Panasonic ToughPad FZ-M1 review
7 in 1,280x800 display, 540g, 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4302Y, 4.00GB RAM, 128GB disk, Windows 8.1 Pro
Panasonic's Tough range of tablets and laptops are engineered to be incredibly durable, making them a popular choice among professions where your work won’t be interrupted because your computer's been dropped in a puddle a few times. Indeed, the 7in Panasonic ToughPad FZ-M1 reviewed here is a proper tablet PC that runs the full version of Windows 8.1 Pro. It’s even powered by a mobile Intel Core i5 processor.
Like other tablets in the range, the FZ-M1 has a titanium chassis that's built to be shock, water and dust-resistant. A protective plastic rim surrounds the tablet and protrudes at the front and rear to help protect the screen and battery if the tablet is dropped. All of the buttons and ports on the device have water resistant seals, and the FZ-M1 even comes with a hand strap to help you keep hold of it. This is a welcome addition, as its reinforced design makes it a bit bulkier than your average 7in tablet. At just over half a kilo, it's heavier, too, but its durability easily makes up for that in rigorous and potentially damaging environments. In our tests, it stood up to being dropped from waist height, run under a tap, and even an accidental drop from shoulder height.
However, we found the FZ-M1's small screen size to be restrictive, even though its matt display is physically excellent and easily readable in the brightest direct sunlight. An automatic brightness detector is designed to allow the display to adjust its screen depending on ambient light levels. The trouble is that our hand tended to cover the sensor, causing the brightness to be adjusted inappropriately. We soon disabled the feature. The FZ-M1 also has two cameras. One is an 8-megapixel rear camera that takes pretty decent photos, and the other is a standard front camera that’s ideal fora video conferencing.
The tablet comes with a stylus, which is handy for keeping grimy hands off the screen and for accurately interacting with Windows 8.1's desktop. Everything works fairly well if you're using the Windows Start Screen, but the small 1,280x800 screen makes interacting with the Windows desktop in general and Windows’ file manager in particular a major chore. If you hope to use the FZ-M1 as a standard but ultra-compact PC, you're in for a little disappointment. Adding a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard makes the FZ-M1 easier to use, but you'll still have a hard time using standard desktop apps on the tiny screen.
The tablet's dual-core Intel Core i5-4302Y processor struggled in our benchmark tests, producing an overall score of just 20. As for storage, the FZ-M1 has a 128GB SSD fitted as standard, which helps boost boot-up times and increases desktop responsiveness. In our light-use battery test, which involves the screen being active at all times, the FZ-M1 lasted for seven hours and 26 minutes. That's mediocre for a tablet. The Microsoft Surface Pro 2, for example, lasted 11 hours and 51 minutes in our battery test. It’s worth noting, however, that spare batteries are available and it's simple to replace the battery.
Like the rest of the Panasonic ToughPad range, there are a wealth of optional features to choose when ordering your tablet. The version we reviewed is equipped with a 4G-ready SIM slot, a USB3 port and a 3.5mm headset port. Alongside the Micro SIM slot, behind the battery, is a microSD card slot for easy storage expansion. However, different versions come with different default features, such as a dedicated GPS module (this would be ideal for delivery firms), NFC support, a wired Ethernet port or a serial port. Further options can be added when you order, but you can't have everything, as the FZ-M1 only has two selectable ports in which optional hardware can be installed. You can, for instance, have either NFC support or a smartcard reader, a SIM slot or a dedicated GPS module.
In an ideal world, you'll use the FZ-M1 to run custom-made applications that are designed with a Windows tablet of this size in mind. If you’re running a small business, though, it’s more likely that you’ll be using off-the-shelf programs and tablet apps, and, when it comes to business, Google Play and Apple’s App Store are far better equipped with such programs than the Windows Store. While the Windows Store does have a section for business apps, including bar code readers, finance and invoicing tools and standard office software, finding tools suited to your needs can be a challenge, especially as the Store is packed with apps that are little more than glorified ads or just placeholders for a standard desktop app that you can download elsewhere.
Unless you’re able to deploy applications specifically designed for Windows tablets of this size, the usability of the FZ-M1 is restricted by its screen size. Many small business users will be better served by the Panasonic Toughpad JT-B1 7in Android tablet or the 10in FZ-G1 Windows tablet, which has a screen that is much better suited to desktop use.
|Processor||Intel Core i5-4302Y|
|Processor clock speed||1.6GHz|
|Memory slots free||0|
|Sound||Realtek HD Audio|
|Viewable size||7 in|
|Graphics Processor||Intel HD Graphics 4200|
|Total storage capacity||128GB|
|Optical drive type||none|
Ports and Expansion
|Wired network ports||none|
|Wireless networking support||802.11ac|
|PC Card slots||none|
|Supported memory cards||none|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 Pro|
|Operating system restore option||restore partition|
|Warranty||three years RTB|