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Panasonic Toughbook H1 Field

A power-efficient, cleanly designed and implemented, and heavily ruggedized tablet computer with excellent display and ergonomics
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

In February of 2010, Panasonic introduced the Toughbook H1 Field, a second and more rugged version of its Toughbook H1 slate computer that was initially designed for use in clinical and medical healthcare environments. The "Field" version was created to enable mobility and productivity for field sales personnel, first responders, supervisors, inspectors, maintenance workers and other highly mobile professionals. This article combines the information we currently have on the Toughbook H1 Field with what we learned about this impressive platform from our detailed review of the initial Toughbook H1, which is now called the Toughbook H1 Health.

First a bit of background. When Panasonic released the original Toughbook H1 as a Mobile Clinical Assistant, the timing was excellent as the clinical market was expected to see substantial growth over the next several years. That was in part because of the US Federal Economic Stimulus legislation that passed Congress and was signed by President Obama in February 2009 and included almost US$20 billion to modernize health care systems with the goal of switching to electronic patient records for all Americans by the year 2014. Clearly, that meant a lot of potential business.

Panasonic, however, also entered a field where the competition already had a significant head start. There was Motion Computing's well established C5, a machine that had been quite well received. Fujitsu was testing the market with the Esprimo MA "Personal Healthcare Assistant", embedded and industrial systems specialist Advantech announced the Atom-based MICA-101, Twinhead the DigiHeal T10Y, Philips the CliniScape, and TabletKiosk the MediSlate MCA i1040XT. So what caused Panasonic, a generally conservative company, to create the Toughbook H1 platform?

First of all, there was Panasonic's reputation as a true one-stop shop with many years of experience. Panasonic practically established the rugged and semi-rugged market with its line of Toughbooks, and the company covers all bases and form factors so there is no need to buy tablets from one vendor and notebooks from another. Whatever mobile solution is needed, Panasonic likely has a product to fill the need.

Second, it's not always good to be first. Pioneers always take a chance and may miss the mark either with the concept or with details. Panasonic therefore had the advantage of seeing feedback to the Motion machine and use that in their design decisions for the H1.

The picture to the left, incidentally, shows a statue of Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita in front of one of the many Panasonic facilities in Osaka, Japan. This was one great man, and anyone interested in industrial innovation history and visionary achievement should read Matsushita's "Quest for Prosperity: The Life of a Japanese Industrialist".

Third, unlike most companies, Panasonic manufactures its own computers and most of their components as well, and their made-in-Japan products claim exceptionally low failure rates.

Panasonic also did their own research that guided them in the development process of the H1 platform. They found that customers wanted longer battery life, more ruggedness, and less heat generation in such a product, and so it came as no surprise that Panasonic addressed these issues in the original H1 (in addition to matters pertaining specifically to the healthcare sector, such as the ability to quickly and easily clean and desinfect the device).

However, things never go quite as planned. After a flurry of introductions of MCA devices (which were all fairly closely fashioned after an earlier Intel reference design) in 2007 and 2008, things slowed down a bit, most likely because the medical sector is notoriously slow in adapting new computing technology and perhaps also because during 2009, touch and multi-touch suddenly became all the rage and changed expectations of what a slate device ought to be able to do and how it should be used.

It was clearly time to hedge bets, something which Motion Computing did in 2008 with the F5 "Field Tool," a semi-rugged and differently configured version of their C5 medical tablet targeted for field service and similar applications. So now, Panasonic follows suit by splitting the H1 line into the H1 "Health" and the H1 "Field".

What is the Panasonic H1 Field?

