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Break me if you can: 4 rugged tablets put to the test

Brian Nadel | March 4, 2015
The gold standard for ruggedness is the Military Standard 810G rating (also known as MIL-STD-810G), a set of protocols that the U.S. Department of Defense uses to assess mobile computers.

Panasonic ToughPad FZ-G1

Panasonic's ToughPad FZ-G1 provides the most protection per pound of the tablets reviewed here while delivering surprisingly strong performance.

That's because, rather than using a plastic skin, the ToughPad is built around a sturdy magnesium frame and case, while its major components have been flexibly mounted to absorb the shock of an impact. The tablet has a 10.1-in. screen made of Gorilla Glass II, sealed covers for ports and protective bumpers. It meets all the MIL-STD 810G tests and has an IP65 waterproof rating.

At 0.9 x 10.9 x 8.4 in. and 2.2 lb., the ToughPad is well-balanced and relatively easy to carry and use. Just below the screen (if you hold it horizontally) are buttons for on/off and volume. There are also two buttons that can be programmed for any app; when the tablet is shipped, one is set to display Panasonic's Dashboard, which consolidates major configuration details such as battery level and camera status, while the other brings up the on-screen keyboard.

Its front-facing camera can capture 720p video, while the rear-facing camera can grab 8-megapixel images and has an LED flash for illuminating dark scenes. It delivered the sharpest images of the three; images can be GPS-tagged.

The ToughPad also led the three Windows tablets as far as the screen is concerned. The 10.1-inch display offers 1920 x 1200 resolution and was the brightest at 480 candelas per square meter of illumination. It handled being in direct sunlight the best with images that weren't washed out.

The screen can be used with gloves on, making it more practical for use in low temperatures and rougher tasks. Its bumpers protrude only slightly above the screen, making the ToughPad easier for writing, drawing or just checking off Web forms. It comes with a stylus that has a tether and a place to snap it into the back of the case.

It comes with a single USB 3.0 port, one HDMI port and one audio connector. The tablet also has a sealed docking port that includes connectors for 3G/4G antennas that can, if you need to, link to a vehicle's more powerful antennas.

The ToughPad is equipped with an Intel Core i5 4310U processor that runs between 2GHz and 3GHz. The review unit came with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of solid-state storage space; you can upgrade to 64GB of RAM and 256GB of storage space; self-encrypting drives are an option.

The ToughPad suffered no damage during the ruggedness tests; however, its screen went blank on two of the three 48-in. drops. In each case, the tablet restarted right away with no damage, although I did find that a little annoying.


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