be faulted. A 216ppi pixel density fools you into thinking the image is of a much higher quality. Not only that, considering the fact you can interact with the anti-glare screen even with gloved hands, it works perfectly for the heavy-duty environments it was designed for.

Durability isn't the only namesake of the Toughpad FZ-M1, however. A truckload of features means that it's a truly versatile tablet as well. The base model comes with a dual-band 802.11ac wireless router, Bluetooth, and 5-megapixel camera teamed with a 0.3-megapixel front-facing snapper. A specialised chip that stores an RSA encryption key, called TPM 1.2, comes fitted as standard along with full vPro security support.

Still, if you want to really load up your new powerhouse, there is a truckload of add-ons you can opt for: GPS modules, 4G, a passthrough socket for a high-gain external antenna or integrated LAN ports are all available. We also got to see the optional magnetic strip and barcode reader, allowing mass processing of data in a fraction of the time.

Overall, the Toughpad FZ-M1 is a versatile, superbly executed tablet that will rise to all the challenges of a business environment. It would have been easy for Panasonic to prize fortitude over design, but this device is no clunky oaf. The contrasting band makes the FZ-M1 look surprisingly stylish, but it has a hefty price tag to match.

The Toughpad has a starting price of $2,099 (around £1,183), meaning that this is a significant investment. Still, if you need a portable device that will survive anything you can throw at it (or indeed throw it at), this is a purchase that may prove to be worth every penny.

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