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Panasonic Toughbook H2

A much faster and more versatile rugged tablet computer
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)

Note: On May 15, 2013, Panasonic updated the Toughbook H2 with an Intel 3rd generation Core i5-3427U processor, boosted the standard hard disk from 320 to 500GB (which improved estimated battery life from 6.5 to 7 hours), and enhanced connectivity with using an Intel Advanced-N 6235 module (802.11a/b/g/n and Class 1 Bluetooth 4.0 + EDR) and offering either 3G Gobi with GPS or 4G LTE mobile broadband.

On July 12, 2011 -- almost three years after the introduction of the original H1 Mobile Clinical Assistant -- Panasonic announced the Toughbook H2. The new H2 looks almost exactly the same as the original H1 clinical tablet that went on to be joined by a "Field" version of the product but, in fact, it is an entirely different animal.

Below is what the new H2 looks like from the front and the back:

And this is what the original H1 looked like:

So what's different? Note what looks like a wider, deeper more muscular upper part of the machine? That's where Panasonic inserted more power. A lot more. For those who still remember the muscle cars of the 60s: what Pana did here is the equivalent of dropping a big motor into a lowly econo-compact. There's just no other way of describing the switch from the H1 with its frugal, electricity-sipping Atom Z540 chip to the H2 with a 1.7GHz (up to 2.7GHz in turbo mode) Intel Core i5-2557M dual core, quad thread processor. That is the big story here, though it is by no means the entire story.

During a conversation with Kyp Walls, Director of Product Management at Panasonic Marketing, we learned that "some customers wanted to have a little more speed for multi-tasking," and that the new H2 is "a good deal faster." With all due respect to Atom chips which can perform admirably and be just the right solution for many jobs, "a good deal faster" is probably a fast understatement.

But how did Panasonic do it? After all, while the Atom Z540 has a thermal design power of just 2.4 watts, the Core processor, even though it is considered an ultra-low voltage design, can burn through seven times as much, 17 watts.

Does that kill battery life? No, it's still 6.5 hours, which is actually more than the six hours quoted for the original H1.

With all that extra technology, the H2 must be bigger and heavier. Nope. Almost the same. Weight goes from 3.3 to 3.5 pounds.

But with all the heat generated by the much more powerful chip, surely the H2 now needs a fan. Nope again. No fan. That's right: a Core i5 processor in a slender tablet, but no fan.

It has got to cost a lot more, though. Again no. It doesn't. Last time we checked, the H1 Field was US$3,379. The new H2 starts at US$3,449.

Amazing. And especially since all that new processing power is not all that has changed. There's also much more memory (from 4 to 8GB) and it's the faster kind (DDR3 vs. DDR2). There's a much larger and faster disk (320GB 7200rpm vs. just 80GB) or twice the amount of SSD.

And the H2 is tougher. The original H1 could handle 3-foot drops and had IP54 sealing (there were some improvements during the production run). The new H2 can handle 6-foot drops and has IP65 sealing. Big difference.

And there's more. While the original H1 didn't have any onboard connectors so as to minimize places to clean and keep free of germs in clinical settings, in the real world customers generally want some ports. So the H2 has a USB connector, a serial port, and either a second USB port or an RJ45 Ethernet jack. For Smartcard security, H2 customers can select either the contactless kind or an insertable slot. Below you can see one of the two I/O blocks, sitting underneath a protective cover.

The display has changed as well. While the H1 had a 10.4" XGA (1024 x 768) sunlight-viewable TFT with anti-reflective treatment and a 500 Nit backlight, the H2 switched to the same 10.1" "TransflectivePlus" display first used in the Toughbook 19. We haven't seen that screen technology in action yet, but Panasonic claims that the reflective layer can generate the visual equivalent of 6,000 nits in direct sunlight.

So this is an interesting development. It means that the H1 will go away sometime soon. It probably also means a reconsideration as to when and how to use the super-efficient but simple Atom processors. In essence, it means that with very energy-efficient Intel Core processors available now, general purpose computers with larger displays may be better received with the kind of performance customers expect from a notebook, as opposed to a netbook.

Also interesting: While in Europe, Panasonic will have separate H2 Field and Health models, in the US there will only be one model. Three years ago Panasonic had had high hopes that healthcare would become one of their top markets. But despite the significant incentives that were/are part of the US economic stimulus package, apparently the healthcare market continues to be slow in updating its technology and accepting new technologies. If that is what caused the H2 to happen, then that's their loss and our gain.

Below is Kyp Walls introducing the Toughbook H2:

Status Added 07/2011, updated 04/2013, 05/2013
Type Rugged Handheld Tablet Computer
OS Windows 7 (32-bit or 64-bit)
Processor Intel 3rd gen Core i5-3427U, 3MB L3 cache
CPU Speed 1.8GHz (up to 2.8GHz in Turbo Mode)
CPU TDP 17 watt
Chipset unknown
Standard/Max RAM 4-8GB DDR3-1333MHz
Disk/drive Shock-mounted 7200rpm 500GB hard disk or optional 128GB SSD
Optical drive NA
Card slots SmardCard Reader (contactless or slot-based)
Display type Sunlight-viewable transflective TFT with anti-glare and anti-reflective treatment (up to 6,000 Nit)
Display size/res 10.1" XGA (1024 x 768)
Digitizer/pens Touchscreen plus digitizer (Wacom)
Keyboard/scale Onscreen keyboard + optional external
Housing Magnesium alloy chassis
Operating Temp unknown
Sealing IP65
Shock 6-foot drop
Vibration "vibration resistant"
Size (WxHxD) 10.8 x 10.6 x 2.3 inches
Weight 3.5 pounds (with both batteries)
Power Twin Li-Ion ("6.5 hours")
Interface Fingerprint scanner, RFID reader, 2.0mp camera with dual LED lights, speaker, 2 x USB 2.0 (or 1 x USB 2.0 + 1 x RJ45), 1 x RS232
Wireless Intel Advanced-N 6235 802.11a/b/g/n, Class 1 Bluetooth v4.0 + EDR; optional: optional 3G Gobi (EV-DO Rev. A, HSPA), GPS (WAAS), 4G LTE, 2D bar code reader, RFID reader
List price US$3,349
Contact Toughbook H2 page
Brochure Toughbook H2
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