Panasonic adds modular expandability, longer battery life to new semi-rugged TOUGHBOOK 55

The modular expansion capability will likely please channel partners unhappy at how long it took to get product in their hands in the past, as this will make it much easier to customize the laptops in the field.

Panasonic has announced the release of its TOUGHBOOK 55, a semi-rugged 14” laptop. The eventual replacement for the TOUGHBOOK 54 adds a modular expansion capability that is likely to be of particular interest to channel partners in speeding up time to market. The new model also adds new functionality, such as a battery life of up to 20 hours.

A key new capability in the TOUGHBOOK 55 is a new modular design which allows for a much greater degree of customization – that takes place in the field, not in the factory. The modularity is designed to facilitate easy addition of features like I/O ports, a fingerprint reader, dedicated graphics or a second storage drive, or upgrade things like the RAM, drives and the keyboard.

“The distinct thing here is that the customer can change the configurations themselves easily, in a plug-and-play manner,” said Anthony Mungiello, Senior Product Manager, Laptops, at Panasonic. “It simplifies things for them, by allowing them to order one base model and easily customize them. It’s a major change from how laptops and tablets have typically been configured.”

Most features, like the drives and memory, are easily removable without tools.

“With the keyboard, there are six screws to remove the keyboard and replace it with another,” Mungiello indicated. “This would be done in cases where you want to order with the same SKU, but have different language keyboards in some deployments.”

This modularity is also a major boon for Panasonic channel partners.

“Our channel partners are used to being able to Build to Order, and the flexibility has always been there for that,” said Brandon Williams, Director, U.S. Mobility Channel, at Panasonic. “This will give them a lot more flexibility to meet customer needs in the field, which will increase speed to market. It will mean that they won’t have to order them a month and a half ahead in order to customize them.”

That’s important for partners, because it will remove a pain point for them in the  past.

“It will be a quicker time-to-market than people are used to from Panasonic,” Williams said. “That has been a criticism. Our channel told us that we had the best product, but that it took too long to get to market. This solves that problem for a lot of our resellers.”

The shift to the modular design is also accompanied, for the first time, with full backward compatibility, which includes the ability to use the TOUGHBOOK 55’s docks and adapters.

“We kept the TOUGHBOOK 55 the same dimensions as the TOUGHBOOK 54 for that reason,” Mungiello said. “We could have made it a little thinner and a little lighter, but we wanted to keep the common design criteria. It is still the thinnest and lightest in the rugged space.”

For now, the TOUGHBOOK 54 will remain on the market as well as the TOUGHBOOK 55.

“The 55 will eventually replace the 54, but for now we are selling both side by side,” Mungiello noted. “Some customers will want the 54 because the testing cycle for these is quite long, and they will want to buy the one that they tested.”

The new technology features include a significant upgrade in battery life, to a maximum of 20 hours.

“This is the culmination of a couple years of customer feedback, which delivers new functionality like more battery life,” Mungiello said. “We are now able to squeeze out 20 hours of battery life from a single battery.”

Part of the enhanced battery life comes from Intel’s technology.

“Intel has historically been focused more on power, but more recently they have shifted to a mix of power and battery life,” Mungiello indicated. “But while Intel provides the reference design for this, we have done some tweaking to get additional life.”

The 20-hour figure is the optimal one from standard industry tests that most vendors use, with 150 nits of screen brightness connected to a Wi-Fi router.

“If you are connected to 4G, that will take the battery down, and max out brightness, you are looking at 7 hours or so,” Mungiello stated. “It will still get you through a full day.”

A second battery, to double battery life, is available as an option.

“Most people won’t need it, but there are use cases where devices are shared, where they go right from one person to another,” Mungiello said. “Depending how much time they have to charge, the second battery provides for multiple shifts. That’s also why it has the capability of hot-swapping in that second battery without powering down.”

Other firsts for the TOUGHBOOK 55 include the first use of the new Intel 8th Gen quad core i5 and i7 processors in the rugged space, and the first laptop with tetra-array microphones for improved speech recognition accuracy.

“Having three microphones instead of two reflects the need for better quality mics because speech recognition technology has become more significant,” Mungiello indicated. “It also helps with background noise.”

This is also the first TOUGHBOOK to USB Type-C port, HDMI 2.0 and Bluetooth 5.0. The speakers are louder [up to 92 decibels from 84, and brightness has been enhanced with an optional 1000 nit touchscreen, which can go down to 2 nits for night vision.

“This also has an IP53 rating for ruggedness compared to IP51 with the TOUGHBOOK 54 – so is a little more rugged,” Mungiello said.