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Panasonic ToughPad FZ-A1 review

Designed for workers and people who like to drop things

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Our Verdict

For

  • Robust build
  • Water and dust-proof
  • Matte screen visible in sunlight

Against

  • Expensive
  • Heavy
  • Lacks relevant bundled applications
  • Terrible camera, mic and speakers

Panasonic is not a company Westerners generally associate with computers. That said, the Japanese masters of plasma televisions and micro four-thirds cameras has managed to carve out quite a niche in the computing space with its ToughBook line of ruggedised laptops.

Panasonic ToughPad FZ A1 review

It's an approach that has worked quite well for Panasonic around the world. With laptops becoming a commodity and traditional PC manufacturers stuttering along, Panasonic has managed to maintain a good return on its functional, robust computers.

It's no surprise then that it hopes to do the same in the Android tablet space. Where other consumer electronics companies are throwing tablets at the market and hoping to see something stick in the battle against the iPad, Panasonic has opted to take the same measured approach of releasing a niche tablet.

Panasonic ToughPad FZ A1 review

Because the ToughPad's strength is not in its sleek, minimalist design and state of the art specifications, but instead in its tough, rugged exterior, it's not the kind of tablet that will race off retailers shelves. Especially with an RRP that's more expensive than some Apple computers, let alone iPads.

But for the niche market Panasonic is targeting - professions like builders, miners, firefighters, and hospital staff - it could be selling itself as the only product in town.

Design

Let's get one thing straight: The FZ-A1 is never, ever going to win any beauty prizes. It's not much to look at. The front of the tablet houses a 10.1-inch 1024 x 768 touchscreen surrounded by a dull silver bezel.

Above the top right hand corner of the screen is a 2MP webcam, while below the screen lie five dedicated hardware buttons - the standard men/back/home buttons found on all Android devices, plus the power button and another button labelled User that can be programmed for different functions.

Panasonic ToughPad FZ A1 review

Flip the device over and things are even uglier. A stylus finds its home at the bottom of the device in a designated crevice, While a cover for the tablet's battery is screwed in place. Above that are all the device's codes and warnings, like it walked out of the house in its underwear.

Halfway up is a single mono speaker grill, just below the locked connection cover which houses the tablet's HDMI, headphone, MicroSD and USB connections. On the other side, is a secure slot for a SIM card.

Panasonic ToughPad FZ A1 review

The 5MP camera with LED flash also hides out on the back, just above the bulk of the connections.

The corners of the device are all covered up with rubber, which means you can drop the tablet from 1.2 metres and not worry about damaging the internals (or externals, for that matter).

Panasonic ToughPad FZ A1 review

16GB of on board flash storage offers a starting point on the internals, which can be boosted through that MicroSD card slot with an additional 32GB.

Given the tablet is rated to comply with the MIL-STD 810G and IP65 standards - which means it's spill proof, water and dust resistant, and shock proof to 1.2 metres, all that extra padding is all part of the rating.

Panasonic ToughPad FZ A1 review

At 993 grams, this is a beast of a tablet. Obviously the ruggedisation helps push that number towards a kilo, but given it's 50 per cent heavier than an iPad, you have to wonder where the benefit of ruggedness is outweighed by the sheer weight of the thing.