In essence, what you get with the Panasonic H1 Field is a brilliantly engineered and already field-proven tablet computer that is:
  • Very rugged (6 foot drop, adherence to MIL-STD-810G testing standards, etc.)
  • Fully sealed to handle all outdoor situations (IP65, fanless design, no holes, special materials, etc.)
  • Ergonomically optimized (integrated handle, balanced, both touch and digitizers, etc.)
  • Power-efficient (dual hot-swappable batteries, efficient processor and components)
On the technology side, the H1 uses an Intel Atom Z540 processor that has a faster clockspeed than the competition as well as the extremely low thermal design power Atom chips are famous for. Dual Li-Ion batteries combine for 42 watt-hours and Panasonic claims six hours battery life. There are 2GB of DDR2 RAM and a 64GB solid state disk. On the wireless side, you get 802.11a/b/g/draft-n in an Intel Wireless WiFi Link 5100, Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR, as well as optional Gobi2000 3G global mobile Internet (see Qualcomm page on Gobi).

Note that the Toughbook H1 Field comes in a Base, a Pro, and an Elite version. Base is equipped as described above. Pro also gets an integrated 2-megapixel camera with dual LED lights and an integrated 1D/2D barcode reader. The Elite version gets those and also a fingerprint reader, a contactless SmartCard reader and a 13.56MHz contactless RFID reader.

The Toughbook H1 Field inherits the smooth surfaces, sealed buttons, fanless design, gapless LCD and no exposed ports from the original Toughbook H1 that was designed for clinical environments where infection control is a major issue and it had to be possible to frequently spray and wipe the unit with disinfectant, and being sure that not a square inch was missed. The Toughbook H1 Field has all that, too, including the clever software utility that reminds (nags?) you to clean the display and unit, and keeps track of it. Unfortunately, all this comes at the expense of having onboard ports. There is good wireless connectivity, but anything else comes via dock. The H1's handy cradle supplies three USB 2.0 ports, LAN, video and serial connectivity as well as two battery charger slots.

Panasonic has a lot of experience with outdoor-viewable displays and ruggedness, and the H1 Field benefits from both. The 10.4-inch display is sunlight-viewable thanks to a circular polarizer as well as anti-glare and anti-reflective treatments, and it has a strong 500 nit backlight. It is also "dual-touch," meaning that it has both a touch screen (but not multi-touch) and an electromagnetic digitizer, with the system switching between the two automatically.

Now let's take a closer look at the Panasonic H1.

Design and construction

As stated above, the Panasonic H1 Field has its conceptual design origins in the Intel Mobile Clinical Assistant reference platform that came out of research Intel began in 2004 and collaboration with clinicians (see Intel). Intel described a clipboard form factor, lightweight design, and an integrated handle for easy use and carrying during a work shift. The idea was that, along with appropriate software, the MCA would enable clinicians to access patient care records at the point of care and document a patient's condition in real time. This, in turn, would reduce transcription errors, enhance workflow, and deliver faster and safer care.

Below you can see that Panasonic's design provides the compact form factor with integrated handle, but also adds Panasonic's own ideas and concepts.

The Panasonic H1 Field measures 10.4 x 10.6 inches and weighs about 3.4 pounds, including its two powerful batteries. While Motion Computing's C5 is a thin, flat tablet, the H1's profile shows that the handle part is about .75 inches thick, the bottom part about 1.3 inches, and the central part with the boxy batteries about two inches. Add to that the soft rubber handle that makes carrying the H1 Field easy and we're talking three inches. Panasonic clearly made a design decision here: form follows function.

The unit's 10.4-inch display is crisp and bright. Its backlight can be adjusted in 20 steps (but not turned off completely). The display has both a digitizer and a touch screen. The system is auto-sensing, i.e. when the digitizer senses the proximity of the pen it takes over and will no longer recognize touch. As soon as it no longer senses the pen, it again recognizes touch input. The display is recessed by about 1/16th of an inch, so dirt can potentially hide between the display and the bezel. Ideally, the display would be flush.

The slender Wacom pen snaps into the top of the display. This is a good solution as you can always see if the pen has been stowed away. It is never out of sight.

Productivity tool for mobile workers are often used as data capture devices, and so the H1 Field is available with both a bar code scanner and an RFID reader. RFID and the bar code reader can be activated either via hardware buttons along the left side of the display, or via smaller hardware buttons conveniently located on the top of the handle. This way, they can be operated with a slight push of the thumb.

In the Elite model there is a fingerprint reader that can be used to provide access security, and also make it possible for several users to share an H1 while keeping their data separate. A contactless SmartCard reader can also be used for access control.

