Panasonic unveils ruggedized tablet with phone functions

The waterproof, dustproof 5-inch "phablet" is aimed at rail yards and construction zones

By Tim Hornyak, IDG News Service |  

Panasonic has unveiled a 5-inch industry-oriented tablet with phone functions that can take a beating or a dunking in water.

Aimed at users such as construction workers and delivery staff, the tablet is the latest in Panasonic's Toughpad lineup.

It looks as sturdy as a brick and weighs about 430 grams. Aside from the 5-inch shatterproof touchscreen, the ruggedized casing houses a bar code scanner and an 8-megapixel rear camera.

The FZ-E1 version runs Windows Embedded 8 Handheld on a Qualcomm 2.3GHz processor, while the FZ-X1 runs Android 4.2.2 on a Qualcomm 1.7GHz processor.

They are the first tablets to have 3G and LTE in the Toughpad lineup, which includes seven additional tablets with screens ranging from 7 to 20 inches. The latest Toughpads can also be described as "phablets," a recent category of tablets that have smartphone features.

The 5-inch Toughpads will first go on sale in Japan for about ¥130,000 (US$1,268), Panasonic said. The FZ-E1 will launch in June, and the FZ-X1 will launch in August.

The company also plans to launch it overseas, but it has not decided on a timeline yet.

"We believe there will be a growing market for a small-sized tablet that has phone functions," said Yasuharu Enda, a spokesman for Panasonic System Networks, which developed the latest Toughpad. "That would replace having to handle a large tablet and a phone separately."

Panasonic emphasized that the Toughpad can be set up to suit user needs.

"We decided to use Windows Embedded 8 Handheld instead of Windows Phone 8 because it offers more customizability," Masaki Mutou, general manager at Panasonic System Networks' Terminal Systems Business Unit, told a press conference in Tokyo.

Apart from being dustproof and waterproof, the Toughpad can withstand being dropped onto a concrete floor from a height of 3 meters and being submerged in 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes. Its screen won't crack even if a 400 gram steel ball is dropped onto it.

Its drop and shock resistance is rated to U.S. military MIL-STD-810G standards and it can operate in a temperature range of minus 20 to 60 Celsius, according to Panasonic.

It also boasts a 100-decibel speaker system (about as loud as a motorcycle engine), 14-hour battery and the ability to swap batteries while the device stays on for a few minutes. Other features include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC (near field communication), USB 2.0, Micro USB and Micro SD.

A version of the Toughpad that is a prototype for the European market is on display at Mobile World Congress 2014, which kicks off Monday in Barcelona, Spain, according to a spokesman for Panasonic.

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