Panasonic Toughpad FZ-Y1 Performance model review: A workstation-class 20-inch Windows tablet

toughpad-fz-y1-main.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good
  • Average user rating

Pros

  • Large, high-quality 20-inch screen
  • Slim but sturdy construction
  • Optional Electronic Touch Pen stylus

Cons

  • Moderate 'workstation-class' performance
  • Short battery life
  • Not MIL-STD 810 certified
  • Battery is not user-replaceable
  • Expensive

In October last year Panasonic introduced a Performance version of its 20-inch Toughpad FZ-Y1 'business-rugged' Windows tablet. Aimed at CAD designers, engineers, architects and creatives such as film-makers, the Toughpad FZ-Y1 Performance doesn't come cheap (to say the least), starting at £3,180 (ex. VAT, or £3,816 inc. VAT). For that you get a unique large-format tablet with a 4K touchscreen, an Intel Core i7 processor (albeit 5th-generation) and a workstation-class discrete AMD FirePro GPU.

Such an intriguing product clearly demands hands-on attention from ZDNet. Here's our evaluation.

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Panasonic's Toughpad FZ-Y1 Performance model packs a 20-inch IPS display into a relatively slim (1.25cm thick) chassis weighing 2.49kg.

Image: Panasonic

Design

If you thought Apple's 12.9-inch iPad Pro or Microsoft's 13.5-inch Surface Book (in tablet mode) were large, wait until you see the 20-inch Toughpad FZ-Y1, which is a veritable broadsheet compared to the aforementioned A4-ish devices.

The Standard and Performance FZ-Y1 models both measure 47.7cm by 33.4cm by 1.25cm and weigh 2.41 and 2.49kg respectively, so you won't be slipping either into your travel bag for the commute to and from the office. Apart from beefier internals, an optional stylus and a bigger price tag, the Performance model has a silver screen bezel, whereas the Standard model's is black.

Unlike its Toughpad stablemates, the 20-inch FZ-Y1 is not MIL-STD 810G certified. However, its magnesium frame and reinforced glass-fibre casing allow Panasonic to describe it as "a true business rugged tablet". To back up this claim, the company says the tablet is designed to handle a 76cm (2.5-foot) drop onto its underside when operating, or 30cm (1-foot) drops onto 26 different angles when not operating. The small print does mention, however, that this test regime "does not guarantee against damage or malfunction". Best not drop it, then.

This tablet is dominated by its 20-inch IPS 10-point multi-touch screen, which has a 4K resolution of 3,840 by 2,560 pixels. Its pixel density of 230ppi doesn't match the iPad Pro (265ppi) or Surface Book (267ppi), but is good for such a large display: Apple's 21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K display, for example, delivers 219ppi. A relatively portable tablet of this size is ideal for transporting and viewing A3-size designs or video footage in different locations: the screen's brightness, contrast, colour depth and viewing angles are all good. However, as we shall see, turning up the brightness has serious consequences for battery life.

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The Performance model is available with an optional stylus called the Electronic Touch Pen, which uses infrared to read individual screen pixels, can recognise the pen's tilt angle, and supports 2,048 pressure levels, all of which should make it a particularly engineer-friendly stylus. We can't comment further because the ETP wasn't supplied with our review unit.

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Place the Toughpad FZ-Y1 tablet into the optional Desktop Two-Position Cradle and you have an AIO desktop system. The cradle also incorporates extra ports.

Image: Panasonic

Another optional accessory -- also not supplied for review -- is a two-position desktop cradle, which also provides three additional USB 3.0 ports, plus HDMI-out, Ethernet (RJ-45) and power connections. Add a keyboard and a mouse, and you've got a new form factor: an all-in-one desktop/large-format tablet hybrid.

As a piece of industrial design, the Toughpad FZ-Y1 Performance model's main visual impact is largely down to its size, although its silver livery is smart enough. It's an impressively slim and light device considering the specification, although at nearly 2.5kg it'll be awkward to carry or hold for very long. Rubber feet on the underside ensure it stays put on a shiny table or desk top, and give some clearance for airflow -- important, because this machine's fans are likely to be on most of the time.

Features

Although it's billed as a workstation-class device, the Toughpad FZ-Y1 Performance model doesn't use the latest Intel silicon: instead, it's built around a fifth-generation dual-core Core i7-5600U vPro processor, running at 2.6GHz (up to 3.2GHz with Turbo Boost), supported by 16GB of RAM. The discrete GPU, AMD's FirePro M5100, isn't exactly cutting-edge either, being a 2013-vintage mid-range model with 2GB of dedicated video RAM. The upshot is that performance isn't spectacular by any means (see below).

