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Hands-on with the £1,500 Windows 8 Pro Panasonic FZ-G1 Toughpad

The Panasonic FZ-G1 is a Windows 8 Pro tablet aimed at field workers, but does its rugged credentials justify its hefty starting price?

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Topic: Tablets
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1 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

The Panasonic FZ-G1 Toughpad is not aimed at you. Well, it is if you're in charge of your company's IT budget and have a team that often works in challenging outdoors environments, but if you're the average user just looking for something to watch iPlayer on, you're not the FZ-G1's target audience.

The device is Panasonic's first Windows 8-based tablet, and its first Toughpad to run the OS (the company's two previous Toughpads, the CF-D1 and CF-H2, ran Windows 7 and the latter had more than a passing resemblance to an Etch A Sketch).

The FZ-G1 is actually one of three new tablets from Panasonic, but is the only one to sport the full Windows 8 Pro operating system. The other two tablets — the FZ-A1 and the JT-B1 — run versions of Android instead and come with 10-inch and 7-inch screens, respectively.

If for some reason you'd rather the tablet ran Windows 7 instead of Windows 8 (not an option I'd go for considering Windows 7 performance on a touchscreen) you can request a downgrade.

Given its Toughpad moniker, you'd expect the FZ-G1 to be able to take a bit of a beating and keep on running. While I didn't subject it to anything too extreme (mostly drop tests, some accidental) it certainly kept on working despite the knocks it received. Panasonic says it will withstand drops of up to around four feet — 120cm, to be precise — thanks to its rugged shell and rubberised corners.

That said, I'd have expected the FZ-G1 (Panasonic is sticking with the immediately forgettable and confusing naming scheme for its Toughpads) to come with slightly better 'tough' credentials. While it will withstand a light shower and has dust ingress protection, it most definitely isn't waterproof and shouldn't be submerged in liquid. That's particularly surprising given dustproof and fully waterproof for submersion up to 30 minutes — and nothing about that device screams tough.

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2 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

Unsurprisingly given that it's a rugged device, the Panasonic is not the most svelte or lightest tablet on the market, measuring up at 270mm x 188mm x 19mm thick. It weighs 1.1kg, and feels even heavier if you're holding it in one hand while operating it with the other.

In order to make it water-resistant, Panasonic added a sealed fan system that maintains protection against the rest of the internals. (Its other Android tablets are all fanless.)

Other key specs of the device include a 128GB SSD, 1.9GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM (expandable to 8GB) and a forward-facing 1.3-megapixel camera. Potential buyers can also specify a 3-megapixel camera with autofocus and LED flash for an additional cost.

It also comes with a stylus (shown in previous photo) to make field workers' lives a little easier. Judging from my experience with the tablet, they'll be using it.

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3 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

Battery life on the FZ-G1 is around eight hours in the field, according to a Panasonic spokesman, and the battery is user-changeable, meaning you can put in a spare if you're miles from a charger and need to keep on working.

It can also be specified to come with a double-length battery instead, which will give around 16 hours use, Panasonic said. However, this will change the profile of the tablet, giving it a slightly protruding section at the bottom.

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4 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

The buttons along the bottom of the screen (labelled A1/A2) can be programmed to launch specific apps on the device,  while the others provide volume control, a shortcut to the Windows 8 start screen and the one on the far right toggles autorotate on and off.

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5 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

Given that the FZ-G1 is conceived as a workhorse, it's little surprise to find a better than average array of full size ports and connectivity options (3G is not included but is offered as an optional extra that nearly all customers go for, according to Panasonic's spokesman).

Standard ports on the tablet include a full size HDMI socket, one USB 3.0 port and a headphone socket, as well as Panasonic's own proprietary dock connector. 

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6 of 6 Ben Woods/ZDNet

However, if that's not enough for you, there's also a configuration port that can be specified to include either a USB 2.0, microSD slot/memory card reader, LAN or even a serial port.

Verdict

When I said this tablet was likely not aimed at you, it's not aimed at me either— it's meant for field workers, not office staff or consumers.

As a result, Panasonic has included some features and specs that probably make life on the road a lot easier, but detract from the experience for an average user. The screen, for example, has been specially comprised so that it (essentially) absorbs light and reflects it back, meaning it takes less battery power to achieve the same levels of brightness — handy if you're on the road with no opportunity to charge your hardware. However, despite the impressive 1080p resolution on the screen, it just never looked that sharp — and with the resolution set to that level, many operations were a bit fiddly and required resorting to using the stylus.

For businesses that require a Windows-based rugged tablet, the Panasonic is one of few options on the market. However, the weight of the device will quickly become a chore if you're left holding it for a long time.

On the plus side, it's customisable and can include a range of ports you won't find on other tablets. However, if you're just a clumsier than average consumer I'd recommend opting for whichever Windows 8 tablet you want and picking up a rugged, fully waterproof case for a fraction of the total cost.

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