Panasonic FZ-G1 Tablet Review: A Windows-Powered Tank of a ToughPad

by Reads (7,214)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 8
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 9
      • Usability
      • 7
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 8
      • Features
      • 9
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 8.14
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Tough as nails build quality
    • Highly configurable
    • All-day battery
    • Competitive performance specs
    • Glove-friendly touchscreen works well with certain gloves
  • Cons

    • High upfront cost
    • Certain USB sticks will not fit
    • Audio performance
    • Glove-friendly touchscreen doesn’t work well with some other gloves

Quick Take

The Panasonic FG-Z1, especially with the upgraded componentry of our test model, is an excellent tablet that does not compromise performance in exchange for durability. It has a comparatively steep price, but in the long run the upfront cost will be more than recouped by its longevity.

Panasonic has been the premier maker in the ruggedized laptop and tablet space for two decades with its Toughbook and Toughpad line of devices, and the Toughpad FZ-G1 is the company’s fully ruggedized Windows tablet. The Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet is no spring chicken, having been introduced in 2013, but the version here has been updated with newer internal components.

Build & Design

The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 has been upgraded with new internals.

The Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet has been upgraded with new internals.

They say it’s not bragging if you can back it up. Well the Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet can certainly back up its claims of durability being both IP65-certified and MIL-STD-810G certified. The IP Code rating is an internationally recognized certification that rates how well a device is sealed off from both solids and liquids, and the MIL-STD-810G is the most recent edition of the US Military’s extensive durability and testing standards. The MIL-STD-810G is a monster 800+ page document that details how equipment is expected to survive a huge array of environmental durability tests, including a four-foot drop, shock, vibration, rain, dust, sand, altitude, freeze/thaw, high/low temperature, temperature shock, humidity, and explosive atmosphere.

If that was not enough tough-tablet street cred, there’s an optional Class I Division 2, groups ABCD certified model, which means it can be outfitted for use in a hazardous gas environment without triggering an explosion via the internal electronics.

Yet another small detail that shows Panasonic has done its due diligence in meeting the needs of its target market, the back of the tablet is well populated with several screws, all of which are plain Phillips heads, so a field tech won’t need to scavenge around for any hard-to-find Torx or hex drivers to crack open the case or switch out any faulty add-ons.

The front of the device has seven sealed membrane buttons below the display and three indicator lights. Going from left to right, there are two user-definable buttons, which can be programmed as application specific hotkeys. The A1 button comes from the factory programmed to open a Panasonic settings dashboard, and the A2 button is default set to open the Windows on-screen keyboard or hand-writing recognition window. Next is the volume down and up (no mute), the Windows Home button, and then a button to toggle the auto-rotate feature on and off. Then there are three indicator lights (Battery, Hard Drive, and Power) and finally the Power button.

Display

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 indicator lights and buttons

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 indicator lights and buttons

The Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet sports a 10.1-inch LED-backlit IPS HD display with a native 1920 x 1200 resolution. The capacitive-touch screen supports 10-point touch functionality and there is also digitizer stylus with a right-click function button.

The stylus was very sensitive in testing and its reflective point on the screen appears when hovering roughly a full centimeter over the display. In testing, the precision of the stylus did seem to be affected by the angle at which it was held when orienting the screen.

The stylus lives in a recessed cavity along the back-left side of the tablet, which is somewhat annoying. Being on the left-side means the right-handed majority will have to juggle the device to access the stylus and then have to deal with the coiled tether stretching across the field of view. This is a minor complaint as it will not affect the lefties out there, and the righties can just flip the tablet over if it is that much of a bother.

One very cool new feature on this iteration of the Toughpad FZ-G1 is that Panasonic claims the display is work-glove friendly. The tablet needs to be put into “glove mode” from the Panasonic Dashboard, which is launched from the preset button on the front panel by default. Should the preset button need to be reassigned, the utility can be accessed through the typical start menu.

Once the touch panel mode was set to ‘glove,’ we donned a few different pairs of work gloves and had mixed success. The best touchscreen response performance was achieved while wearing a pair of the newer snug-fitting work gloves with mesh and spandex backs, like those from Mechanix or FirmGrip. But when wearing a pair of the thicker and baggier more traditional work gloves, performance was very difficult and it took very purposeful and repeated attempts to trigger a response. And when using a pair of insulated all leather work gloves there was zero response from the tablet no matter how hard we tried.

Speakers

The Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet sports a single speaker on the backside of the device and it gets loud enough for the beeps and blips heard to confirm a button click on custom apps. From a musical evaluation standpoint, let’s just say “thank goodness” for headphones and Bluetooth. The speaker performs as expected given that its first engineering priority was to be dust-proof, liquid-proof, and indestructible.

