Panasonic Gets More Rugged With Toughbook Update

Designed for installation where durability is one of the most important features, Panasonic isn't skimping on the computing power either. The Toughbook 30 features an Intel Core 2 Duo SL9300 with 1.6GHz front-side bus and 6 MB of L2 cache.

The choice to go with the Intel chip is a key part of Panasonic's rugged philosophy, according to Kyp Walls, director of product management, Panasonic Computer Solutions. The Core 2 Duo is a low-voltage processor, which helps provide longer battery life for the Toughbook 30.

"The Intel chip means no fans or vents," Walls said. "It can be used in a wet or dirty environment. It's also ready for a three-foot drop and high-vibration environments, like the ones you might find on a helicopter."

The Toughbook 30 comes with 2 GB of RAM standard and a 160-GB quick-release hard drive. Battery life has gotten a boost, with the Toughbook 30's standard battery able to power the machine for up to 10 hours. An optional second battery can boost battery life to 14 hours. The 13.3-inch screen on the Toughbook 30 also gets a touch-screen upgrade to match the existing feature on the Toughbook 19.

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The Toughbook 19 also got an update from Panasonic, with the convertible tablet seeing a 160-GB hard drive come standard. The latest version of the Toughbook 19 also comes with an Intel Core 2 Duo SU 9300 chip, 3 MB of L2 cache and an 800MHz front-side bus. The screen on the Toughbook 19 measures 10.4 inches.

The Toughbook 19 also offers a pressure-sensitive touch screen that can be manipulated with a stylus or finger. For jobs where a signature might be required, users can convert the notebook into a tablet, then have a customer sign for a package, for example, with a stylus. In an instance where it is easier to call something up on the tablet with a finger, that is still a viable option.

Both versions of the Toughbook had their screens updated with a circular polarizer, a screen-filtering technology that improves visibility in sunlight. The displays on both the Toughbook 19 and 30 are adjustable, allowing users to alter the brightness of the screen. In Concealed Mode, users are able to turn off all the lights in the machine -- LEDs, indicator lights and even the display -- in uses, such as law enforcement or a military installation, where not being visible is important.

Most Toughbook customers need a rugged and mobile laptop. Fire, police and utility workers are all customers of the Toughbook and often, mobility is important to them. To that end, Panasonic has upgraded the wireless capabilities in the Toughbook 19 and 30. Standard in the notebooks now is the 802.11 Gobi Global chipset.

The Gobi chipset allows for multiple access points to the Internet, regardless of which provider a customer subscribes to, said Brian Solomon, vice president at notebook reseller CDCE. The internal Gobi device can be configured not to discriminate between AT&T or Verizon or Sprint. Instead, the device can be configured to recognize any network, allowing police and fire departments to always be connected.

"If the issue is dropping service, generally in places where a signal is lost, it's not that a cell tower for AT&T or Sprint or Verizon doesn't exist, it's likely that one or the other is missing," Solomon said.

Customers who are anxious to get their hands on the Panasonic Toughbook 19 and 30 will have to go through the channel, which sells the majority of the rugged series of laptops.

"The Toughbooks offer resellers a solid opportunity to sell the product and make a good margin," Walls said. "We continue to maintain our commitment to only sell through resellers -- we don't sell these direct."

The margin for resellers comes from the higher price point on the Toughbook 19 and 30. Starting price for the Toughbook 30 is about $3,649. The 19 starts at around $3,749. While the demand for these rugged notebooks won't approach the demand that a company like Dell or Lenovo will attract, the higher price point and durability of the machines make a good selling point for the channel.

"The initial cost of a Toughbook is higher than the initial cost of a Dell, but in terms of total cost of ownership, it's less expensive," Solomon said.

For Solomon and Walls, that is an important selling point. According to Walls, the Panasonic line of rugged notebooks fails about two percent of the time. Meanwhile, a laptop from a company like Dell or Lenovo fails about 24 percent of the time.

Not only will it generally cost customers money to repair their broken notebooks, but productivity at work also has to be considered.

"Take a delivery business or sales crew, for example. If a company gives them a notebook and 20 percent of the time the notebook doesn't work, that costs companies thousands of dollars," Solomon said. "Toughbooks just do not fail. If you take that into account, a Toughbook is dirt cheap."