Panasonic Toughpad JT-B1 review
A rock-solid and well-specified tough tablet, but the high price means it's a luxury most businesses will find hard to justify
Review Date: 8 Aug 2013
Price when reviewed: £708 (£850 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Panasonic's Toughpad is the only ruggedised Android tablet on the market, and it's clearly a different proposition to most of the svelte, glossy devices we've reveiewed recently at PC Pro. Its chunky grey exterior is ringed with a thick band of rubbery plastic and, at 18mm thick and 544g, it's the bulkiest 7in tablet around.
The bulk isn't only for show – this tablet is designed to last. It's IP65-compliant, which means it's protected against dust ingress and water jets, and Panasonic has performed its own drop tests. The company claims the JT-B1 can survive falls of up to 150cm.
It's also packed with the sort of sensible touches you won't find anywhere else. The 5,720mAh battery on the rear is removable, and the Toughpad's DC socket and micro-USB port are kept safe behind a lockable port. A flap hides the headphone jack, and there's also a trio of customisable physical shortcut buttons beneath the 7in screen.
The range of customisation options is extensive: the three buttons can be used to open apps, adjust the volume, take screenshots and even replace the Toughpad's onscreen home, back and menu options. The buttons can be assigned different tasks for long or short presses, too.
All of Panasonic's hard-wearing design features fade into the background when the Toughpad is turned on. The LCD panel's measured brightness of 684cd/m2 is this month's brightest, and it's combined with an anti-glare coating, so the 600 x 1,024 panel is easy to read even in the brightest sunlight.
It isn't all good news, though. The anti-reflective layer makes the screen extremely grainy, and the contrast ratio of 627:1 means black levels aren't as deep as we'd like. As this tablet wasn't designed with gaming or movie-watching in mind, though, that's less of a problem than it would be on a consumer tablet.
The poor responsiveness of the screen, however, is a problem. We found it required sharp prods, rather than gentle taps, to register touches.
Panasonic has crammed virtually every feature imaginable into the Toughpad's chunky chassis. The full complement of sensors sits alongside NFC, dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi and a microSD card slot, although, irritatingly, you have to remove the battery to access it.
The Toughpad also has something no other tablet in this test offers: a 13-megapixel autofocus camera. It's easily the best of the cameras in this Labs, and its reliably sharp shots are aided by an LED flash for low-light photography.
One area where the Toughpad doesn't stand out is its CPU. It's powered by a TI OMAP 4460 dual-core part that runs at 1.5GHz, which struggled in the benchmarks. Its score of 1,115 in Geekbench means it's barely half as quick as the fastest compact tablets, and its result of 2.7fps in GFXBench is dreadful. It isn't the slickest tablet to use, either, with juddering menus and slow app loading times.
It's just as well the battery life is good: the Toughpad lasted 11hrs in our looping video test, placing it up there with the best tablets on the market.
That might have been enough to soften our opinion of the Panasonic Toughpad JT-B1 had the price not be so ridiculously high. We appreciate a lot of effort went into turning it into a super-tough tablet, ready for anything life can throw at it, but it's almost nine times the price of the Nook HD. Even the most affluent businesses may balk at the idea of paying that much.
Given the limited market for tough devices and the costs for certification and testing - the devices are tested pretty much to destruction for MIL and IP - after the IP65 tests are complete, they completely dismantle the device to see if water or dust has entered the casing; and the testing lab dismantle it how they see fit, they actually state on the contract that the device might be destroyed during the dismantling process.
Additionally, you need higher quality components on the casing, to ensure they are robust and water proof.
For our terminals, a cable channel bolt costs a couple of Euros, once that is IP65 compliant is 4 - 5 times the price, an IP67 or 69K certified part is probably 10 times the price.
That goes for all externals, including buttons, you can't use the standard volume buttons, home button etc. they need to be specially designed to resist dust and water, they cost more than the few cents a normal one for a normal tablet costs.
In our target industry, food production, the tablets and terminals are subject to constantly humid conditions, are splattered with blood, fat and other fluids all day long and are cleaned at the end of the shift with a high pressure cleaner.
The Toughpad might be expensive, compared to a Nexus 7, but if it can survive this sort of environment, it very quickly works out cheaper, when you don't need several replacements per shift!
The biggest problem for us is that we can't use capacitive touch, because the users generally wear chain-mail gloves and use a knife to select items on the screen - which reduces the life expectancy of the screen.
These types of tablets aren't designed for consumer use, they are designed for verticals where they will be constantly pushed to the extremes defined by MIL SPEC and IP. That makes them pretty good value for money in their target market.
By big_D on 8 Aug 2013
...have you tried it with a three year old?
By CaptMac on 8 Aug 2013
...have you tried it with a three year old?
By CaptMac on 8 Aug 2013
Almost certainly useful to certain businesses
Definitely a niche product, which also partly explains the price, they ain't gonna be shifting a lot of these.
By Alfresco on 8 Aug 2013
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