Ports & Inputs

The ‘traditional’ ports on the Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet are a single USB 3.0 port, an HDMI output, and a combo headphone/mic 1/8-inch jack. All three of these ports are in the same recessed location along the lower-right side edge of the device and behind a very solid port cover, which needs to be snapped down and then swung out for access. The inside of the port cover is lined with a closed-cell foam and the ports are surrounded by a single piece of black slicked plastic. When closed, the two materials press together and provide a dustproof and waterproof seal.

The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 has sealed ports.

The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 has sealed ports.

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1

The DC power port is built into the lower-left corner guard. The power port also has a hinged cover with a dual-edged rubber grommet screwed to the inside that inserts into the DC port hole and seals it away. Both the DC power cover and the larger HDMI/USB/audio port cover are attached to the tablet with user accessible screws, meaning they can easily be replaced should either of them get ripped off or worn out.

There was no problem connecting to the HDMI or headphone jack, or the USB port with a standard USB cable. However it was a very tight fit when using a memory stick in the USB port, and if the user were to try and use one of the bulkier ‘ruggedized’ USB stick it will most likely be too thick to access the port at all.

Along the top edge of the tablet next to the rear facing camera is a modular expansion port that can be outfitted with one of several options. Our tester had a blank spacer in this slot, but the options available include an old-school 9-pin serial port, dedicated GPS, USB port, microSD slot, Ethernet jack, or a barcode reader. The bottom edge has a docking station connector and connections for a dual high-gain antenna for use in vehicles or other none-broadband wireless applications.

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1

For the really hardcore custom configurations, there is a back panel modular expansion bay that can accept some very industry specific inserts. These include a bridge battery, magnetic stripe reader (credit card swipe), smartcard reader (credit card smart chips), contactless smartcard reader (RF Pay systems like Apple Pay), or even a UHF RFID reader, which is typical for inventory management purposes.

Camera

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 docking station connector

Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet docking station connector

From the perspective of those who work where security and confidentiality are mission critical factors (cough, cough, CIA, cough), the FZ-G1 can be ordered with both front and back cameras deleted completely. This beats taking a drill bit to the camera, which rumor has it some government IT agencies have turned to in the past.

For users not stationed at Langley AFB, the back panel has a very respectable 8MP camera with an LED flash making these tablets a good fit for those in the insurance industry who spend their days in the field documenting claim damage. Images from the camera were typical of a tablet-based camera, but they tended to lean towards being underexposed. The front-facing camera has an old-school 720p resolution so do not plan on impressing anyone on the other end of a Skype or GoToMeeting call with a sharp image.

Performance

The Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 scored very well in our benchmark tests. For the PCMark 8 Home test it scored a 2905 and its PCMark 8 Work score came in at 3854. These results are quite good and score just a thread below results from similar devices running the newer 6th generation Intel Core i5 mobile processors and the comparable GPU. In the graphics area, Panasonic again demonstrates that this is a dedicated enterprise device as there are no options for upgrading the GPU from anything but the stock Intel on-board unit. Despite this hobbling, the 3DMark test gave up a respectable 1072. Both these scores were no doubt helped out by the solid state 256GB Toshiba SCSI drive configured with this tablet. Mechanical hard drives are a common bottleneck for bringing down a device’s benchmark score.

It is difficult to evaluate how this tablet would perform in typical situations as its expected environments and applications are anything but typical. When deployed, most of these units will launch a single custom built app and run it all day long as part of a work flow. Since none of the NotebookReview team moonlight for UPS or serve in the National Guard, we had to make do mainly by playing games. Candy Crush, while quite passé at this point, emulates the typical point and swipe moves that a custom app would have the user performing all day long, and we were able to crush a few levels during our ‘testing time.’

To exercise the GPU we downloaded our favorite freebie high-res racing game, Asphalt 8: Airborne, and zipped through the Nevada and China race tracks a few times. Once we locked down the auto-rotate feature the courses were completed with no lag, and graphics kept up with the audio and our inputs with no noticeable problems.

Benchmarks

wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):
wprime

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
pcm 8 h

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):
pcm 8 w

3DMark 11 is a benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3dm 11

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
cdmark

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 has hot-swapping battery capabilities.

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 has hot-swapping battery capabilities.

Battery Life

There are two available batteries for the Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet: The stock battery is 4400 mAh, and claims a maximum of 13 hours of operation. The extended life battery is 9300 mAh, and this doubles the claimed operation time to 26 hours. Our real world experience had us hit 5% on the battery in half the maximum claimed time at 6.5 hours. We maxed the device brightness, and opened, ran, and installed various apps.

