In May, Panasonic unveiled the Toughbook 33 rugged laptop, the successor to the Toughbook 31. We've been trying out the Toughbook 33 and found it largely delivers on the promise of reaching "the pinnacle of rugged mobile technologies," as Tom Haywood, president of Panasonic partner TransCOR Information Technologies, put it to us in May.
The Toughbook 33 is probably the most heavy-duty laptop we've tried lately in the CRN Test Center. With a focus on serving industries such as public safety and utilities, the laptop is designed to meet military standards for drops, vibration, water, dust, freezing temperatures and a lot more. The Toughbook 33 is made from a magnesium alloy chassis and measures 1.8 inches thick while weighing 6.1 pounds.
While that's pretty thick and heavy, portability is in fact one area where Panasonic aims to offer an improvement over the Toughbook 31, which measures 2.9 inches thick and weighs 7.9 pounds.
But most people will still want to use the handle that's attached to the Toughbook 33 to carry it around.
Notably, the display also detaches from the keyboard so it can be used just as a tablet. And the tablet on its own includes several ports (USB-A, HDMI, MicroSDXC) for increased functionality while in tablet mode.
The most impressive aspect of the Toughbook 33, in our view, is the display. The 12-inch display is brighter and sharper than many laptops we've tried, rugged or not rugged. In a word, it looks terrific, with QHD (2,160 x 1,440) resolution.
Another important change Panasonic has made from past versions is that the laptop's display has a 3:2 aspect ratio, providing a 15 percent larger viewing area over the Toughbook 31. The idea here is to limit the need to scroll while working on the laptop in a vehicle.
Not having to scroll as much is especially helpful because, in our tryout, we found the touchpad on the keyboard to be the biggest weakness. The touchpad is very small, and on top of that, it requires pressing down fairly hard to use it effectively. In addition, two-finger scrolling on the touchpad didn't work at all in our tryout.
We found ourselves gravitating toward using the touch-screen display for navigating and scrolling as a result, which does become tiring to the arm after a while.
The performance of the Toughbook 33 is speedy, and battery life is decent. We got five hours on a charge in our test—however, Panasonic has designed the laptop to let users swap in fresh batteries while it's still on.
Security features include an infrared camera for facial recognition and iris scanning authentication (via Windows Hello). And, customers can configure the laptop with Windows 7 rather than Windows 10, if that's a better fit for their application needs.
The model we tested, with 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, has a suggested price of $4,099. That's certainly steep by typical laptop standards. But the flexible usage options, primo display and, of course, the near-indestructibility of the Toughbook 33 make it an investment that users in rugged environments would be smart to consider.