In one sense, Panasonic’s Toughpad 4K is a business tablet, but one with a gorgeous 20-inch 4K-resolution display that makes it best suited for retail displays, video production, or jobs where computing on the go is key (such as healthcare or architecture). Or perhaps it’s more of a portable all-in-one desktop PC, if one with no built-in stand or included keyboard or mouse. Despite premium components, it’s like no workstation we’ve seen before. Add to that a hefty rugged design and a sky-high price and you have a product that’s uncategorizable: impressive, but puzzling.
The large tablet is wrapped in layer of woven glass fiber that looks a lot like less-brittle carbon fiber. Beneath it is a magnesium alloy frame, and Panasonic has built in some of the expected Toughpad ruggedness. The Toughpad 4K is built to handle drops of up to 30 inches on its back, and up to 12 inches from any other direction, including face-down onto the display. That ruggedness is essential for a 20-inch display that will be toted around, but that’s it for ruggedness—there’s no further protection against damage or the elements.
That 20-inch screen is the real star of the show, boasting a razor-sharp 3,840-by-2,56o resolution, 230 pixels per inch (ppi) display density, a 15:10 aspect ratio (ideal for displaying 11-by-17-inch documents, such as blueprints and schematics, at nearly full size), and ten-point touch. Colors are bright and vibrant, with a wide gamut, and the viewing angles are superb, allowing excellent visibility from nearly any direction. Although the 20-inch display is too big for regular tablet use, it is uniquely suited to serving as a portable presentation device, with Panasonic’s In-Plane Switching (IPS).
On the right edge of the chassis, you’ll find one USB 3.0 port, an SD card slot (SD, SDHC, SDXC), a power connector, Gigabit Ethernet, and a Mini DisplayPort jack (which supports 4K output to a second display). On the left are a smart card reader and four physical buttons (Powrer, Volume Up and Down, and Screen Rotation Lock). A physical Windows button and a 720p HD webcam are on the front, and the system has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera on the back. For wireless connectivity there’s 802.nn Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. It’s also outfitted with the usual tablet sensors, like an ambient light sensor, magnetometer, gyro sensor, and accelerometer.
The rear-facing camera delivers decent-looking images in full light, though the quality drops off in low-light settings. Additionally, the 4K display is roughly equivalent to a 10-megapixel image, so zooming in or viewing images full-screen will mean grainy and pixelated photos. The front-facing camera offers only 72op video capture (about 1.2 megapixels), but it’s sufficient for use with Skype and similar services. The biggest problem with the webcam is that, without the benefit of a desktop stand, you’ll need to hold up the oversize display for the duration of your call.
A fewr security features help to protect your large investment, with Computrace theft protection, Trusted Platform Module (TPM) vi.2, and Intel’s Anti-Theft technology in addition to the usual password protection and the smart card reader mentioned above. There’s also a pop-out security cable loop for locking down the tablet so no one walks off with it.
Inside the 0.5-inch chassis, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) offers fast storage, but with 4K media taking up significantly more space than HD video content, you’ll probably want an external drive for your media storage. Our system came with Windows 7 Professional, available through Windows 8 Pro downgrade rights.
Panasonic Dashboard lets you adjust and monitor the tablet’s settings and performance, including aspects of the display, such as icon and text size, and color profile. The Firefox Web browser is preinstalled, as is a 30-day trial of Microsoft Office 365, with an option to purchase the full program.
Panasonic covers the Toughpad 4K Performance tablet with a three-year warranty, which includes both coverage on parts and labor as well as 24/7 tech support via phone.
For the Toughpad to fully function as either a work tablet or an all-in-one PC, you’ll need to pick up a few accessories, none of which are included in the $7,000 price.
The $260 Toughpad Stylus Pen connects to the tablet via Bluetooth, and uses an infrared-based optical sensing technology to provide 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity and almost pixel-level accuracy. You can even use more than one pen on the same tablet, opening up collaborative capability.
If you need to use the tablet in a more traditional desktop setup, Panasonic’s Desktop Stand/Cradle ($399.99) docks the tablet using a 24-pin connection, and offers three additional USB 3.0 ports (for attaching a keyboard, a mouse, and external storage), an HDMI-out port for connecting a second display, and a second Ethernet port.
A specially designed portfolio-style tote ($299.99) features a shoulder strap, a fold-away screen cover, and a built-in easel, so you can prop up the tablet for easier use. And soon to be available is a wall-mounted cradle with a VESA mount.
The tablet’s Nvidia K100M GPU offers significantly more potent graphics capability than you’d find from the integrated graphics on the Cintiq Companion or the Tap 21, but it doesn’t really compete with workstations. The Toughpad 4K scored only 4,580 in 3DMark CloudGate, and 374 in 3DMark FireStrike Extreme; the Dell M4800 managed 8,636 on CloudGate and 723 on FireStrike Extreme, and the HP Zi G2 16,293 on CloudGate and 1,730 on FireStrike Extreme.
Don’t expect all-day battery life, either.
The Toughpad 4K Performance lasted just 2 hours, 4 minutes, in our rundown test, putting it dead last against all of our battery-equipped comparison devices. In discussions with Panasonic representatives, I learned that the design uses a smaller (read thinner and lighter) battery to reduce the bulk and weight of the overall design. Honestly, given that the slim battery is powering 9.8 million glowing pixels and still supporting the performance indicated above, 2 hours is downright impressive.
In the end, not many devices offer anything like the Panasonic Toughpad 4K Performance’s blend of portable design, large Ultra HD display, and functional processing power. Unfortunately, there also aren’t many people or businesses that will have a need for it, let alone need it enough to spend thousands of dollars on a single device. For those who require a workstation with a large display, there’s the HP Zi G2; for artists on the go, there’s the Wacom Cintiq Companion.