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Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1

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The 7-inch Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1 is a rugged Windows 8.1 Pro tablet that slots into the ever-increasing Toughpad range alongside the FZ-G1 and under the new Toughpad 4K. Announced at CES 2014, it also comes in a Windows 7 version should you decide that you don’t want to migrate to Microsoft’s latest OS. Aside from the ruggedization, the most interesting thing is that it is features a powerful Core i5-level processor, yet is completely fanless – though, as you’ll hear, all this power and protection comes at a cost (a financial one).

That’s because it uses a new low power variant of the latest generation (Haswell) Core i5 processors, known as the 1.6GHz Core i5-4302Y vPro. It has a power consumption of just 4.5 Watts, removing the need to reduce heat. Another advantage is that it’s always quiet. Don’t expect super thin design with the FZ-M1 – this is a corporate tablet that’s designed for use on the move and in difficult conditions. However, it’s around the same thickness as many thin and light laptops at 18mm. The weight is cited at 540g – decent considering all the rugged elements incorporated here.

The Toughpad FZ-M1 comes with 4GB RAM (8GB is optional) and 128 SSD (256GB is optional), while there’s a 2 megapixel front web camera with stereo mic for video conferencing as well as a 5 megapixel rear camera. We were looking at an 8GB model on the CES floor. Another version featuring a Celeron low power processor will be available in the second half of the year. That will be a lower cost device and will feature Windows 8.1 rather than 8.1 Pro. As standard, the Toughpad FZ-M1 includes a full size USB 3.0, Micro SD slot, headphone jack and microSIM slot; other options include 4G mobile broadband and GPS. Here’s the USB slot and headphone jack under its protective flap.

The Micro SD and micro SIM slots are hidden behind a protective door in the battery compartment. The idea is that the FZ-M1 can be configured with whatever a business requires – there’s a module that can be replaced. Panasonic calls this the business expansion module and it could include a smartcard reader, RFID or a barcode reader. It can also be connected through a vehicle dock – you can see the connector on the base here. The WXGA 1,280 x 800 screen doesn’t have the highest of resolutions, but then if this tablet is used for what it’s intended for, image quality isn’t a foremost requirement.

It’s bright though, rated at 500cd/m2, and has a strengthened glass with a layer designed to counter reflections. Essentially it’s designed to be seen in any light conditions, particularly outside. This is a superbly excecuted business tablet that will find its way into many challenging corporate environments. There’s only one real problem with the Toughpad – it is expensive with a starting price of GBP £1,183 or USD $2,099 (around AUD $2,358). But, if you need both mobility and toughened design in a small-screen tablet, it’s the one to beat.

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