Tablets for industry have a reputation for being expensive, clunky, underpowered but exceptionally tough devices. Panasonic's latest 7.0-inch Toughpad is a large and heavy for a small tablet but it is not underpowered; it's based around a quad core Intel Celeron processor. The Toughpad BZ-B2 tablet is set to be released in the UK this December priced at £591 plus VAT for the basic package. It'll be launched in America next February for $1,300. This is a toughened or reinforced tablet designed for "the mobile worker in any industry" and is built to survive. It has been shock tested from 1.8 metres and has IP ingress protection against dust and water. It can also perform in extremes of temperature, from -10 to 50°C and comes with a three year warranty. It's expensive, then, about three times the price of the outgoing Nexus 7.
The standard BZ-B2 tablet has a 7.0-inch screen with 1,280 by 800 pixel resolution and is powered by a quad core, 1.8 GHz Intel Celeron N2930 processor backed up by 2 GB of RAM and 32 GB of internal storage. It comes with a two cell 3,320 mAh replaceable battery, which Panasonic claim gives up to eight hours of battery life. It can also be configured to use a hot-swappable battery set up. There's a 2 MP camera on the front plus a microphone for video conferencing and a 5 MP rear camera. Other standard features include high speed 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, a full size USB 3.0 port, MicroSD and MicroSIM. It runs Android 4.4 Kit Kat with what looks like a stock interface.
What sets the baby Panasonic Toughpad from most other Android tablets is that the model can be specified with various options, including 2D barcode readers, Smartcard readers, 4G LTE connectivity, a vehicle pass through antenna, an upgrade to a 8 MP rear camera, an extended battery (twice the capacity) and a hot swappable battery bay. Another important point is that the FZ-B2 shares the same chassis and basic design as a pair of Windows 8.1 tablets, the FZ-M1 and FZ-M1 Value. Because the tablet shares the same design, it means that peripherals may be shared between the three devices, including a cradle, vehicle dock, hand straps and additional batteries. It's closer to the FZ-M1 Value as the FZ-M1 is based around the Intel Core i5 processor with 4 GB of memory and 128 GB of storage (both can be optionally doubled). And I don't expect to see an Android tablet based on the Core i5… but what if..? Okay probably too much to ask.
It's great to see manufacturers using hardware for either Windows or Android software and whilst this particular Toughpad is not likely to find its way into many consumer households, perhaps it will pave the way for manufacturers to stop releasing quite different hardware designs in order to differentiate the different operating systems. And I am still waiting for a range of commercial consumer tablets that give me the choice between Windows and Android, but I will not be holding my breath!