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The computer you can feel good about abusing

Ever see one of those YouTube videos of people going beserk at hung-up PCs or recalcitrant printers and proceeding to smash them up in anger?

If you’re going to get mad at a computer — and I don’t recommend ever letting a machine get under your skin like that — at least get mad at a machine that can take it. Although in this case, there’s not much to get mad about.

Panasonic recently came…

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Ever see one of those YouTube videos of people going beserk at hung-up PCs or recalcitrant printers and proceeding to smash them up in anger?

If you’re going to get mad at a computer — and I don’t recommend ever letting a machine get under your skin like that — at least get mad at a machine that can take it. Although in this case, there’s not much to get mad about.

Panasonic recently came out with an updated version of its Toughbook, dubbed the Toughbook 40. Relative to the Toughbook 33, which I reviewed a couple of years back, the new version sports Intel’s 11th generation V-PRO chipset, standard 4G modem with 5G coming this fall, faster I/O and a variety of accessories for its highly modular chassis. These include an optical drive, second battery, second solid state drive, smart card reader, fingerprint reader and several I/O port combination modules. All ports and openings lie behind rubber sealed doors to help keep rain and spilled coffee out. For a moment, I had to hunt to find a slide-shut door protecting the charging port. If, like me, you like your devices clean, there’s even a brush tucked into the Toughbook’s case for cleaning the grille over the fan.

Federal sales director James Poole said all the accessories enable more than 6,000 possible configurations.

At nearly 8 pounds and two inches think, The Toughbook is no svelte MacBook to slip in your backpack. It has an integrated handle to transport it like a briefcase. No need for a protective slipcase. In fact it could double as a defensive weapon on a New York subway. Its solid handle is grippable by the really big-handed or if you’re wearing gloves.

I didn’t have the nerve to drop the machine six feet, but I did let it fall from 3 or 4 feet high, lid open and programs running, onto office carpet, meaning thin carpet glued to concrete. Yo tambien:

  • Placed the Toughbook 40 one of the freezers in the visitors café off our newsroom for 90 minutes, while it was on and streaming The Federal Drive with Tom Temin. When I went to retrieve I could hear my own interview over the speakers before I even opened the freezer. The machine was crusted in frost but didn’t stop working.
  • Baked it in full sun during the recent DC-area heatwave, while streaming videos. It got hot to the touch, but didn’t quit.
  • Soaked it — again open, on and streaming videos — under my garden hose for several minutes, then left it open with the pooled water sitting all over the top deck. It never batted an eyelash. Panasonic says the Toughbook is capable of sustaining rain and 70 mph winds.
  • Left it running with both batteries charged. Panasonic claims 36 possible hours of dual battery life, and that claim is not far off.

As a computer, I found the Toughbook quite livable. It’s 14-inch diagonal screen is super bright and crisp. I watched a full screen YouTube video, on Microsoft Edge, of an NBC telecast of Sydney McLaughlin breaking the world record in the 400-meter women’s hurdles. The picture was sharp and the colors rich, with only the slightest bit of smearing in closeups of Ms. McLaughlin’s lateral movements of her in the aftermath of the race. But nothing that would detract from using the machine for video analysis.

Moreover, the Toughbook’s display is a touch screen. I would recommend turning off the fussy touchpad altogther. Although large and made of nicely machined aluminum, it shares the same semi-usability of nearly all PC touchpads. The screen worked fine when I pinched and dragged while wearing a part of what has become the contemporary uniform: disposable latex gloves.

Still images and particularly text pages are equally sharp. If anything, the screen can be too bright. In my studio I had to lower the screen brightness considerably so I wouldn’t need sunglasses. On the other hand, in open-air, daylight situations the Toughbook’s screen is highly readable.

I also liked the firm, solid backlit keyboard. As a pounder who learned to type back in the manual typewriter days, I felt the Toughbook keyboard would have no trouble standing up to energetic use.

Couple of quibbles besides the trackpad. A handy pointer that works on the touch-sensitive screen is tucked into the retracting handle. Moving it in and out of its slot, it felt like the pointer could be anchored more positively, lest it get lost. The sound from the Toughbook’s speakers, while adequate, was below par for what is available from the best sounding notebooks.

I did not test what Panasonic describes as a background-noise-reducing array of microphones build into the machine, but if that feature works it would be useful when joining video calls from outside.

Thus for all it’s rugged and modular features, the Toughbook is competitive with any notebook computer, as a computer. Just a lot bulkier and heavier.

If you’re sometimes in the office, sometimes teleworking fed, such a rugged machine might seem ideal, especially with the module to plug in an external monitor. Just keep in mind all that ruggedness comes at a price. The MSRP for the Toughbook 40 is $4,899, plus whatever snap-in accessories you might add. That tag might be slightly lower on any of several DoD and civilian multiple-award contracts that carry Panasonic. But the premium pricing, although justified, keeps the Toughbook 40 as a niche product for military, law enforcement and difficult environmental applications.

Still, if you really need a computer that takes a licking and keep on ticking, this machine will give you both ruggedness and snappy performance.

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