Field workers have never had more choice when it comes to devices enabling them to extend their enterprise to the front lines. In my role as a public safety technology specialist, I’m often tasked with making “fitness-of-purpose” recommendations. I develop confidence in equipment through real world testing beyond advertised operational parameters. My customers will use these devices so I’ve got to go there first.
I take an unconventional approach to equipment reviews. There’s plenty of material out there covering specs and confirming manufacturer claims. Recently, I challenged the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 as my primary computing platform for a month. A tall order to be sure. The G1 performed in heat, rain, in-vehicle, in the dark and on a plane. When it wouldn’t fail, I shattered the screen and sent it in to the Panasonic Service Center to experience their service firsthand.
Rugged Device: To Buy or Not to Buy
The bottom line when considering a rugged device is the level of ruggedness required for the intended use. In more quantitative terms, if the cost of project execution, i.e. the person-hours, needed equipment, travel time and cost of project failure adds up to far more than the procurement cost of the device, the purchase could be deemed valid.
In these cases, it makes sense to design the device to the highest performance standards–given that the user is making project execution the highest priority. This ensures the highest success rate in the field and the lowest cost of ownership. Here’s where the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 shines.
My test equipment consisted of a Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 (Model No.: FZ-G1AABXLM) running Windows 7 with a detachable iKey Jumpseat fully rugged keyboard designed for the Panasonic Toughpad.
In general, the G1 performed to expectations. The bright, sharp screen, quick processor and touchscreen response moved my work along at a comfortable clip. Without a keyboard, the Windows 7 interface is clunky and clumsy. Windows 8 provides a much needed improvement in user interface with tablets, though many customers’ legacy software systems aren’t ready for the move.
Enter the iKey Jumpseat keyboard. This addition to the G1 fits like a glove and turns the tablet into a real productivity machine. The Jumpseat keyboard weighs in at 1.75 lbs. and is tested to the same MIL-STD-810G and IP65 standards as the Toughpad.
Even with my larger hands, I found the keys easy to reach with a bouncy tactile touch and feel that facilitated a smooth workflow. The standard G1 battery provides for about eight hours of use. Whereas the iKey Jumpseat keyboard battery offers up to two months with average use.
Air travel with the G1 was a welcome change from my usual laptop. Weighing in just over 4 lbs. with the detachable keyboard,I noticed the difference in my carry-on immediately. The next welcome surprise was the real estate freed up on my seat-back tray. Check it out below.
While working outside in direct sunlight and rain, neither the tablet nor the keyboard skipped a beat. The only notable function that suffered was the touchscreen. The touch sensitivity becomes a bit confused when liquid is on the screen. A quick wipe removes most liquid and you’re back in business. Lesson learned, don’t count on the touchscreen when it’s wet.
Rugged computing users work in non-linear environments and expect their equipment to transition with them into low light environments and at night. The G1’s low light settings and the four stage backlit keyboard are easy to use, preserving users’ night vision and preventing eye strain.
The G1 is at home in vehicles. The major mount/dock manufacturers make various options for it and I found the system functional with or without a keyboard. Without a keyboard, I found the on-screen keyboard sufficed as long as the unit was mounted such that I could reach the screen with both hands easily and ergonomically. In my vehicle I utilized a RAM Mounts no-drill, quick-release passenger side pole mount.
An Extreme Case
When I’d used the unit for a month without failure, I decided to break the screen and send it to the Panasonic Service Center to test their repair service. My call to the PSC was answered within two minutes by a warm body, on shore.
They quickly confirmed that I did not have a Protection Plus warranty that would have covered accidental damage and offered to diagnose and quote the repair if I shipped it to the PSC in Leawood, KA My G1 arrived at the PSC on June 5th. On June 12th, I was called back and quoted $992.47 for the LCD and bezel repair – all inclusive. I agreed to the repair and they took my credit card over the phone. I received a status report voicemail on June 17th informing me repairs were complete and the G1 arrived at my home office in perfect working order on June 20th. All in all, it was a smooth, modern, professional and efficient service.
Had I elected to purchase the Panasonic Protection Plus warranty, my broken screen would have been covered and I would have received next-business-day shipping to and from the PSC at no charge. Protection Plus packages start at three years for $250 MSRP.
The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 is not meant for everyone. This is a state-of-the-art computing platform built for today’s mobile users operating in challenging environments. There are plenty of Windows tablets out there, many of them lighter, slicker and cheaper. But the Toughpad FZ-G1 goes where those devices cant, does what they can’t do and continues doing it well past the point of failure of other tablets.
Image credit: Panasonic, Matthew Parnofiello