The standard storage allocation is a 256GB SSD, but this can be optionally extended to 512GB. Further storage can be accommodated via an SDXC UHS-2 card slot in the middle of the right-hand side, which accepts media with up to 64GB capacity.

For wireless connectivity there's dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.0, but no mobile broadband option. The tablet also has a full-size RJ-45 Gigabit Ethernet port, on the right-hand side.

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Most of the Toughpad FZ-Y1's ports, slots and buttons are on the right-hand side.

Image: Panasonic

The other ports on the right-hand side are: Mini-DisplayPort; HDMI 2.0-in (allowing the tablet to be used as a monitor); power; USB 3.0; and 3.5mm audio-out. There's also the aforementioned SDXC card slot and four small buttons controlling screen rotation, volume up, volume down, and power on/off. These buttons are quite small and hard to identify by touch, which means manipulating the somewhat unwieldy tablet to get visual confirmation of the button you're seeking to press.

The left side is relatively bare, save for a smartcard reader, a hardware security lock hole and a pair of status LEDs. The remaining connector is a proprietary 24-pin unit on the chamfered surface just inside the bottom edge. This links up with the aforementioned desktop cradle/port replicator.

Our review unit had a front-facing 0.9-megapixel camera capable of shooting 720p video at 30 frames per second. This will be perfectly adequate for videoconferencing. If you really want to hold this beast of a tablet up to take photos with a rear-facing camera, an optional 5-megapixel unit is available.

Performance

As noted above, the Toughpad FZ-Y1 Performance model's key specs -- 5th-generation 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-5600U CPU with 16GB RAM and AMD FirePro 5100M with 2GB vRAM -- are not exactly cutting edge, and this is borne out in its benchmark results.

For example, it's beaten in the Geekbench 3 processor tests by Microsoft's Surface Book (6th-generation 2.6GHz Core i7-6600U/16GB RAM), which isn't billed as 'workstation-class'. And it's well and truly beaten, especially in the multi-core test, by Dell's 17-inch Precision 7710 mobile workstation, which is powered by a 2.9GHz quad-core Xeon E3-1535M v5 with 16GB of RAM:

toughpad-fz-y1-geekbench.jpg

When it comes to GPU performance, measured by the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test, it's a similar picture. Although, as you'd expect, the FirePro M5100-powered Toughpad beats the Surface Book in tablet mode (using integrated Intel HD graphics), it doesn't when Microsoft's hybrid is in laptop mode (using discrete Nvidia GeForce graphics). And once again, Dell's cutting-edge Precision 7710, which uses the high-end AMD FirePro W7170M GPU, puts Panasonic's tablet firmly in the shade:

toughpad-fz-y1-cinebench.jpg

During performance testing we noticed that the tablet's fans were working hard, and also that benchmark scores tended to decline steadily when test runs were performed continuously one after the other. For example, the Cinebench R15 OpenGL test score declined by 24 percent after five runs, while the CPU test score declined by 17 percent. With a 30-minute sleep between runs, neither test showed any significant change. This suggests that demanding workloads such as Cinebench R15 may put the system under thermal stress, leading to dynamic frequency scaling (a.k.a. CPU throttling).

This might be a problem if you're planning to use the tablet for extended periods of primary design/content-creation work. But if the use case is more as a portable demo platform with the ability to tweak designs as required, then the Toughpad FZ-Y1 should cope fine.

Battery life

A 20-inch screen is a big draw on a tablet's battery, so don't expect much from this Toughpad's 53Wh unit -- which is not easily accessible or user-replaceable. Panasonic only claims 2.5 hours, and our power consumption testing suggests you'll get between 1 hour (demanding workload with 100 percent screen brightness) and three hours (idling with 25 percent screen brightness).

So don't go anywhere without the AC adapter, which will take between 2.5 hours (power off) and 4 hours (power on) to charge the system.

Conclusions

Although its performance and battery life are underwhelming, the Toughpad FZ-Y1 Performance model should find a niche in design and engineering teams requiring a transportable A3-format viewing platform with content editing capability.

Panasonic has taken care of issues like security (TPM 1.2, hardware lock), ISV certification (including Solidworks) and warranty (3 years, with 96-hour repair turnaround), but this is an expensive piece of kit, which means that the use case will need to be compelling.

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Topics: Tablets, Reviews, Windows 10

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