The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 is a 7-inch ruggedized tablet from the pioneer of ruggedized computers. In our review of its 10.1-inch Toughpad FZ-G1 counterpart, the CRN Test Center considered it one of the best ruggedized platforms for vertical solution deployment available.
Ditto for the M1. The first thing to impress us was the brightness of its screen. Its 500-nit LED backlight made the tiles of Windows 8 really pop. Performance never lagged thanks to the tested unit's Intel Core i5-4302U 1.6GHz dual-core, four-thread Haswell processor running 64-bit Windows 8.1 Pro on 8 GB or DDR3L RAM. There's also a Celeron option. Its 10-point touch screen and auto-rotation are super-responsive, and the IPS panel makes viewing angle a nonissue.
Before we had a chance to test the M1's performance, Windows alerted us to about 900 MB of updates it wanted to apply. We decided to put off the updates so we could test performance before and after. With Windows properties set for maximum performance, Geekbench 2.3 turned in a respectable top score of 6,789. After installing the updates, the Geekbench score rose to 6,795.
Next came the battery test. The standard 3,220 mAh battery is rated at about 8 hours; the option-extended 7,100 mAh battery is said to deliver 16 hours. Both are user-replaceable, and there's a bridge battery option designed to keep it running for about 30 seconds while hot-swapping. The tested unit had one and it worked as advertised. Also notable is a battery that automatically locks when inserted, a feature not found on the G1. To run the battery down, we created a power profile that cranked brightness to full and prevented sleep; we left other settings alone. In that mode, the M1 ran a media file continuously for three hours and 26 minutes.
At its maximum resolution of 1,280-x-800 pixels, some of the controls on the 7-inch display were a bit too small to finger. Thankfully, the included capacitive stylus provides just the right amount of precision. The stylus can be tethered to either of the tablet's upper corners but there's no hideaway slot. The 500-nit screen is plenty bright enough to be visible in or out of doors, and graphics are driven by Intel Graphics 4200 with 1,664 MB of VRAM that's shared with Windows.
The customizable M1 offers options for 4G LTE communications, GPS, 1-D and 2-D barcode reader, mag-stripe reader, RFID and a serial-port module. As did the Gigabit Ethernet option on the tested unit, most option modules also include the bridge battery. The Ethernet module stood proud of the bottom plane, serving to tilt the display slightly. All models come with Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac with optional dual high-gain antenna. Other Toughpad accessories include a car-charging unit, a 4-bay battery charger and a rotating hand strap.
Like its larger counterpart, the M1 adheres to MIL-STD-810G and IP65, which test a device's ability to survive drops, dings and vibration, and can repel dust, dirt, moisture and debris. The M1 adds MIL-STD 461F, assuring that it's electromagnetically sound. It can't be totally submerged, but the M1 will survive spills, high-speed streams of water from any angle, and as many as 26 drops from a height of up to 5 feet onto concrete covered with plywood. Such a surface wasn't available at the time and place of our testing, so you'll have to settle for 10 drops onto concrete covered by pile carpeting, which the M1 survived without a hiccup.
The M1 measures about 8 inches wide by 5-and-a-quarter inches high and is less than three-quarters of an inch thick. It's surrounded by rubber, with protrusions to maximize protection around the corners of its magnesium alloy chassis. A slightly elevated bezel helps protect the glass from facial drops, and a replaceable screen film protects the glass. It weighs 1.2 pounds without the power supply. Three buttons along the top edge (when in landscape mode) control power, auto-rotate lock and a custom function. There's also a volume rocker. By default, the custom button launches Panasonic's excellent dashboard app, which centralizes system settings and adds control over touch modes for stylus, glove and wet conditions.
On the right-hand bezel are LEDs for power, storage and battery status. A second battery LED is on the back. Behind a flip-up waterproof cover on the right-hand edge are the unit's single USB 3.0 port and a headset jack. A similar cover on the left edge hides the power input. MicroSD and Micro SIM slots are accessible with the battery removed. There's no video output port. The M1 is available with 128-GB or 256-GB SSD storage; the SD card can add as much as 64 GB more.
We liked everything about the Toughpad M1, but we did have two observations that might peeve some solution providers or device users. First, we noticed during the media playback test that the unit gets quite warm. After the screen was at full brightness for about 90 minutes, we measured 109 degrees on the top front of the screen, and 102 degrees on the back panel, where a sticker warns users to "beware of low-temperature burns." Secondly, while we like the right-angle power connector and its heavy-duty reinforcements, the positioning of the power-input cover prevents the cord from laying flat if it's routed toward the user -- a minor point for an otherwise extremely well-designed device.
For solution providers seeking a durable, small-form-factor tablet for deploying Windows applications for construction sites, hospitals, military and anywhere that a device is likely to take a pounding, the CRN Test Center recommends the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1. Celeron-based models start at around $1,299; the street price of the Core i5-based unit would be around $2,099.
PUBLISHED AUG. 27, 2014