Pricing, availability and technical details have now emerged for Panasonic's new rugged tablet that we briefly covered in June. The Toughpad FZ-A1 has been designed to meet the needs of a modern mobile workforce, and features a multi-touch screen bright enough to use in daylight, has been drop-tested at Panasonic's own labs to MIL-STD-810G standards, and is both waterproof and dust resistant to IP65 standards.

Although consumer tablets like the iPad are now being used for much more than watching videos, checking emails, or playing games - such as assisting disabled voters, or breaking into new musical ground - they're not nearly tough enough to meet the needs of the mobile worker. You could, of course, simply enclose your tablet in a rugged outer shell or waterproof it in some WaterWear, but there are better options available.

Panasonic has a fair pedigree when it comes to mobile computing toughness - enjoying a 65.3 percent share of last year's European rugged and durable notebook computer market - and says its new Toughpad FZ-A1 is built to perform where other tablets fail. The Android 3.2 tablet has a wide operating temperature range of -10 °C to 50 °C (14 °F to 122 °F), should be able to withstand a drop from four feet (120 cm) in a powered-off state, and benefits from the same ingress resistance rating as Panasonic's somewhat chunky Toughbook H1 Field Windows tablet.

At its heart beats a Marvell 1.2GHz dual-core processor incorporating an SoC-compliant dedicated security processor core with FIPS 140-2 Level 2. This handles software and data encryption, enhanced VPN, authentication, trusted boot and device management, and protects against tampering. The processor is supported by 1GB of SDRAM and 16GB solid state storage - with SDHC media card expansion.

The 10.1-inch, 1024 x 768 pixel resolution capacitive touchscreen display couples anti-glare/reflection film with up to 500 nit brightness for daylight-friendly use, and includes an active digitizer that records pressure, direction and speed along with the signature for greater legal authority when signing documents. It comes supplied with a battery-free digitizer pen, and the tablet's Lithium-ion battery is said to power it for about ten hours of usage between charges and can be replaced/upgraded by the customer's IT support team.

There's 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 with EDR, optional 3G, built-in satellite GPS and a digital compass. Physical connectivity takes the shape of a single micro-HDMI port and one micro-USB 2.0 port, video and photographic needs are met by a 2 megapixel front-facing webcam and a 5 megapixel camera with LED flash at the rear, and security measures include Marvell hardware-assisted storage encryption, Marvell Trusted Boot, and Authentec Mobile Security.

All of this looks impressive enough until it's compared with other equally tough cookies like the Motion CL900 from Motion Computing - which features a Corning Gorilla Glass screen, slightly better resolution, more onboard storage and a faster main processor.

Panasonic Computer Products Europe says that its 10.5 x 0.67 x 8.35-inch (226.3 x 17 x 212 mm), 2.13 pound (970g) Toughpad FZ-A1 is set for second quarter availability at an estimated price of EUR850 (US$1,158) for the standard tablet and EUR999 (US$1,361) for the 3G-enabled model, prices include a 3-year warranty. The release is supported by a host of accessories, such as vehicle mounts, desktop cradles and hands-free holsters.

Panasonic has also revealed that a 7-inch model will follow in the second half of 2012.

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