For quite some time I have been telling clients and conference delegates that Windows 8 Pro is going to be quite an interesting operating system for aviation providing that there will be some sexy hardware to go with it. Well the waiting is finally over. Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to the Panasonic Mobility Forum at Brooklands here in the UK to see the launch of Panasonic's new line of Toughbook and ToughPad products. Amongst these shiny new devices was the much anticipated ToughPad FZ-G1 which is Pansonic's new ruggedised Windows 8 Pro tablet.
Weighing in at 1.1kg the FZ-G1 feels like a really solid and robust bit of kit. Admittedly it does feel a fair bit heavier than my iPad (the iPad4 is 652g), but taking into account the level of ruggedization its not as heavy as you might think when compared to another tablet in a protective case. Having said that it is clearly classed as a tablet being the right form factor and being very ergonomically designed.
Its natural to compare the FZ-G1 to the iPad as Panasonic seem to have responded to end-user demand for a very consumer friendly product whilst also balancing the demands of enterprise IT and the requirements for the environments for which it is designed. However the specification
and clues on pricing indicate that Panasonic are looking at aiming this particular ToughPad at an alternative to a more conventional laptop or clamshell device as opposed to going head-to-head with the iPad in the enterprise world. Whatever they say, I know that this device is going to automatically be on a lot tablet shortlists in the aviation world for obvious reasons, so I think Panasonic should seriously consider a slightly lower specced version of the device to seriously challenge the iPad on cost of ownership. For example the basic model comes with a 128GB Solid State Drive, 4GB of RAM and and i5 chip clocked at 1.9GHz whilst the basic iPad is nowhere near as fully loaded. Mind you I understand Windows 8 Pro is pretty resource hungry.
The Panasonic guys were a little coy on pricing details ahead of release in a couple of weeks, but indicated to me that list price of a fully loaded machine would be around £1300 - £1600, though of course Panasonic are pretty flexible when it comes to bulk purchases. The FZ-G1 comes with the usual array of interfaces including USB3, front and rear camera and a neato configuration port which can be set up for either Micro SD, Serial port, RJ-45, GPS or other expansion options. Battery life is rated at 8 hours, but critically is removable and has an optional monster fat version for extra life.
The ToughPad is a fair bit thicker than an iPad measuring in at a chunky 19mm compared to the super slim 9.4mm of the iPad4, but again with a ruggedised case this would be less noticeable. Screen size is 10.1" with 1920x1200 pixels, but critically the screen is readable outdoors in a similar way to the Kindles which of course can be a problem for most consumer tablets. Where the ToughPad really shows off is with the ruggedization demos. Of course we got the drop tests, dust tests and water tests.
The user experience of the ToughPad was on a par with any other current tablet. Some of the early Android tablets had serious problems with touch screen response time, but Windows 8 Pro and the FZ-G1 certainly don't have any such issues. Windows 8 Pro is what it is, I'm not quite sure what I think about it as an operating system just yet. In my mind it is still Windows 7+1 and I'm afraid that we're not going to see a software revolution as a result of it, but certainly it is a step in the right direction when Microsoft's Modern User Interface is properly employed, but you don't have to drill down too far to encounter the old Microsoft "designed by committee" bloat.
My initial reaction is one of excitement. I think there is genuine potential here with the ToughPad FZ-G1 and I can't wait to get hold of the loan unit that I've been promised by Panasonic next week to have a proper play. Stay tuned for a full review coming soon which I'll do after living with the device for a couple of weeks.
Author: Paul Saunders
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