Berlin -- The Panasonic UT-MB5 is big with a capital B. It's the first 4K tablet, but don't be fooled into thinking it's basically just a portable telly for watching movies in eye-frying detail: rather, this 20-inch powerhouse is all business.
Although it goes on sale later this year, the version I played with at technology showcase IFA 2013 is technically a prototype, which means there's still time to ditch the atrocious striped case. Until November, in fact, when the MB5 goes on sale for 4,500 euros ($6,000 US or £3,800), or more for a slightly higher-specced Pro model. A digital stylus costs an extra 280 euros, or around $370 US.
4K resolution is the next big thing in televisions, but this is the first tablet from a major manufacturer to show off a 4K screen. Ordinarily, we talk about 4K in terms of the resolution of movies and TV shows, and right now 4K is in its infancy so there basically isn't anything to watch. But in this case, 4K is a bit of red herring: the screen isn't for watching 4K movies, but for displaying the maximum detail to people who need detailed images, plans, and 3D models, such as artists, designers, or architects.
The monstrous screen is a 20-inch display with in-plane switching. The giant screen displays -- deep breath -- 3,840x2,560 pixels, which is a whopping number by anyone's reckoning. The screen is so vast though that the number of pixels per inch is middling: with 230ppi, the MB5 packs in about the same detail in an inch as the iPad, and less than the , which clocks in with 326ppi.
The massive screen does look glorious. You can zoom in on plans and images to an incredibly detailed level; and I enjoyed doing some sketching on the MB5, which reminds me of thegraphics tablet for artists.
There's no getting around it: this thing is enormous. It's 12 millimeters thick, it weighs 2.4kg -- the Pro model is even heavier -- and it measures 474mmx334mm. You read that right: it's almost half a meter across.
The MB5 is so big it's stretching the definition of a tablet -- tablets are meant to be portable, and this thing is portable in the same way that a coffee table is.
The giant screen is also a massive drain on power. In fact the battery lasts a pathetic 2 hours.
The rear of the tablet is clothed in a striped moire effect, which won't be to everyone's taste. You might like it, or you might think it's eye-searingly hideous. Having seen it in the flesh, I'm leaning toward the latter. Still, it's solidly built, with very little flex in the case, and it's designed to be drop-proof -- which is just as well, because anyone who hasn't been putting in the time at the gym will struggle to keep hold of it for any length of time.
With most tablets, I'd test to see if you can use them with one hand. I'm still not sure I can use this thing with both hands.
Being a Windows 8 tablet, it has a couple of different onscreen keyboards. You can either use a regular QWERTY keyboard, or have it split the keys into two banks, pushed to each side of the screen so you can grip each side and type with your thumbs.
Alternatively you can use the pressure-sensitive touch Amoto pen that comes with the tablet. Pressing harder or softer gives you a different thickness of line, making it useful for artists, designers, architects, or particularly dedicated doodlers. It connects to the tablet via Bluetooth and has a small indicator screen on the side. The pen's battery lasts 6 hours -- three times longer than the tablet itself.
I enjoyed sketching on the screen, but I did find the pen to be too thick, while the smooth barrel wasn't the easiest to keep a grip on. It's not as comfortable as the slimline, grippy pen that comes with Wacom tablets. The MB5 is shaped in 15:10 aspect ratio, which makes it the same shape as a piece of paper rather than a widescreen television. Panasonic says that's for professionals such as architects who work with paper a lot, which is a weird thing to base the whole design on, but another reminder that the tablet is aimed at professionals rather than movie-watching consumers.
Under the barn door of a screen is a powerful 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-3437U vPro processor with 4GB of RAM -- 8GB in the Pro model -- and Nvidia GeForce 745 M graphics. There's a choice of 128GB storage in the standard model or 256GB in the Pro version.
On the back of the tablet is a 720p camera, which is fine for video but pretty poor by the standards of today's still cameras. For a few thousand euros, I'd expect a 5-megapixel snapper at the very least -- although no one's going to be holding up this leviathan to casually fire off a few snapshots.
Another interesting feature is the smart card reader. Panasonic suggests that it could read your work ID card and sign you into your user account automatically. For example, an office could have a couple of tablets stationed at different desks, and you can sign into your account on any of them for easy hotdesking.
The MB5 uses Windows 8.1 Pro software, the latest version of Microsoft's venerable operating system. Windows 8 looks very different from previous versions, based around a home screen of large colourful tiles that act as shortcuts to apps, as well as displaying basic information like notifications or at-a-glance updates.
The large tiles are designed for a touch screen, and look great on the MB5's huge, vibrant screen.
Swipe in from the right to see a quick-access menu including a shortcut to settings, or up from the bottom for a grid of all the apps you've installed. On this giant screen, you've got room to install a plethora of apps and still see them all. If Windows 8's touch-friendly squares aren't your cup of tea, Windows 8.1 backtracks a bit on the bold new design and brings back the familiar home screen and the familiar Start button of old.
Although it's the first 4K tablet from a major manufacturer, it's probably best not to think of the Panasonic UT-MB5 as a 4K tablet because that suggests it's for watching movies and playing games in high resolution. Sure, you could do those things -- when any 4K movies or games come along, anyway -- but it's more accurate to think of the MB5 as a high-resolution display for architects, artists, designers, and others who need close detail in their images, plans, and other work.
I can see the point of a high-resolution display for detailed work, but what I can't get my head -- or indeed my hands -- around is the sheer size of the thing. The laughable battery life and sheer heft mean the MB5 is the opposite of easily portable. In fact, let's call a spade a spade: the Panasonic UT-MB5 is basically an all-in-one desktop computer with the stand lopped off.