All ports are sealed with cleverly designed covers that are part of the design. They are hinged so that they cannot get lost. They sort of slide into place and lock. An excellent solution.

A look inside the Panasonic H1 platform

(Please note that the picture below shows the inside of the original Toughbook H1, and not the new H1 Field. Given the increased ruggedness specs of the H1 Field, it is possible that changes and enhancements have been made inside the unit to accommodate the additional stress. However, I believe the overall concept is unchanged, and so the image probably gives a good representation of the H1 Field as well.

The Panasonic H1's front and back, made of polycarbonate plastic material, are held together by 15 screws. The two halves are sealed via a continuous O-ring that goes all around the perimeter, forming a water-tight seal. The O-ring is pressed into a groove so that it a) cannot get lost or crimped while closing the unit, and b) can be replaced. A second O-ring goes around the perimeter of the inside of the handle. Panasonic is leaving nothing to chance. Unlike others, Panasonic uses the same size screws throughout the inside, something that service personnel will be thankful for.

The chassis of the H1 is made of magnesium ally, a metal that is light, readily available, conducts well, shields electromagnetic waves, and is easily recyclable. Panasonic was one of the pioneers in using this light and very strong material in computers and they have gathered a lot of experience with it over the years. Panasonic can now produce thin cast magnesium alloys that are just 0.02 inches thick, thinner than most plastics. Parts of the chassis are so thin that it is hard to believe they are made of metal. Yet, they are completely rigid and incredibly strong.

The boards and assembly are as clean as can be. The Panasonic H1 is made in Panasonic's Kobe factory, a state-of-the-art facility where a very skilled workforce combines with advanced industrial robots to create pretty much the ultimate in manufacturing quality and efficiency.

The factory, which also makes Panasonic's rugged Toughbook computers, is highly automated, yet there are also many processes that require supervision and manual labor. Many of the machines have a red and green light on top. It's green when things are running smoothly, but turns red when there is a problem that requires intervention. A technician then stops by and resolves the issue.

Panasonic doesn't simply buy boards. They make them. Right in that factory. Even the machines that mount chips are made by Panasonic (see picture to the right) and Panasonic prides itself in having the fastest chip insertion machines in the business. These machines are fed chips and circuits like ammo in a Gatlin gun (see picture to the left). Watching those chips disappear into the machine and precision-mounted on the circuit boards is a sight to behold.

Looking at the guts of the H1, you realize why the machine doesn't heat up at all. It's in part due to the low-power Atom chip, of course, but also because of excellent thermal engineering. There is, for example, a heat dissipation sheet inserted between the main circuit board and the magnesium case. And there is a fairly generous air space between the magnesium chassis and the H1's plastic case.

The disk caddy is removed in the picture above, but you can see where it sits in the center of the board. Disks are notorious points of failure due to drops and impact, and so Panasonic spent a lot of time coming up with the best possible solution. While the hard disks in many rugged computers have some sort of shock absorption, the protective disk enclosure used in the H1 is in a class of its own.

The disk is sitting in its own and completely separate white plastic caddy (shown in the picture to the right). Inside the case, the disk is cushioned by a special type of slow-collapsing foam that Panasonic developed especially for this very purpose. In a typical three foot drop, the impact on the disk is reduced from 1,500Gs to just 250G -- only half of the H1 Health's hard disk's rated 500G maximum while operating and probably only a small fraction of what the H1 Field's solid state disk can handle. That is impressive.

Overall, Panasonic probably could have made the H1 thinner as there is ample space inside the housing. The shape of the batteries dictated some of the height and they probably figured as long as their design included that hand strap, they might as well allocate ample space inside for cooling.

Display

Since most of the original healthcare-oriented H1s were going to be used indoors, Panasonic easily could have justified equipping the device with a standard transmissive indoor display and backlighting in the 200 nits range, which is what most commercial notebook computers have. Instead, from the start Panasonic used a 10.4-inch sunlight viewable display with a much brighter 500 nits backlight and anti-reflective screen treatment. We haven't seen the H1 Field in action yet, but the display seems the same as that in the original H1, and so the pictures below are probably representative of the H1 Field as well. The image shows the original H1 outdoors, in the shade on a bright, sunny day.

