GCN LAB REVIEW
Ready to make the rounds
Toughbook H1 tablet PC has the right features for a mobile clinical assistant
- By Greg Crowe
- Feb 05, 2009
As the medical profession modernizes, mobile clinical assistant tools are in high demand. Unfortunately, requirements for ruggedness and portability tend to pull in opposite directions, leading to a confusing hodgepodge of devices that don’t meet every need. Plus, there’s the added complication of securing the privacy of medical records.
Now Panasonic, a pioneer in merging ruggedness with portability, has stepped into the field with the Toughbook H1.
The tablet PC measures 10.25 inches wide by 10.5 inches high and 3 inches thick, including the stand/handle assembly on the back. It weighs 3.4 pounds, which is well within our limit for ultraportable laptops and tablets. Its ergonomic design includes a carrying handle on the top and a strap on the back, both of which were designed to minimize hand strain during use.
Those features make the H1 easy to carry around. A full-function laptop PC would be too heavy, and having to tilt the screen up would unbalance a laptop PC if you didn’t have a steady surface to set it on. On the other hand, a PDA’s screen would be too small, and the device might not have the power to run medical software or quickly access patient databases. Other tablet PCs might do the trick, but because most companies make convertible rather than slate-style screens, you would carry around some useless weight, and holding it up to use would quickly become uncomfortable.
The strap on the back of the H1 lets users hold the device steady while avoiding strain on the hands and arms. We held the H1 for the better part of a day during our testing, and a couple times we forgot it was there.
We were pleased to see a variety of input devices and peripherals on the H1, including a bar code reader, a radio frequency identification/smart card reader, a 2-megapixel digital camera and a biometric fingerprint reader. The docking station has three USB ports and ports for VGA, serial and network connections. When combined with the 802.11 a/b/g/Draft-N wireless and Bluetooth connections, those features should allow you to connect the H1 to just about any networked device.
Whether you need to scan a patient’s chart with the bar code reader or take a picture of some visual element in your diagnosis, the H1 has the tool for the job, right at your fingertips. We also found the docking process to be easy, with metal contacts instead of pins. The H1 just slides into place.
For security, the H1 has a fingerprint swipe sensor. You can set it to require users to verify their identities when booting the system, accessing certain programs or waking the device when it emerges from sleep mode.
The H1 has an Intel Atom Z540 processor and 2M of memory. In our PassMark benchmark tests, it earned a score of 206.8. Although that score is lower than that of a typical ultra-portable laptop, it should be sufficient for running health information software.
The H1 comes with two rechargeable 7.2-volt batteries that can be swapped from an undocked unit while in use. When one battery is removed or runs out of power, the H1 automatically switches to the other.
There is space on the docking station to charge two additional batteries, so the H1 could theoretically last forever undocked as long as you swap out the batteries on a regular basis.
The batteries are inserted on opposite sides of the H1 so you don’t accidentally pull both out at the same time. LED lights indicate the level of charge in each one. The batteries are heavy and easily snap into place. You'll know when you’ve done it right.
In our battery life test, the H1 lasted 1 hour and 48 minutes on a single battery. We found that to be an acceptable amount of time, especially because our test is a worst-case scenario that has a movie playing, the system set at 80 percent brightness and all power-saving features disabled. Normal use would extend that time considerably. And of course, you can double the time by using both batteries and extend it even further if you use batteries in rotation with the charger on the docking station.
However, we noticed that batteries took longer than expected to charge in the H1 and the extra bays on the docking station, so you would have to take that into account when trying to time battery swaps. It took more than three hours to fully recharge a completely drained battery.
Because the H1 is from Panasonic, we expected it to excel in our rugged tests, and we were not disappointed. The H1 passed our drop tests with flying colors. We dropped it at all angles from as high as 36 inches, and the H1 survived with only tiny scratches on two of the corners.
In our GCN rainforest environment, with temperatures approaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity near 100 percent, the H1 showed no signs of quitting and emerged from its steam bath after an hour still running and ready to go. If your medical facility should experience such punishing conditions, the H1 would be fine, but you might need to start worrying about your patients.
The H1 has a dashboard program that shows battery life and other statistics. One function we liked was the cleaning tool. Because the device will primarily be used in medical facilities, keeping it clean and sterile is a priority. When the cleaning tool is activated, everything on the screen is colored with a semi-transparent layer, which is removed when spots are wiped down. This lets you make sure you don’t miss a spot when cleaning or sanitizing the screen.
Panasonic has set the price of the Toughbook H1 at $2,999. We found it to be a decent value for a fully rugged tablet, especially one with all the input and ease-of-use devices this one has.
The H1 would be at home in any medical office or hospital, and when combined with the right software, it could save medical workers a lot of time and effort. Of course, as highly specialized as it is, it wouldn’t be put to its fullest use anywhere else.
Panasonic, 888-223-1012, www.panasonic.com
Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.