While 6.5 hours is a far cry from 13, it is a very livable duration for field usage, and if 13 hours is your realistic target then it is safe to assume the extended battery pack will get you there. There is also an optional bridge battery, which gives the tablet about a minute of electron juice so battery packs can be hot-swapped without having to shut down or hibernate the tablet.

We will update this review with a Powermark benchmark score and comparisons.

Heat & Noise

This tank of a tablet has undergone military spec testing in both freezing and extreme heating conditions. Given the tablet’s pedigree, there is very little likelihood of the device overheating due to its internally generated energy.

We can say that the cooling fan is definitely on the noisy side and is on almost constantly. The back of the device does get warm, more so on the right side where the CPU and motherboard live

A Word on Windows

As mentioned above, these devices will most likely spend most time running purpose-built apps, which are often quite dated and of questionable reliability. This means the IT staff prepping these things will not want to deal with any surprises from the OS. Thus our tester shipped with the optional Windows 7 downgrade and a Windows 8.1 COA despite the fact that mainstream support for Windows 7 ended more than a year ago.

Using this device with Windows 7 refreshed our memory of how ill-suited the OS was for touch-based input and frustration levels rose quickly. All the touch-based features of Windows 7 were poorly implemented, awkward, and simply are embarrassing compared to ease of use experienced with iOS, Android, and Windows 8- and 10- based devices.

With this in mind, the pop-up offering an auto-upgrade to Windows 10 was clicked with a more than average amount of eagerness and it was well worth it. Using the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 with Windows 10 was simple and easy, especially with Windows 10 tablet mode. So if a user has this Toughpad on their shopping list because they need this extreme level of durability but still plans to use this as a general computing device, then they are strongly encouraged to go directly to Windows 10.

Connectivity

The updated internals on this iteration of the FZ-G1 include the Intel Dual Band AC7265 chipset, which differs from the original FZ-G1 as it adds the new 802.11ac flavor. Sadly our tester did not ship with a SIM chip, so all we can say about the 4G/LTE capabilities is that is an available option. Bluetooth is unchanged at v4.0 + EDR. We used the Bluetooth to hook up a Kinesis keyboard, Bose headphones and a Dell mouse simultaneously and there were no problems encountered.

Docking Station

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 docking station connections

Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 docking station connections

Panasonic also shipped us the desktop docking station (Model # FZ-VEBG11) for this Toughpad FZ-G1 review unit, and the build quality and construction is worthy of the tablet it hosts. Docking and undocking the tablet does not require any buttons or slides or other levers. The tablet just sits right down into the cradle and is then pushed back until it encounter two beefy stop points and an upper arm housing a pressurized wheel that clamps down over the top front edge to keep it in place. There is plenty of air behind the tablet presumably to house any larger expansion modules.

The back of the dock provides a dedicated Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI and VGA options, and a regular 9-pin serial port along with the DC power jack. We docked and undocked the tablet dozens of times in our testing, even during the Windows 10 upgrade process and the OS never hiccupped even once. The door for the HDMI / USB / audio jack can be opened while docked and the stylus can be reached unencumbered. The only complaint here is that the dock doesn’t have a dedicated audio jack.  The driver list shows a DisplayPort Audio driver so the HDMI port can most likely be configured to carry audio signal.

Panasonic offers an optional docking station. Panasonic Toughpad FZ-G1 docking station

Value

The Panasonic FZ-G1 tablet starts at $2,295, ranging above and beyond $3,000 in various configurations. All that engineering and durability does not come cheap. So the value of having a virtually indestructible tablet really depends on how much a person values the benefits of such design.

Those benefits are exhaustively spelled out in detail through some whitepapers on Panasonic’s website but they boil down to two factors: the actual cost of using and replacing multiple normal tablets and the hidden costs associated with downtime. Consider those factors in terms of your average police officer, search and rescue team, or deployed military personnel and it becomes clear why the Panasonic Toughpad and Toughbook are so popular in those fields.

Conclusion

The Panasonic Toughpad FG-Z1, especially with the upgraded componentry of our test model, is an excellent tablet that does not compromise performance in exchange for durability. Performance wise, it keeps pace with the latest tablet offerings from Microsoft and Dell, and in terms of durability, there are few equals. This dual overachiever of a tablet comes at a comparatively steep price, but in the long run the upfront cost will be more than recouped by its longevity.

Pros

  • Tough as nails build quality
  • Highly configurable
  • All-day battery
  • Competitive performance specs
  • Glove-friendly touchscreen works well with certain gloves

Cons

  • High upfront cost
  • Certain USB sticks will not fit
  • Audio performance
  • Glove-friendly touchscreen doesn’t work well with some other gloves



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