As you can see, the H1's display remains perfectly readable. The display also has a degree of anti-glare treatment and—thankfully—doesn't have the mirror-like high-gloss surface that's so common in today's commercial notebooks. As a result, there is pretty good reflection control.

A wide viewing angle also helps in making a mobile computer as readable and usable as possible, and we've become spoiled by the perfect 180 degree viewing angles of the Hydis Technologies displays used in many Tablet PCs. The H1 display has a wide viewing angle horizontally, but a much narrower one vertically where there is considerable color shift.

The picture to the right shows the H1 in direct, bright sunlight. No backlight is a match for the power of the sun, but between the Panasonic display's anti-reflective properties and the hefty 500-nits backlight, the screen remains usable.

Panasonic also could have chosen to offer the H1 Field with a single digitizer, either an electromagnetic one or a touch screen. Instead, they equipped the H1 with both. Both technologies have their advantages, with the active pen offering cursor tracking and very precise operation, and a touch screen quicker operation, especially with custom applications. Having both is the best of both worlds, and Panasonic's auto-sensing technology means you can use either pen and touch without having to switch between modes. How the current trend twards multi-touch will affect this arrangement is unknown. Windows 7 has good touch (and multi-touch) support and some rugged vendors (such as Getac) have started to add multi-touch support. However, we've yet to see truly satisfying multi-touch solutions on anything but projected capacity displays, and even there the Apple iPhone has set very high expectations.

Intel Atom power

The Panasonic H1 is based on an Intel Atom processor. We've been seeing a lot of new Atom-based devices coming to market, and existing products becoming available with Atom processors, and in December of 2009 Intel already introduced a second generation. What is Atom and why is there so much hype around it? The short answer is that Intel has done an exceptional job marketing Atom, and while the Atom processors are not perfect for every application, they offer a lot of power-efficient bang for the buck. As a result, Atom chips are now being used in tens of millions of netbooks and numerous other devices.

The Atom Z540 used in the Panasonic H1 is, as of this writing, the second most powerful of the Atom Z5xx series. It is running at 1.866GHz, has 512KB of L2 cache, a 533MHz front side bus and a maximum thermal design power of just 2.4 watts. Thermal design power is the maximum amount of power a computer's cooling system needs to dissipate and is used as a measure of power efficiency. 2.4 watts is only a fraction of what even a frugal notebook processor uses.

The Z540 chip belongs to the initial generation of Atom processor that was codenamed "Silverhorne" and has a tiny 13 x 14 mm package footprint. Small though it is, the processor has about 47 million transistors, which is more than the Pentium 4 had. Silverthorne chips were originally targeted at mobile internet devices (MIDs) and Intel created an entirely new and very power-efficient "Poulsbo" System Controller Hub (SCH) for them. The Poulsbo chipset includes a GMA graphics system, high definition audio, a PATA controller, and PCIe, SD and USB support, and uses only about 2.3 watts, which means total CPU and chipset consumption isn't even 5 watts. And the chipset even has hardware support for H.264, MPEG4 and other HD decoding.

Intel's goals for the Atom processor were low power consumption and low cost without being just slowed down ultra-low voltage versions of Intel's Core processors. For power conservation and cost reasons, Atom Z-Series processors do not use two cores, but they use HyperThreading, an older Intel technique that can approximate processing two threads while increasing energy usage by only about 10%. Since low power consumption is key, Intel designed a variety of power conservation features into the chip. They added a special bus mode that minimizes power needed to transmit data to the processor as well as cache that flushes cache data to system memory during periods of inactivity. Intel added a new power conservation mode, the C6 state, that removes power from the processor core and cache, and also removes power from almost all of the I/O subsystem to arrive at very low idle power draw. Combined with dynamic L2 cache sizing and CMOS driver technology, power consumption reaches levels thought impossible a short while ago.

