with Lindsey J. Bertomen
Product Review: Panasonic Toughbook 31
In the era of powerful portability, the Toughbook 31 is at the forefront
Last year, I tested Panasonic’s Toughbook 30, a rugged 1.6GHz, 1066MHz FSB Intel Core Duo laptop. Panasonic has upped the ante with the Toughbook 31. It is faster, even more durable (something I thought I would never say) and has the consistent platform stability that makes it upgrade-budget friendly.
The Toughbook 31 has the same MIL-STD-810G and IP65 certification, which licensed me to expose its proven clamshell design to new and innovative indignities. It is rather lopsided for a Frisbee and no one could catch it. Kidding!
I repeatedly drop tested this unit on packed dirt from exactly six feet in the air. The official test is on a plywood-covered, non-yielding surface. I used packed dirt to increase the efficiency of my test. You see, I soaked the unit while it was still in the air, and dropped it until the ground beneath it was soaked. I quit at an even dozen drops, then rinsed the mud off from all angles. The photo here is one of the rinsing operations. I didn’t want to send Panasonic a dirty Toughbook 31. It had to be rinsed clean!
Since the rinsing action from 360 degrees is similar to the actual IP65 certification, adding the drop in the course of the test helped me draw some conclusions about the ruggedness of the enclosure. This was not exactly a laboratory test. After all, I left the unit open several times while dropping it. I also left the Toughbook 31 running throughout the test. Nope, this is not a requirement for the certification.
Not Like a Car Wreck
Just for clarification: several times in my testing career I have shipped tested products back to manufacturers in plastic bags with letters of apology. The Toughbook 31 I shipped back was pristine, and I believe it could have survived service with me, including riding in my patrol car, despite my penchant for stacking up black-and-whites.
Panasonic protects their components in magnesium and floats the drive in a separate component. Though I do not recommend or encourage this treatment, I ran processes while trying to shock the drive. I couldn’t even get the screen to flicker.
The Toughbook 31 has new reinforced locking covers on drives and ports. I was quite satisfied with the ones on the Toughbook 30, which were effective and allowed easy access. The Toughbook 31 ports are similar but the latches have a higher quality mechanism. They did not pop open or become harder to open when dropped directly on a locking cover.
The Toughbook 31 has a rugged onboard fan. I did not like this feature, despite the fact that it had energy efficient circuitry that started it only when needed. I noticed an almost silent whine when the fan was running. It is subtle, but I am sensitive to the noise. Most testers did not notice it at all, even after I pointed it out. Panasonic has included a failsafe in the software that prevents excessive heat in the processor, which adds to the efficiency.
Improved the Graphics Capability
The Toughbook 31 differs from it predecessor in its array of integrated and optional features. First, it uses an Intel i5 processor (the entry level model uses an i3), which has improved the graphics capability of the unit and adds to the overall energy efficiency. Intel core i5 and i3 processors allow multitasking because they actually branch into two independent processing cores (they call them logical threads) in a single package.
The Intel Core i5-540M vPro Processor does 2.53GHz with Turbo Boost up to 3.07GHz. That is, combined with several other attributes, it is easily capable of handling moderate video and graphics tasks. If one were to compare the specs of the processor speed of popular desktops, the i5 ones will come out on top most of the time.
This Toughbook ran graphics faster than my desktop on any given day. I ran some graphic rendering routines on it and it screamed through these processes. I did this outside in 100 degree weather and it shrugged off the ambient temperature.
I had commented that the Toughbook 30 had an extraordinarily bright 1000 NIT display. The Toughbook 31’s 13” display is even brighter (1100 NIT) and uses their proprietary Panasonic CircuLumin polarization technology that makes it daylight readable.
Self Dispatching Enhances Officer Safety
One of the best features of the Toughbook is the multi-touch capable display. For officer safety, having the option of being able to program a three-finger swipe for “priority dispatch” is a must.
The i5 model comes with an integrated webcam and up to 11 hours of battery life. I cycled it a couple of times and got an expected five to seven hours of about 35-40 percent use.
The best attribute of the Toughbook 31 is its communication features. It is 802.11a/b/g/n capable and my tests revealed pretty good reception, which means a coffee break in the parking lot of Starbucks, ready to roll, is possible. It can be purchased with the optional Gobi 2000 mobile broadband and Bluetooth v2.1. This is a high gain reception system and it is self-dispatch ready.
If the department is using 360 cams and fellow officers are able to view action in progress using an advanced communications protocol such as LTE, where huge data packets can be received in seconds, then fellow officers can watch things unfolding in real time. Someone may see something in the video/audio feed of a call that “doesn’t seem right” and just swipe the Toughbook 31 screen and mark themselves en route, without revealing radio traffic.
Law enforcement laptop users are consistently using a One Write concept, where material goes directly into the reporting document or the source, eliminating the step of taking notes and then placing the information into a document. This is more efficient legally also. The discoverable portion of the report was developed at or near the source.
Having processor energy efficiency in a rugged laptop changes the paradigm. The officer dismounts the laptop. He takes it into the call, once the dust has settled. The entire writing package can be in the Panasonic Toughbook 31 package, already backed to the server.
The One Thing I Didn’t Like
On most laptops the fingerprint reader usually resides on the top, where our hands do their business. This one is on the edge of the case, which I found to be very awkward. I could swipe it, but a horizontally mounted unit would require a little contortion.
At the Forefront
The Toughbook 31 is a product of obsessive engineering — the kind of “what if” planning that allows products to exceed the users’ expectations. It is an unconventional product in an unconventional battlefield and an easy one to endorse. It shares the same platform stability as several predecessors, meaning the agency can upgrade one at a time and use the same fixtures from several other models. In the era of powerful portability, the Toughbook 31 is at the forefront.