Panasonic Rolls Out Thinner Toughbook Business Handhelds

By making the devices thinner and easier to handle, Panasonic hopes to spur new and current users to adopt its latest rugged handhelds.

Panasonic Toughbook

Two all-new Toughbook enterprise handhelds and one redesigned and improved model have been launched by Panasonic as the company continues to expand and refine its line of portable rugged devices for business users.

The new devices, the Toughbook FZ-T1 and the Toughbook FZ-L1, are thinner and have shed the thick rubber bumpers of earlier ruggedized devices from the company, while the FZ-N1, which has been on the market for about 18 months, has been updated with a smaller footprint and improved performance. The FZ-T1 and FZ-N1 devices have smartphone-size form factors, while the FZ-L1 is a small, tabletlike device.

Starting at $1,499, the FZ-T1 features a 5-inch touch-screen display and a Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM Cortex-A7 quad-core 1.1GHz processor and runs on the Android 8.1 Oreo operating system. The ruggedized T1 can withstand drops and shocks from 5 feet and meets MIL-STD-810G standards for durability. It also meets IP66 standards for dust and water resistance and IP68 standards for sealing in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

The T1 also features a built-in barcode scanner and can be equipped with an optional gun grip and expandability through a Panasonic xPak port. User-replaceable batteries can be swapped out on the fly while the devices are being used.

Two models of the FZ-T1 are available, one with WiFi connectivity only and another that includes voice and data capabilities through AT&T or Verizon networks or data connectivity through Panasonic's own P.180 network.

The FZ-L1 Toughbook tabletlike device also starts at $1,499, and it includes a 7-inch touch-screen display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM Cortex-A7 quad-core 1.1GHz processor and the Android 8.1 Oreo operating system. Ruggedized like its brethren, the L1 can withstands drops from 5 feet and meets MIL-STD-810G standards, while also meeting IP66 dust and water resistance standards and IP67 standards for surviving in up to 3.3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes without water intrusion.

The L1 also includes a barcode scanner with native interfaces for portrait and landscape orientation and is available in a WiFi only model or a model that includes data-only capabilities through AT&T or Verizon networks or data connectivity through Panasonic's own P.180 network.

The L1, which can be handheld or mounted for use in a vehicle, is expected to get future connectivity and feature options later through the device's xPak port.

Panasonic Revamps Toughbook FZ-N1

The revamped Toughbook FZ-N1 handheld now includes a 4.7-inch touch-screen display, a faster Qualcomm Snapdragon octa-core processor, 3GB of LPDDR4 memory and 32GB of eMMC storage. It runs on the Android 8.1 Oreo operating system.

The N1 also features an angled barcode scanner and meets MIL-STD-810G standards for drop resistance from 7 feet, which is up from 5 feet in the previous version. It also meets IP66 dust and water resistance standards and IP68 standards for sealing in up to 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.

The N1 comes in a WiFi version as well as a model that includes voice and data connectivity through AT&T or Verizon or data connectivity through Panasonic's own P.180 network.

The thinner profiles and refined designs of the latest three ruggedized handhelds came about because of customer suggestions, Brian Rowley, Panasonic's vice president of marketing and product management in North America, told eWEEK.

"Typically, when people think of rugged devices, they think of thicker bumpers, which provide protection," said Rowley. "These are sleeker. They are for applications that require rugged devices, but they are thinner and lighter for people to take on the road with them," such as package delivery, big box retail stores and in manufacturing facilities.

Each of the devices includes barcode scanning capabilities as well as access to Panasonic's large ecosystem of applications and accessories to allow enterprise users to fine-tune the devices to meet a wide range of business requirements, he said.

IT analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group said the latest Panasonic handhelds arrive at an interesting time for the company.

"The Panasonic Toughbook nameplate has been in sharp decline for a while, and [Panasonic] really needed to update and expand its lines, but they have lacked the will and the funding to do that," said Enderle. "As a result, this is a good move in a positive direction and should help offset their slide by potentially opening up new markets—but only if they are willing to provide 'demand development' from users" as new device features and capabilities are requested.

"The positive impact of these offerings, which appear solid, is limited by Panasonic's unwillingness to invest in the market," said Enderle. "Still, for those that need a solution like this, they should be excellent options because the firm is known for very high-quality products." 

Another analyst, Avi Greengart of GlobalData, said that while Panasonic has had a long history with its now 22-year-old Toughbook line and understands its market opportunity, he at least questions the value of the latest devices compared to similar products from other vendors.

"The new Panasonic handhelds are extremely expensive, and enterprise-focused competitors like Samsung's Galaxy Tab Active 2 are less expensive, have significantly better specs, and have a full ecosystem of add-ons," said Greengart. "The two standout features for the new Toughbooks are warm-swappable batteries and integrated barcode readers," which may not be adequate differentiators.