Rugged phones and tablets have a small user base in the consumer market; they’re much more important in the business world. If you’re a logistics manager or a retail employee who needs a device that can scan a hundred barcodes, schedule shipments, and not break when it gets dropped on the warehouse floor or exposed to liquids, regular consumer electronics just aren’t going to cut it.
With devices like the Toughbook 33, Panasonic has offered rugged solutions for some time. But the bulky construction of a laptop isn’t always suitable for workers on the go. It’s the latter market Panasonic is targeting with its new Toughbook T1 handheld and Toughbook L1 tablet.
“With the devices we’re unveiling today, we are responding to where work is now, and anticipating where it’s going – delivering reliable, easy-to-use devices with professional grade features like integrated, high-volume barcode scanning, long-lasting batteries and high-speed connectivity to provide a competitive advantage and offer smarter, more responsive workplaces,” said Brian Rowley, VP of Marketing and Product Management at Panasonic System Solutions Company of North America.
We went hands-on with both the new devices, which boast sleeker form factors than past Toughbook handhelds without compromising on durability or features. The T1 is a 5-inch handheld that runs Android 8.1 Oreo and comes clad in a tough body of aluminum, polycarbonate, and rubber. It has the ability to “warm swap” batteries, letting you remove the cell and change it out without needing to power down. The Toughbook L1 is a 7-inch tablet version running the same operating system.
Both devices rated Military Standard 810G, giving them drop and shock resistance to impacts, and confirms they’ve survived a slew of lab tests against conditions like fog and exposure to humidity. The T1 has an IP68 certification, allowing it to withstand full immersion in 5 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. The L1 is IP67 certified, giving it resistance to 3.3 feet of water for 30 minutes. I took both devices outside while it was raining and gave them a thorough rinsing. Unsurprisingly, they handled the drizzle just fine and the screen can be used with gloves or even when wet.
This kind of durability is something we’ve seen on consumer-facing devices like the Kyocera DuraForce Pro and Samsung Galaxy S8 Active, but it’s rare to find it in such a sleek form factor in the enterprise market. Compared with the hefty Toughbook N1 which sports a body that’s over half a pound and an elongated, angled rear barcode scanner, the T1 presents a much more svelte figure. Using both devices side-by-side, the newer T1 is easier to pocket, easier to handle, and generally has more in common with the Cat S60 in terms of physical appearance, which is a rugged phone that comes with a thermal imaging camera.
But where the S60 has lots of uses for tradespeople like plumbers and electricians, the T1 and L1 are both oriented more toward retail, transportation, and warehouse workers. Its built-in barcode scanner, together with a pistol grip attachment, allows it to turn into a dedicated barcode reader. Once you’re done scanning codes, you can slot the T1 out to make voice calls and connect through multiple carriers via 4G LTE (AT&T and Verizon supported).
The L1 has a bigger screen, making it better suited for viewing spreadsheets and inventory management. It similarly comes with a barcode scanner that can be used in portrait and landscape orientation with a 360-degree rotating hand grip that can scan barcodes just as easily as the T1, however, there’s no pistol grip for it. Both devices come with dual-band Wi-Fi and optional cellular connectivity.
Pricing for both the Toughbook T1 and L1 is expected to be $1,499, putting them firmly in the enterprise market.