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Panasonic Toughpad FZ-B2

Second generation B-Series Toughpad: higher resolution, much faster, overall much better
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Sometimes it's not easy to be first, and Panasonic found that out with their original Android-based Toughpads. Nice products, great introduction at the Dallas Cowboys stadium November 2011, but, at least as far as the smaller Toughpad b1 went, just not quite right. That's all fixed now. On October 29th, Panasonic introduced a second generation of its 7-inch Toughpad, the FZ-B2.

Gone is the OMAP chip, gone is the narrow and rather low-res screen, and gone is the phone-like portrait-orientation. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with the initial B1, it's just that Panasonic's customers apparently wanted something a bit more conventional, even in an Android tablet. The table below shows the differences between the original Toughpad JT-B1, and the new Toughpad FZ-B2 that replaces it:

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-B2 vs. original JT-B1
Model FZ-B2 JT-B1
Introduced 2014 2011/2013
OS: Windows Android 4.4.4 Android 4.0
Processor 1.83GHz quad-core Intel N2930 1.5GHz dual-core TI OMAP-4460
Mass storage 32GB + microSD 16GB + microSD
Display aspect ratio 16:10 16:9
Display 7.0"/1280 x 800 pixel 7.0"/1024 x 600 pixel
Digitizer Procap 5-point Procap 4-point
Pen Passive capacitive None included
Battery Life up to 7 or 14 hrs. up to 8 hrs.
Size (inches) 8.0 x 5.2 x 0.7 8.7 x 5.1 x 0.7
Weight (oz.) 1.2 lbs. 1.2 lbs.
Cameras 720p front; 5mp rear 1.3mp front; 13mp rear
USB 1 x USB 3.0 1 x micro-USB
NFC No Yes
WiFi 802.11ac 802.11a/b/g/n
Scanning optional optional
Mag stripe optional optional

The situation is pretty clear: whereas the original B1 was conceived as a "phablet" to be used in portrait mode like a phone, the new B2 looks more like a Windows tablet designed for use in the Windows-typical landscape orientation. The labels are in landscape mode and so are the controls. So it looks like even with Android, Panasonic customers prefer to work in landscape mode, just like one does on a desktop or notebook.

The aspect ratio of the display also went from the very narrow 16:9 to a more conventional 16:10. And going from 1024 x 600 resolution, which is what early netbooks had, to a more satisfying 1280 x 800 pixel means not only 2/3 more pixels, but also moving up from marginal resolution to something that remains contemporary even in this day and age of "retina" screens.

On the processor side, the step up from the dual-core OMAP-4460 to a quad-core N2930 is huge. Not that the OMAP chip was lacking, but the N2930, which is part of Intel's "Bay Trail" lineup with 22nm process technology and has a lot of Core processor technology baked in, is in an entirely different class.

At this point some readers may go, "Hmmm... that sounds an awful lot like a somewhat lower-end version of the Windows-based Toughpad M1..." And, at least judging by the specs, that's indeed the way it looks. The M1 has a full Core processor, more RAM, more memory, and the Microsoft-mandated 10-point multi-touch instead of "only" 5-point, but in most other aspects it seems virtually the same. Same dimensions, same weight, same looks. One big difference is the starting price. US$1,299 for the Android-based FZ-B2, US$2,099 for the Windows-based FZ-M1.

One thing we don't know is if the FZ-B2 also comes with the same next-gen capacitive touch controller that allows the FZ-M1 to be operated with gloves, in wetness, and also with a superbly precise narrow-tip passive capacitive pen. If so, the B2 would a lower-priced Android version of the Windows-based Toughpad M1 that we consider a milestone product. But even if it doesn't have that pen (unlike Windows, Android doesn't really need a precise pen), the FZ-B2 appears to be a very, very strong contender among 7-inch class rugged Android tablets. Well done!

Specifications: Panasonic Toughpad FZ-B2
Added/updated Added 10/2014
Processor Intel Celeron N2920
CPU Speed 1.86 GHz (2.13 GHz burst speed)
CPU TDP 7.5 watts
OS Android 4.4.4
Standard/Max RAM 2GB DDR3L 1333MHz
Disk/drive 32GB eMMC + micro-SD (up to 32GB)
Card slots 1 x MicroSDHC, 1 x SIM
Display type Daylight-readable LCD with anti-reflective treatment and direct bonding
Display size/res 7.0" widescreen (16:10) 1280 x 800 pixel WXGA, 500 nits
Digitizer/pens Projected capacitive 5-point multi-touch, passive stylus
Keyboard/scale Onscreen or optional external
Housing Magnesium alloy chassis encased with ABS and elastomer corner guards
Operating Temp Unknown
Sealing IP65
Shock 5-foot drop
Crush Unknown
Size (WxHxD) 8.0 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
Weight 1.2 lbs.
Power 7.2V, 3,220mAH, 23.2 watt-hour Li-Ion ("7 hours"), optional 7.2V, 7,100mAH, 51.1 watt-hour Li-Ion ("14 hours")
Cameras Front: 720p webcam; rear: 5mp AF with LED illuminator
Sensors Ambient light, digital compass, gyro, acceleration
Interface 1 x USB 3.0, audio mini-jack, docking
Wireless 802.11ac WiFi, Class 1 Bluetooth v4.0 + EDR, optional integrated 4G LTE, optional smart card reader
Security Unknown
List price Starting at US$1,299
Contact Toughpad FZ-B2 at Panasonic
Brochure Panasonic Toughpad FZ-B2 brochure (PDF)
Warranty 3-year limited warranty, parts and labor