Under the Radar

Military Tested: Panasonic ToughPad FZ-M1

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Some days it feels like every publicist in America has a case or device that’s tested to “military standards.” A lot of those products are great, offering levels of protection that are far more than adequate for most anyone who’s taking a device on a hunting or camping trip.

Devices that can actually stand up to legit military field specifications are a much rarer breed. The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1  7" tablet is the real deal, currently in actual field use by every branch of the U.S. Military.

Panasonic sent one over for us to play with and also let us talk with James Poole, Panasonic's Director of DOD and Intelligence sales about how the device is getting used in the real world.

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The Toughpad isn't the prettiest or most graceful tablet on the market, but the tablet wears its rugged design with pride. From the minute it comes out of the box, there's no doubt it's made to take a beating. The usual drops and bumps and scratches that would wipe out almost any consumer device on the market wouldn't faze a Toughpad.

The standard configuration comes loaded with the Windows 8.1 operating system, a 128GB hard drive, 4GB of RAM and a dual-core Intel Core-i5-4320Y vPro processor clocked at 1.6GHz. You can up the RAM to 8GB and the hard drive to 256GB or downgrade the operating system to Windows 7.

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The Windows OS is a key part of the equation. This device doesn’t really compare to iPads or Android tablets. It’s a full Windows computer with a touch screen. It comes with a hand strap for easier one-handed operation and there's a stylus for anyone who still doesn't like a touchscreen

For military applications, the Toughpad shines as a wearable computer that can be strapped onto a vest or integrated into a backpack. A GPS unit can be configured so the tablet can be used as a mapping tool and the Toughpad can also function as a field communications device.

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Back at the base or on the boat, the Toughpad is getting wide use as a logistics tool. Apps are starting to replace paper and clipboard in checklist inspection situations, whether it's taking inventory in the kitchen or doing maintenance work for planes, tanks or other military vehicles.

There are a couple of major advantages here. The screen is still visible in bright sunlight (try that with an iPad or a Samsung) and the touch screen works with gloves in cold conditions. And its 7" size hits a sweet spot. It's small enough for portability, big enough to get some real work. The Toughpad can do virtually everything an 8 lb. laptop can do and it's easier to view in the field than a smartphone.

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We consistently saw between 5 and 5 1/2 hours battery life on a single charge and all units are now shipping with a built-in bridge battery that allows users to swap out the removable battery without having to power down and restart the unit. According to Panasonic, its fully-rugged, sealed design is certified to meet MIL-STD-810G and IP65 specifications for resistance to drops up to 5 feet, water, dust, and other elements.

The Toughpad runs real Windows software, so it offers a familiar environment for IT professionals and can run securely via a VPN. This is an device designed for enterprise customers. Outside the military, it's used by police and fire departments, EMS professionals, oil and gas companies and power line inspectors.

All that durability and flexibility comes at a price: the Toughpad starts at $1995 online. That sounds like a lot compared to the iOS and Android competition but you can't get those devices in configurations that are prepared to take the beating a Toughpad can handle. This isn't a device for watching Netflix while you're lying on the sofa or reading your email in bed. But if you're in a business where you've got workers in the field, this tablet will take a lot of abuse and runs software you most likely already use in your daily work. It's real military gear that easily adapts to use in the civilian world.

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