Better known for popular consumer electronics items like televisions and DVD players, Panasonic is also a major player in the rugged and semi-rugged notebook and tablet space, and its latest entry is an updated version of the Toughbook 53 notebook.
Key improvements include the Windows 8.1 Pro Update 64-bit operating system or Windows 7 Professional, which will be available through downgrade rights from Windows 8.1 Pro.
The notebook's processor has also been upgraded to a fourth-generation Intel Core i5-4310U vPro boasting 3MB cache and 2GHz up to 3GHz with Intel's Turbo Boost Technology. Turbo Boost automatically allows processor cores to run faster than the rated operating frequency if they're operating below power, current and temperature specification limits.
"We target the types of people who are not going from desktop to conference rooms, but rather, from desktop to construction site or accident scene," Anthony Mungiello, product manager at Panasonic System Communications Co. of North America, told eWeek. "In these markets, users need increased durability, given the nontraditional work environment: daylight viewable screens and other features not found in typical business laptops."
Battery life has also been improved—depending on usage conditions—to 15 hours for the 500GB hard drive model and up to 10 hours for 320GB hard drive model.
"When we introduced our first fully rugged computer in 1996, it became clear that there was a class of users that needed added durability, but maybe not at the levels required by the military," Mungiello said.
Both models sport 14-inch high-definition displays, and the 500GB edition is available with a touch-screen. Other options include a sunlight-viewable Panasonic CircuLumin touch-screen, backlit keyboard, 4G LTE multi-carrier mobile broadband, an integrated webcam and a choice of insertable or contactless SmartCard readers.
However, all these bells and whistles, improved processing power and Windows 8 software wouldn't be as useful to field workers as the Toughbook 53's military standard (MIL-STD) certifications.
The notebook is MIL-STD-810G-certified for a range of extreme conditions, including 3-foot drops, shocks, vibration, humidity, altitude, dust, temperature extremes and thermal shock.
The MIL-STD-810G standard was created in October 2008 and is the highest toughness certification level to date.
The notebook also includes a health array of security features such as password security with hard-disk lock, a Kensington cable lock slot, anti-theft technology from Intel and an optional fingerprint reader.
"It's really a price versus cost equation. Certainly the price of a typical laptop is less than that of the Toughbook 53, but the cost of operating a non-ruggedized device over time in a demanding environment is substantial," Mungiello continued.
The notebook will available in August from authorized Panasonic resellers starting at about $1,399 and includes a three-year warranty.
Since Panasonic's target customers are in very specific vertical markets, these products are sold exclusively through the channel, where their partners can deliver additional value and help with services like vehicle mounting, imaging and deployment, Mungiello said.
The company has released four ruggedized devices this year in addition to the Toughbook 53—all ToughPad tablets, including the FZ-G1 in July and the FZ-M1, the FZ-E1 and FZ-X1 in June.