TOUGHBOOK 55 Price & Specs Review – If you know the name Toughbook, you probably think of it as the beefy PC for construction sites, cop cars, forward operating bases. I expected more of the same when I was invited to preview the latest Toughbook at a Panasonic press event here in Boston. What I didn’t expect was a computer that could become almost any PC I wanted, all with the click of a mod.
Some context for you folks, the computer I work on every day, is a 2018 MacBook Pro. You know the many ways it lets me down, most of which are a byproduct of Apple’s design philosophy. Which prioritizes thinness over utility. As a result, it’s sometimes the computer I want, but it’s always the computer I need.
The moment I fell in love with the Toughbook 55 is the moment I realized that it’s kind of the anti-MacBook. Instead of a flat keyboard that doesn’t work well even when it’s dry, there’s a springy, comfy one that also works in the rain. In place of a 720p webcam, I need to tape over with a Post-it note when I want some privacy. A 1080p camera with proper privacy shade. And instead of a sealed chassis, I can’t get inside, a modular one with expansion base.
So rather than forcing me into one kind of port and a nightmare life of dongles that I still hate. The Toughbook lets me choose what kind of ports and peripherals I need. And I can change those out on the fly depending on the job. Let me show you what I mean. The laptop’s battery can go into either one of these front bays below the keyboard. And it’s a big one, to begin with, about 70-watt hours. If you need more, you can slap another battery into the bay across the way. 40 hours is the estimate when both batteries are locked in. It’s crazy!
If you don’t need that much power, you can pop in something you do need. Like a fingerprint sensor or a smart card reader with one of these mods that Panasonic calls xPAKs. If you need to swap the hard drive, the SSD slides out on a quick release. This is handy for those federal government or corporate workers who aren’t allowed to use USB drives. Need a VGA or serial or LAN port?
You’ve got them. Or, say you need more graphics power than the integrated graphics on the i5 or i7 can give you, just click on the GPU xPAK. And finally, if you need to review some archive media or just wanna relive the very best of your college acting days. You can watch them on Blu-ray or DVD. Nice!
There’s always let downs, right? So let’s touch on it before we wrap up with my favorite feature. First, the xPAKs are, of course, proprietary cause they need to be specific shapes and sizes. So if you don’t like the low-end GPU Panasonic gives you, for example, too bad. Also, despite the Toughbook name, this isn’t the hardest core machine Panasonic offers. The water resistance rating, in particular, is not as high as you might expect.
The trackpad is bigger than the last model but still tiny. The speakers are louder but still tinny. The casing is heavy, bulky, and it has the cosmetic characteristics of an armored truck. But the biggest letdown for me is that the Toughbook won’t be marketed to consumers. Of course, it won’t. I mean, what Best Buy shopper wants a 4 1/2-pound laptop in 2019?
And I guess what I’m saying is it’s a shame this idea can’t make it to the mainstream. While Motorola’s modular phones never took off despite excellent execution, you don’t use laptops in the same way you use phones. Like, you already need to bring your bag if you’re bringing your computer out. So you really could keep a stockpile of xPAKs at home and deliver only the ones you need for a day or for a trip.
It’s a fantastic idea, and I badly want it to catch on. Oh, that favorite feature I teased a second ago? Duh, it’s the handle. Hauling this thing through the airport gets you looks. You feel like you’re a Secret Service agent carrying the nuclear football. I am into it.
The only thing missing is a shoulder strap, and apparently, you can even buy those. Couple bonus factoids for you wonderful folks who watch all the way through. This machine has four microphones, an optional touchscreen, and a built-in stylus. There’s also a variable color keyboard and software themes meant to preserve night vision in environments like a police car at night, for example.
Oh, and on that subject, the machine is backward compatible with existing accessories like this car mount. So owners of the previous generation, shouldn’t need to go out and buy all new infrastructure. That’s a nice bit of courtesy for prior customers there. When you’re not riding around in the dark, the display can crank all the way up to 1,000 nits for outdoor use. And you can stay connected thanks to an optional 4G LTE modem and GPS.
The Toughbook 55 starts at about $2,100, and the xPAKs range from 125 up to $700 apiece. Again, you won’t find these at your local Staples but from places like Rugged Depot and CDS Office Technologies. This is a business laptop for business folks. I rarely end up lusting any of that stuff. And I think the reason I’m doing so here is because of this. The Toughbook 55 brings back something the laptop world has lost more of with each passing year, versatility, and a sense of choice.
And I don’t think I’m speaking only for myself when I say, I’d like to see more of that. For benchmarks and a deeper dive into the technical side of this machine.
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