Welcome to our internal ramblings on the world of Panasonic Toughbooks and Toughpads, including all related accessories, warranties and vehicle mounting solutions. Here we will attempt to provide unique, highly-biased opinions, insights and tips on our niche within the world of rugged computing. Enjoy!
Why are the lead-times so long?
Great question. Panasonic views themselves as a business solutions provider. They are focusing design, purpose and function of their devices towards enterprise and government related end-users. What typically makes sense for a large police department, corporation or branch of the military doesn't often line up perfectly with what a single consumer or small business might expect when procuring IT related equipment. Panasonic is also very concerned with the quality of their product, which in this case would be Toughbooks and Toughpads. In a lot of ways there is a cultural and thus ultimately business-related disconnect between American end-users and Japanese focus on process, design and quality. The result is incredible products that actually live up to their reputation but with an often frustrating and lengthy supply chain. While there can Panasonic Toughbooks and Toughpads in stock and ready to ship, the majority of customers that are seeking specific, customized rugged computing solutions should tend to expect a 30-90 day lead-time.
What is the best Toughbook?
We get this question a lot. The answer is not all that straight forward as there are a variety of Toughbook and Toughpad models that are specifically designed for a variety of end-users with vastly different needs and priorities. The Toughbook 29-31 were really the flagship models for decades. They have continued with the Toughbook 33 and in some ways that model could be considered the best of what Panasonic has to offer when it comes to a fully-rugged, field device. However, it clearly isn't for everyone, which means the word "best" isn't really appropriate. The CF-20 is the best lighter weight 2-in-1 for the CF-54 is the best traditional laptop. The FZ-G1 is the best full sized tablet and the N1 is king of the handhelds. Help us understand your needs and we can help you identify the Panasonic solution that makes the most sense.
The new Toughbook T1 Rugged Handheld
Panasonic is really making significant inroads in the handheld arena. Recently scoring a large deal with FedEx, momentum is behind Panasonic with the new Toughbook T1. Traditionally the rugged handheld market has been drastically different and removed from the tablet and laptop markets. We believe the lines are being blurred though and see the Toughbook T1 as a legitimate option for individuals and small businesses to arm themselves and their employees with a truly rugged phone. The T1 is roughly the same size as a consumer device from Samsung with a robust case on it. The version with voice services is actually a phone, although not referred to as such by Panasonic. But with good reason and here's the story. The vast majority of rugged handheld customers have historically been larger entities writing custom programing to suit their needs. While that is still the case, Android is helping to blur those lines as Microsoft is exiting from this space altogether. Google with Android now has a clear path to the de facto handheld operating system provider. Back to the original point, these larger customers are not looking for phones. They need super durable handheld devices with a barcode scanner. This is where Panasonic, in our humble opinion, is building on Android's line-blurring with the Toughbook T1. Yes, it does have a barcode scanner in the top and yes, that is of vital importance to it's primary end-users. And without question, Panasonic is not intentionally trying to wade into the absurdly different market of consumer phones. But the Toughbook T1 takes an interesting even if unintentional step towards just that. Our experience over the last 10 years suggests a decent sized chunk of consumers are interested in purchasing a truly rugged phone (meaning it doesn't exist yet in a Verizon store) and the T1 quite frankly is a good fit.
What is your favorite Toughbook?
This editor is partial to the Toughbook 54. It is a fantastic blend between durability, performance and portability (although it is still a full-sized laptop so it isn't small and light).
Windows 7 Pro
Let's cut right to what matters here. Microsoft fully intends to move the world on from Win7 Pro ASAP. Why? The underlying goal which has been driving their approach for a decade plus is somehow arriving at a reality it which no one can use a Windows operating system (or Office software) without having paid for it. In Microsoft's defense, the number of pirated copies of Windows around the world is measured in the billions. It makes perfect sense for Microsoft to innovate towards the ability to truly control who uses their product. However, a lot of legitimate and normal PC users have been left with the aftermath. Windows 10 Pro is a big step towards this goal, so the faster Microsoft can end Windows 7 Pro, the faster they arrive in a more profitable future. Again, this is completely understandable and any business owner can appreciate their position. The aftermath mentioned above is a world void of restore DVD's, licenses on the bottom of a laptop or tablet, and a complex maze of Microsoft Live accounts with potential 2-factor authentication. Basically it is a whole lot more inconvenient for us legitimate, paying customers. One, it simply isn't easy to restore or reimage a device any more. Two, you are really no longer provided physical restore DVDs. Three, the actual "license" is now a mystery. Windows 10 holds a critical key, so much so that any physical gen 7 processor or newer from Intel CANNOT be downgraded to Windows 7 Pro. This reality will come as a shock to many end-users who are likely still unaware of the magnitude of the licensing changes taking place. Keep in mind this extends beyond Microsoft. The industry as a whole has been moving for years to a hosted SAAS model. Adobe was really the first major player to move cold turkey. This rambling brings us to what do customers really need to know. Here it is. If you need Win7 Pro on a laptop, you have months remaining to make that happen. Laptops and tablets preloaded with Win7 Pro will start disappearing quickly. As always we are sure some will "pop up" here and there from now until some point this winter or next spring. This is happening! Microsoft will end support for Win7 Pro early 2020. But support is the long term challenge. The short term challenge is simply obtaining/purchasing both hardware that can be downgraded to Windows 7 as well as the actual image itself. In our estimation there is a huge number of Toughbook customers either currently in a pinch or about to be in one over the next year. Now is the time to act one way or the other. Either procure Win7 Pro possible laptops or tablets NOW (October 2018)...or make the final move to Windows 10 Pro.
