On February 22, 2016, Panasonic announced a duo of fully-rugged 4.7-inch handheld tablets. The Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise-based Toughpad FZ-F1 and the Android 5.1.1-based Toughpad FZ-N1 further expand Panasonic's lineup of rugged Toughpad tablets, with a choice of either Windows or Android in each size class.
With footprints roughly that of an Apple iPhone 6S Plus, Panasonic calls the smartphone-sized newcomers "handheld tablets." They are a tad smaller yet than the company's 5-inch Toughpad FZ-E1 and Toughpad FZ-X1, which were introduced mid-2014. Panasonic, however, is quick to point out that these smallest Toughpads, too, are fully rugged.
So why two additional small Toughpads whose 4.7-inch displays are so close in size to the FZ-E1/X1's 5.0 inch screens? Panasonic says it's because the company believes in making products available that are exactly right for the job, and sometimes that means a bit larger or a bit smaller. Makes sense.
Do note that while the displays are close in size, the two new models are actually 35% lighter (9.8 ounces versus 15 ounces) than the FZ-E1/X1 models, and the main body of the newcomers is only a bit over half as thick (.64 inches vs. 1.2 inches). That's primarily due to a different design approach. Whereas the FZ-E1/X1 are conventional handhelds with a beefy 23.6 watt-hour battery and their scanner mounted on top, the new FZ-F1/N1 have a much smaller 12.2 watt-hour standard battery and their barcode reader is at the backside of the device, angled so that that users can scan items without bending at the elbow or wrist while retaining full view of the display through the scanning process.
Even with the lighter, slimmer design, the FZ-F1/N1 are much tougher than your typical consumer smartphone. Thanks to their fully-rugged construction they can survive drops from up to six feet to concrete, as well as a thousand tumbles from one meter. They are also totally dustproof and waterproof, including full immersion. That's not quite like the 10-foot drops and full list of ruggedness tests the 5-inch models can handle, and the specs also do not include an operating temperature range, but we're still talking plenty tough.
As far as technology specs go, Panasonic, like everyone else in the rugged handheld and tablet computing space, continues to face the difficult question of whether to offer Android or Windows. It's a vexing issue. Virtually all consumer smartphones run iOS or Android, almost all legacy rugged handhelds still run old versions of Windows Embedded Handheld, and most rugged tablets run Windows. So offering both Android and Windows versions makes sense, especially if both versions can run on virtually identical hardware.
Of note here is that unlike the 5-inch Toughpad FZ-E1 which runs Windows Embedded 8.1 Handheld, the new Toughpad FZ-F1 will come with Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise. That's quite a mouthful, so here a few words on that: In essence, with Windows 10, Microsoft goes with what they call a "unified core" that is then complemented with various capabilities that depend on the type and class of device. Microsoft also decided to retire the terms "embedded" and "handheld" and make all non-consumer variants of Windows part of a new "Windows 10 IoT" family. IoT, of course, stands for "Internet of Things," and Microsoft's belief in the importance and future of IoT is such that they decided to make this move.
Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise, which is used in the Toughpad FZ-F1, so happens to be, at last, the successor of Windows Mobile and Windows Embedded Handheld. It supports both the x86 and ARM architectures. The big advantage is that any binary written for the Windows 10 unified core can run on Windows 10 IoT Mobile Enterprise. So no more difficult porting and rewriting.
For specs, both versions use the quad-core Qualcomm "Snapdragon" 2.3GHz 800 Series MSM8974AB processor (which is already in the Toughpad FZ-E1). All other specs seem identical as well: 2GB RAM and 16GB eMMC mass storage (well, the larger models come with 32GB) plus what's in the micro SDXC card slot on the storage side (up to 64GB). The daylight-viewable 4.7-inch screen has the same 1280 x 720 pixel resolution as the FZ-E1/X1, anti-glare and anti-reflective treatment, brightness up to 500 nits, and 10-point capacitive multi-touch. The latter, Panasonic says, works with any type of glove, and there's even a rain-sensing feature that allows for single-touch even in pouring rain. Optional (non-specified) active and passive pens are available.
There are 8mp (rear) and 5mp (front) cameras, for communication and documentation, as well as standard NFC and integrated 1D/2D barcode reading and optional magnetic stripe reading. 801.11ac and Class 1 Bluetooth v4.1 make for speedy, contemporary WWLAN/WPAN connectivity, and there are dual SIMs for 4G LTE, HSPA+, UMTS, EDGE, GPRS, GSM, CDMA 1x, EVDO Rev.A mobile broadband. Since voice calls can be trying in noisy outdoor/work settings, Panasonic adds triple microphones and powerful dual front speakers that can generate up to an amazing 100 decibels in volume.
While contemporary tablets generally have more than sufficient battery life, many consumer smartphones don't. Panasonic wanted to make sure customers wouldn't have to worry about being stranded with a dead device. The FZ-F1/N1 battery can handle full 8-hour shifts of continuous data operation, offers warm-swapping of batteries, and then there's the optional extended battery.
What's the price? That'd be US$1,599 for the FZ-F1 Windows voice/data version, and US$1,499 for the Android-based FZ-N1 version, both quite reasonable. For that, compared to consumer phones in a case enterprise customers get easy integration into existing IT infrastructures, smooth deployments, industrial-grade scanning, guaranteed ongoing support, longer lifespan, and likely an overall lower total cost of ownership.