How fast is it?

(Please note that the benchmark below was conducted with the original Toughbook H1, and not the new H1 Field. The main technical differences between the Health and the Field versions are that the original had 1GB of RAM whereas the H1 Field has 2GB, and the original had a standard hard disk whereas the H1 Field has a solid state disk. Our original H1 ran Windows XP Tablet whereas the H1 Field comes with Windows 7. Based on experience, we'd estimate that the new H1 Field would score about 10% higher than the H1 numbers shown below.

Given its tiny size and minimal power consumption, what kind of performance can the Atom platform muster? We've seen the term "targeted," which is marketing speak for "fast enough for the intended purpose, given that the primary objective is to extend battery life." Performance, of course, is always tied to power consumption. When you look at common notebook processors, they generally have thermal design powers of 17 (example: 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo L7500) to 35 watts (example: 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo T9400 and some of the new Core i5 and i7 processors). Ultra low power processors range from 5.5 watts—like the 1.2GHz Core Solo U1400—to 10 watts—such as the 1.2GHz Core Duo U2500. The Atom processor in the Panasonic H1, on the other hand, uses a maximum of only about 2.5 watts.

We installed Passmark Software's PerformanceTest 6.1 on the original H1 to measure performance. Passmark's benchmark suite runs about 30 tests covering CPU, 2D graphics, 3D graphics, memory, and disk and then computes scores for each category and an overall PassMark score. For comparison, we're also showing the benchmark numbers of machines that use other versions of the Atom as well as Atom's predecessor chip (the A110) and a chip that Atom machines often replace (the Core Solo). The results were as follows:

RELATIVE PERFORMANCE Panasonic H1 Acer Aspire One Winmate IA80 GETAC E100 Motion F5
Type Tablet Netbook Industrial tablet Industrial tablet Tablet
CPU Intel Atom Z540 Intel Atom N270 Intel Atom N270 Intel A110 Intel Core 2 Duo U7500
CPU Speed 1.86GHz 1.6GHz 1.6GHz 800MHz 1.06GHz
CPU Thermal Design Power 2.4 watts 2.5 watts 2.5 watts 3.0 watts 10.0 watts
CPU Mark 275.4 239.1 162.7 207.2 389.8
2D Graphics Mark 115.7 144.4 212.3 119.8 86.9
Memory Mark 242.7 215.1 224.0 155.5 202.7
Disk Mark 284.8 375.8 382.5 200.2 435.5
3D Graphics Mark 10.1 81.7 81.3 63.1 85.6
Overall PassMark 191.9 208.4 200.2 148.3 251.3

The results are really not very conclusive and probably more representative of the fact that most benchmarks are best used to compare processors within the same architecture. Still, what the numbers show is that the Atom-powered H1 performs at the level that moved millions of netbooks, that it is certainly faster than machines equipped with the old Intel A110 which the Atom chips replaced, and that performance is roughly on par with older low-end Intel Core processors.

In RuggedPCReview's testing of a variety of rugged computers with different processor architectures, Atom benchmarks are generally about 50% better than that of a 1GHz Celeron M 373, about the same as a 1.2GHz Intel Core Solo U1400, about 30% less than that of a 1.2GHz Core Duo U2500, and roughly a third of that of a hefty notebook processor like the 2.5GHz Core 2 Duo T9400. So no miracles, but, given proper engineering, very good battery life at low heat dissipation and decent performance, which is precisely what we saw in the original Panasonic H1.

Battery and battery life

Listening to current and potential customers, Panasonic found long battery life high on the list. As a result, they practically designed the H1 around a set of dual, hot-swappable Panasonic CF-VZSU53W Li-Ion batteries, each rated at 7.2V/2.9Ah, for a total of 42 watt-hours. This is as much battery power as you get in many full-size notebooks with their much more power-hungry processors and larger displays. What can you expect from the H1?