Android is last man standing in handheld market
Microsoft is bowing out of the handheld market, paving the way for Android to dominate a sub-market within rugged mobility. Panasonic will phase out the E1 and the F1. Look for the new T1, L1 and updated version of the N1 loaded with the latest version of Android to headline their offerings over the next 1-2 years. The 7" Toughpad B2 will be a refresh and the 10" A2 will hit the pause button for a while...returning in 2020 with an update. It's an exciting and complicated time for all laptops, tablets and handhelds. We genuinely enjoy the world of rugged mobility and genuinely believe Panasonic offers by far the best product.
What is the difference between Dedicated GPS (dGPS) and the Satellite GPS receiver that comes on the 4G LTE-Advanced Multi Carrier chip?
This is a very common question. There are actually two ways to add an optional GPS receiver on to most TOUGHBOOK models. There is a "dedicated" GPS module manufactured by u-blox. The 2nd option is a satellite GPS receiver that is included on the 4G LTE modem manufactured by Qualcomm and Sierra Wireless. A common misconception is that the GPS receiver on the 4G LTE modem either requires a data account (with Verizon, AT&T, etc.) or strictly uses cell towers to triangulate a position. This is NOT true. While cell towers and location sensors help this signal, it is indeed a true satellite receiver connecting to multiple satellites like any GPS receiver. It also does NOT require an active data account. That means you can leverage this GPS signal without ever using the 4G LTE data connection. As you know, GPS is a free service offered by the United States government. You will however need software to interact with that signal, whether it is something free like Google Earth or a paid, more sophisticated program like CoPilot Live. So why would a customer want or need the dedicated GPS option? The dGPS option is going to be a little bit more accurate (perhaps 1-3 meters vs. roughly 5 meters), provide a faster cold start fix location and offer more GPS channels. There is essentially no wrong answer when it comes to which version to choose. Budget can be a factor and perhaps a rule of thumb is if you are want a slightly faster and slightly more accurate signal, then opt for the dedicated GPS option. However, if you are like most customers where approximately 5 meters of accuracy is sufficient, the GPS receiver that comes on the WWAN option (4G LTE) is a perfectly fine choice that is often less expensive and more readily available. Please note that if you purchase a device that has both versions, you will only be able to use the dGPS receiver as the WWAN-GPS will not work (but logically that should not matter). Also please note that the dGPS and WWAN-GPS options are mutually exclusive on the TOUGHBOOK 20 and TOUGHBOOK M1 (meaning you can't have both and must only choose one). Happy GPS-ing!
Who can help activate my internal 4G LTE modem?
Panasonic can! You can call 888-250-4515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for expert help with getting your internal 4G LTE modem up and running with the carrier of your choice.
Lite vs. Prime vs. Touchscreen vs. Performance with the TOUGHBOOK 54
The Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 54 essentially comes if (4) different base platforms. It can be a little daunting to understand all of the differences, but here are the basics.
The Lite version is meant to be the least expensive, most stripped down version. Right now, the Mk3 Lite version of the TOUGHBOOK 54 is available in just a base model and also with the addition of a DVD Drive. No other options are currently possible on the Lite 54. It is often a unit that is IN STOCK (but not always). There is NO WEBCAM but an emissive keyboard is now standard.
The Prime version is a non-touchscreen unit with a normal screen resolution (the same as the Lite), but does have a webcam standard and also offers all possible upgraded features like 4G LTE, dGPS, serial, etc.. There are i5 and i7 versions.
The Touchscreen version has a full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution and a bright, 1000 NIT display for viewing outdoors in direct sunlight. It also has a webcam standard and offers the full complement of possible upgrades features and options just like the Prime. Remember, even if you don't want or need touchscreen, it is the ONLY way to achieve a brighter display for direct sunlight use. You can essentially ignore the touchscreen feature if you don't have a need for it, but you must purchase a 54 with touchscreen if you would like to comfortably see the screen outside in the sun.
The Performance version also has a full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution, but drops back down to a normal brightness display, meaning it would NOT be great in direct sunlight. This version, like the Prime and Touchscreen, also comes with a webcam standard and offers the full menu of possible upgraded features, although there are more limited SKUs. The Performance version though is uniquely offering a higher-end graphics chip set with dedicated video RAM. There are a few software applications that require dedicated video RAM (like a full version of autocad or perhaps Adobe Premier) in order to function properly. The vast majority of end-users would NOT end up needed of even using this feature. Be sure to fully understand your software requirements before purchasing your hardware.
**Please note there is a fully-loaded version of the TOUGHBOOK 54 that combines touchscreen and performance for the best of both worlds.