On January 6, 2014, Panasonic introduced the Windows-based Toughpad FZ-M1, completing a quartet of 7-inch and 10-inch rugged tablets, with distinctly different offerings for the Windows and the Android operating system platforms in each size class.
This latest Panasonic tablet packs a punch. Based on an Intel 4th generation "Haswell" Core i5-4302Y processor, the Toughpad FZ-M1 offers 1280 x 800 pixel resolution on a 7-inch 10-point capacitive touch screen, and it does all that in a fanless package that's both tough and rugged, and also remarkably light and compact.
With a footprint of 8 x 5.2 inches, the M1 practically fits into pockets, and it's also less than three quarters of an inch thick and weighs just 1.2 pounds. Making 4th-gen Intel Core i5 power available in such a small and light device is an amazing accomplishment. Especially in a product that seems to live up to the high ruggedness expectations customers have of Panasonic Toughbook and Toughpad products.
That said, the initial release didn't include a lot of hard ruggedness data. There's a 5-foot drop spec and IP65 sealing, which means the M1 is totally dustproof and can also handle low pressure water jets from all directions. Other than that, all the available specs claim is that Pana's latest tablet is an "MIL-STD-810 design," which doesn't say anything at all until specific data becomes available. It is, however, constructed with a magnesium alloy chassis, ABS case, elastomer corner guards, and protective port covers, so we're not worried about its toughness and durability.
But back to available specs. The M1 runs Windows 8.1, but also has a Windows 7 downgrade option. The choice of OS will come down to the types of apps a customer intends to run on it. 1280 x 800 pixel resolution is still acceptable on this size display, and capacitive multi-touch has pretty much become the norm even in Windows tablets. No active pen to augment touch (that would come in handy for anyone planning on spending much time in legacy Windows), but there's a capacitive stylus. Those aren't very precise, but have gotten better. The screen uses an IPS LCD, which means it'll likely have an almost perfect viewing angle from all directions. There's also anti-reflective coating and a fairly strong 500 nits backlight, so the display should be well suitable for outdoor work.
On the storage side, customers can specify either a 128 or 256GB solid state disk with heater (so, again, why no operating temperature spec?), and there's also a MicroSDXC slot to augment the onboard 8GB of DDR3L SDRAM with up to 64GB of card memory. The M1 includes dual cameras, a 720p frontal webcam, and a modest 5mp rear-facing documentation camera with LED illuminator.
As is usually the case with Panasonic, customers have their choice of various options. The tablet can be equipped with integrated 4G LTE mobile broadband with GPS and there's a choice of packages that include various, and to a degree mutually exclusive, combinations of SmartCard reader, 1D/2D barcode reader, RFID, bridge battery, NFC (Near Field Communication) and either a LAN jack or a serial port. It can get complicated there.
Customers also have their choice of the standard 23.2 watt-hour battery that Panasonic claims is good for 8 hours of operation, or an optional extended 51 watt-hour battery rated 16 hours. We'd go for that one, though it'll likely add a bit of bulk and weight.
With the addition of the 7-inch FZ-M1, Panasonic is now in a position to offer customers both large and small tablets either with Windows or with Android. All four carry the trademark Toughbook/Toughpad design. Past that, each is a totally unique design that has little incommon with the other three Toughpad tablets. That can't be very efficient in terms of manufacturing and support, but by making each of their four tablets so different, Panasonic also put out there various, and distinctly different, combinations of technology and features for customers to decide what works best for them. Given the ongoing uncertainty over Windows versus Android, and rugged versus commercial-off-the-shelf, that's perhaps not a bad idea.
What's the price? That'd be US$2,099 to start with, almost twice that of the 7-inch Android version. That's a great deal more than what consumers expect to pay for a tablet, but in the world of rugged computing the initial purchase price is almost irrelevant compared to how well a product holds up out there in the field, and Panasonic certainly builds them to last.
Also see RuggedPCReview's full report on the Panasonic 10-inch Toughbook FZ-G1.
Note: On June 10, 2014, Panasonic announced an Intel "Bay Trail" Celeron N2807-powered version of the FZ-M1 as a more affordable alternative to the standard FZ-M1. Panasonic targets the Celeron version, which starts at US$1,299, as a platform for cloud-based applications, delivery routing, email connectivity and other everyday tasks in the field.