The answer is quite a bit. The combination of the power-efficient Atom processor, low power chipset and large-capacity batteries makes for a rated battery life of around six hours in Panasonic literature. We used Passmark Software's BatteryMon to measure the original H1's power draw and found idle discharge rates as low as 4.5 watts, with the backlight on at automatic level. Perhaps as a result of the Atom processors power management technology, the discharge rate vacillated at idle from an observed low of 4.2 watts to about 8.5 watts.

In a long duration battery discharge test with the computer idling (backlight on), we saw projected battery life of about 8.5 to 9 hours. After six hours, the batteries were down to about 35%. After 6:30 hours it was at 28%. At 7:20 hours it was at 18%. At eight hours, there was 9% left. Based on these results, the six hour estimate seems quite doable. Interestingly, while the original H1 was rated 6-8 hours, the official rating for the H1 Field is only six hours, despite its use of a generally more frugal solid state disk.

In order to keep batteries in top shape and reliable, Panasonic included a Battery Recalibration function that can be used to recalibrate batteries and make sure that remaining battery capacity is displayed accurately. To do that, the utility does a full charge and then a full discharge.

The image to the right shows battery information both from Panasonic's included utility as well as from the BatteryMon benchmark. Both shows discharge rates as low as four to five watts. Do the math: with a battery capacity of 42 watt-hours and an idle draw of four to five watts, the battery will last about nine hours. That's for idling along. If the computer is used to do work, power draw rises and battery life drops.

Panasonic also includes its HRL technology that guards against "thermal incidents." There is also a special embedded controller that employs a number of sensors throughout the machine that measure temperature and pass the data on for processing. The controller then dynamically manages key device operations for an optimal balance between thermal limits and performance.

Physically, the power packs look like camcorder batteries, snap into place inside their compartments on the left and right side of the unit, and cannot be inserted the wrong way round.

The Cleaning Reminder

According to the H1 Field documentation, the H1 Field comes with the same "Cleaning Reminder" tool as the H1 Health. In a clinical environment, germs are potentially anywhere and cleanliness is everything. This means that equipment is frequently cleaned and scrubbed down with disinfectants. To that extent, Panasonic made the H1 easy to clean with a minimum of places where germs can hide and accumulate. On a device with a touch screen, keeping the display disinfected is of special importance, and so Panasonic came up with the Cleaning Reminder utility. The way it works is that the utility will pop up in certain intervals or upon certain activities and ask you to clean the display. To make sure you get every part, it colors the display and you then have to carefully wipe off all color. This ascertains that the entire screen is cleaned.

Below you can see the naggy reminder on the left, and a screen that is in the process of being wiped clean on the right.

This utility was very clearly designed for use in healthcare settings and it is probably mostly irrelevant for field use.

PC Information Viewer

The Panasonic H1 comes with a PC Information Viewer that provides a wealth of high level and low level data in one handy utility. The viewer shows:
  • PC Status, with first logon date and time, elapsed time since current logon, temperature minimum and maximum, registered programs, running processes, and so on.
  • Battery Status, including full and remaining capacity of both main batteries, current voltage, discharge rate, battery temperature, etc. Here you can also see which battery the system currently uses.
  • Power option, shows the currently selected option and all the settings it uses. This is for lookup only; you set the power savings option elsewhere.
  • Setup, with all relevant technical system data
  • SMBIOS Data, comprehensive listing of system management BIOS data, including processor, cache and memory information.
  • Setup, shows settings, versions and status of various components and options.
  • Hard Disk Status, showing file system, free space, and low level disk data
Note that the PC Information Viewer is primarily a system, and not an end user, utility. It is fixed in size, so you often need to scroll to see all data.

Application Button Setting Utility

Like many tablet computers that do not have an integrated keyboard, the Panasonic H1 has programmable application buttons that are used to quickly call up often-used functions. They are labeled A1 and A2 and are located on the lower front. You can use the Application Button Setting Utility to program the buttons to bring up utilities, applications or perform other actions.

While most applications rely on on-screen menus and icons, hardware buttons do come in handy because you can always see and operate them. Many tablets use a function button that is used in conjunction with the hardware buttons, so that one button can trigger multiple actions. The H1 doesn't do that and so users are limited to just two buttons.

