The newest member of the long-running line of Panasonic rugged portable PCs, the Toughbook 31, looks pretty much like the one before it. A lot of police and other emergency response agencies have Toughbooks mounted in vehicles, and so Panasonic keeps the same form factor so those customers can make an easy switch. Ports and power requirements are changed, but at least fleet managers won’t have to install new mounts.
That sort of thinking — about how the machines are going to be used in environment where people don’t want to worry about the machine — seems to affect generally the way Panasonic goes about building these durable and popular PCs.
Like its predecessors, the Toughbook 31, released last week, makes no pretense of being snazzy or lightweight. It is the anti-iPad in a Hummer sort of way. A machine capable of withstanding (per mil specs) repeated drops from six feet onto a a plywood surface over concrete isn’t going to be a lightweight. Yet the use of a magnesium alloy shell, built-in carrying handle (you don’t need a dorky computer brief case) and light but effective rubber port closures speak not of excess but of practicality. I mean, it’s not made out of cast iron.
What’s new in the 31 is use of Intel Core i5 or i3 processors, improved graphic performance and a display that can be read in full sunlight. The newest line of Intel processors are said to yield big improvements in battery run time and faster on-the-fly encryption.
The Toughbook 31, which I got to heft and look in a sushi restaurant, can be upgraded with Qualcom’s Gobi2000 mobile broadband connectivity, 8 gigs of memory, a 256G solid state hard drive, and a blacklit keyboard. Panasonic also offers a video camera for streaming visual information from a site. I will be testing it when Panasonic gets a unit to me. (Read my review of the smaller Toughbook CF-19 from December.)
While it has touch-screen functionality, the Toughbook 31 is not a tablet in the sense that the screen doesn’t rotate and fold back, display up, on the top of the machine as is the case with the CF-19. It meets IP65 [ingress protection] for water and dust resistance (but not salt spray) and MIL-STD-810G specs.