Panasonic Dashboard

The Panasonic Dashboard is a handy information and settings utility that provides summary information and provides quick access to some of the major settings. Here are the Panasonic Dashboard's functions:
  • Shows battery status for each battery
  • Total running time left
  • Lets you set screen brightness
  • Light switch settings when using the camera
  • Color of the cleaning utility background
  • Enable both touch and digitizer or digitizer only
  • Open the reference manual
  • Run the cleaning utility
  • Rotate the display
There is also an Advanced Settings panel where you can finetune the cleaning reminder, reassign the Dashboard soft buttons, disable RFID, and so on. The cleaning reminder can be programmed to come up at certain time intervals, when a user logs on, when the battery is changed, or when the device is undocked.

Overall, there is quite a bit of overlap between the various utilities. We'd like to see more consistency both in format and information density. As is, it almost looks like various departments added their utilities without merging everything into an overall, more enduser-oriented utility.

Loupe, Handwriting Utility, and Icon Enlarger

An interesting utility that comes in handy in some situations is the loupe. By default it is invoked by right-clicking while holding down the Alt key (since there is no Alt key in tablet mode, we programmed it to the A2 button). Its size is adjustable, it can be dragged all over the screen, and it is useful to read very small print or details.

The Panasonic Hand Writing utility brings up a handy pad where you can quickly jot down some handwritten notes. Since the H1 has full Tablet PC functionality, you can, of course, use the much more sophisticated Windows Journal for handwritten notes. Below you can see the loupe and the handwriting pad:

The Icon Enlarger (see below) lets you set icons and menus to normal, large size, and extra large size. This can be done through the regular Windows Display Properties control panel, but this way it's just the click of a button away and everything is scaled properly.

Integrated camera

The Pro and Elite versions of the Panasonic H1 Field have an integrated 2-megapixel camera. The camera lens is mounted on the backside of the unit and it is flanked by two fairly strong LED illumination lights. The camera can be activated via a hardware button marked with a camera icon to the right of the screen. As is the case with most such integrated cameras, results vary. The camera has a good auto-focus, but it's not very fast. It is very good at capturing sharp images from close up. Expect decent performance and excellent battery life.

Overall, with some practice it is definitely possible to take good images to support/complement medical record information or whatever imagery may be required. It also helps that it has a preview window that is much larger than the display of any digital camera.

Docking and mounting

As a tablet computer without onboard wired connectivity, the Toughbook H1 Field relies on docks and mounting solutions to connect to peripherals or be used in an office or vehicle. To that extent, Panasonic offers a variety of docks and cradles.

Additional mounting solutions are available from the folks at RAM-Mounts, undisputedly the leading innovator and manufacturer of rugged, durable mounting systems and docking stations for mobile electronics with their patented ball and socket mounting system that allows you to mount practically anything anywhere. The pictures below show some of RAM's docks, vehicle mounts, clamp mounts, swingarms, etc. (See full description at RAM-Mounts)

What about ruggedness?

Panasonic optimistically calls the Toughbook H1 Field "the world's most rugged handheld tablet computer." Given the degree toughness and ruggedness we've been seeing in this field, that's a tall statement, especially for a machine that was not originally designed for field duty. So how rugged is the Toughbook H1 Field?

There is one stat that definitely stands out, and that is the 6-foot drop spec as measured by the procedures stated in MIL-STD-810G 516.6 IV. The procedure requires drops onto 2-inch plywood backed by concrete onto on each face, edge and corner, for a total of 26 drops. The device doesn't have to be on for this and the standard's language is remarkably loose for a military document. For example, it says, "if desired, divide the 26 drops among no more than five test items," so presumably one could use five machines and each would "only" have to endure five or six drops. Likewise, after testing, all that is required is to "Conduct an operational checkout in accordance with the approved test plan." Still, Panasonic claims six feet here, when almost everyone else has no more than three or four. RuggedPCReview.com has requested some clarification because, given the laws of physics, it seems nearly impossible that a computer could survive drops from twice the height (the claim for the Toughbook H1 Health is only three feet) without very substantial extra protection.

There is, of course, one big difference between the two versions: the H1 Field has a solid state disk which is virtually immune to shock whereas the H1 Health has a standard hard disk that is much more susceptible to damage. The SSD probably also helps the H1 Field achieve a much wider operating temperature range of -4 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

As far as sealing goes, the H1 Field has an IP65 ingress protection rating, where the "6" stands for total protection against dust and the "5" for protection against low pressure jets of water from all directions. For comparison, the H1 Health only carries an IP54 rating. This must mean that Panasonic beefed up the sealing quite a bit.

Unfortunately, the information available as I am writing this (February 10/11, 2010) did not include complete ruggedness information, with data on vibration, humidity, altitude, etc., missing. Overall, though, there seems no doubt that the Toughbook H1 Field is a very durable computer that can handle quite a bit of punishment.

The Panasonic H1 Field

With the Toughbook H1 Field, Panasonic is offering a more rugged version of its innovative H1 platform originally conceived as a Mobile Clinical Assistant. It's a handy, lightweight tablet computer that brings Panasonic's considerable expertise in rugged and semi-rugged mobile computing equipment into a variety of field-based .

Based on a very frugal 1.86GHz Intel Atom Z540 processor, the H1 Field sports a clean, ergonomic, fanless design that's easy to use, easy to hold, and easy to carry. A weight of just 3.4 pounds and hot-swappable dual batteries that combine for six hours of uninterrupted operation add to the real-life usefulness of the design.

The H1 Field is not only compact and light, it also features a wealth of integrated data capture technologies (depending on the version, RFID, barcode reader, camera, smart card reader), and multiple wireless connectivity options, including the Gobi2000 wide area wireless technology that supports the various wireless networking technologies around the world, so users can select whatever carrier is available to them. However, those used to a wealth of onboard ports won't find them on the H1 Field; almost all wired connectivity is via dock.

Equipped with a very bright, sunlight-viewable 10.4-inch display that has both a touch screen and an electromagnetic digitizer, the heavily ruggedized Toughbook H1 Field is an attractive solution and productivity tool for mobile workers in a large number of fields where equipment will take the occasional drop and spill.

Below you can see some of the areas Panasonic envisions the Toughbook H1 Field to be used in.

Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

Panasonic CF-H1 Field Specifications
Added/changed Added 02/2010
Type Rugged Handheld Tablet Computer
Processor 1.86GHz Intel Atom Z540, 512KB L2 cache, 533MHz FSB, 2.4 watt TDP
OS Windows 7 with XP Tablet downgrade option
Memory 2048MB DDR2
Chipset Intel Poulsbo/GMA 500
Display 10.4" XGA (1024 x 768) sunlight-viewable TFT with anti-reflective treatment (500 Nit)
Digitizer/Pens Dual touch (touchscreen and digitizer)
Keyboard Onscreen keyboard + optional external
Storage Shock-mounted "flex-connect" 64GB solid state disk (SSD)
Slots none
Housing Magnesium alloy chassis; polycarbonate exterior
Operating temperature -4 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit
Enclosure Class IP65 (totally protected against dust; can handle water jets from all directions)
Humidity unknown
Drop 6-foot drop (MIL-STD-810G)
Vibration unknown
Altitude unknown
EMI/EMC unknown
Size 10.4 x 10.6 x 1.3-2.3 inches
Weight 3.4 pounds (as tested, with both batteries and handle)
Power Twin 21 Watt-Hour Li-Ion (7.2V, 2,900Ah each), "6 hours"
Communication Intel WiFiLink 5100 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR; optional: integrated GOBI (EV-DO Rev. A, HSPA), Leadtek GPS (WAAS), 2D bar code reader
Interface Speaker, dock; via dock: 3 USB 2.0, RH45, VGA, serial; Optional: Fingerprint scanner, RFID reader, 2D bardcode reader, 2.0mp camera with dual LED lights, contactless Smartcard reader,
Price US$3,379 (base model)
Contact Panasonic Toughbook H1 Field
SDK Intel MCA Software Development Kit