Starting Configuration Price
Extremely rugged construction. Hot-swappable batteries. 1,200-nit QHD screen. On-board storage for pen. Abundant connectivity.
Small, finicky touchpad. Soft speakers. Bulky.
- Bottom Line
The tough-as-nails Panasonic Toughbook 33 2-in-1 tablet packs in tons of durability, computing power, and battery life for those working in harsh or dangerous conditions.
The Panasonic Toughbook 33 (starts at $3,499; $4,099 as tested) is a fully rugged detachable 2-in-1 tablet made for folks who work in adverse conditions, including outdoors, on factory floors, and in emergency vehicles. Armor protects it from abuse, so it's a good fit for non-office workplaces. It outdoes other rugged laptops and tablets with a 1,200-nit QHD screen (the first we've seen), speedy performance, and includes dual batteries that let you go untethered for more than 10 hours. Despite the high price, it's our latest Editors' Choice for rugged laptops.
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The Toughbook 33 looks tough, with silver-colored magnesium alloy plating over most of its body, supplemented by black rubberized coating on all of its edges. Its utilitarian aesthetics match other burly laptops and tablets like the Dell Latitude 12 Rugged Tablet, the Getac V110-G3, and the Xplore XSlate R12.
Panasonic builds the Toughbook 33 into a strengthened case that splits in two. You can grab the tablet portion for a service call, and then dock it to its keyboard base to write your reports.
Removing the tablet from the included Premium keyboard base is easy: Just flip the two lock switches (one spring-loaded), and lift the tablet up. It clips back and locks securely in a couple of seconds. The detached tablet portion measures 1.0 by 9.5 by 12 inches and weighs 3.36 pounds alone, which is light for a rugged tablet. That's wider, but within one-half inch in the other two dimensions compared with the Dell Latitude 12 Rugged, and chunkier in all dimensions compared with the XSlate R12. It's 1.1 pounds lighter than the Latitude 12 Rugged, and imperceptibly heavier than the XSlate R12. The body measures 1.8 by 11.4 by 12.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 6.07 pounds with the keyboard attached, larger in all dimensions and heavier compared with the Getac V110-G3 convertible and the Latitude 12 Rugged with their optional keyboard docks.
While a standard MIL-STD-810G-tested business laptop might be expected to shrug off a spilled cup of water and a 4-foot drop onto carpet, the Toughbook 33 will survive being dropped into a puddle after falling out of your bag during a rainstorm. We verified the Toughbook's armor with a few tosses in our labs, though its digitizer pen darted out of its storage cubby. We tested the system's IP65 water resistance by running water from a faucet for five minutes continuously over the tablet, which continued to operate when wet. The touch screen has settings for use with gloved or waterlogged hands and we verified that it reacts quickly under both conditions. That's not unique to the Toughbook, as the touch screens on rugged laptops like the Getac V110-G3 also work under the same conditions. The digitizer pen also works equally well in wet or dry conditions.
Other rugged 2-in-1s like the Getac V110-G3 and the Dell Latitude 12 Rugged are limited to 1,366-by-768 resolution. The Toughbook 33's 12-inch QHD (2,160-by-1,440) resolution touch screen has sharp image detail, lots of room to work, and smooth text. It's the first rugged laptop or 2-in-1 we've seen with such a high resolution. Several years ago, Panasonic produced a $7,000 20-inch ToughPad UT-MA6 tablet with a 4K resolution, but that system was discontinued because it was unwieldy and expensive. The Toughbook 33 has a 3:2 screen aspect ratio (rather than the 16:9 we're used to seeing) because Panasonic says it is less likely to block a vehicle airbag (it's not as wide), and it requires less vertical scrolling for easier information retrieval.
The screen also has an astounding 1,200-nits maximum brightness, far beyond the 800 nits of the Getac V110-G3, the previous iteration of the V110, and the XSlate R12. The screen is easily viewable in all conditions, even with direct sunlight shining on the display. For comparison, the screen on the Dell XPS 13, a consumer laptop that's considered to have a bright display, is 500 nits, which looks great in a conference room, but washes out in sunlight.
Protected Ports Shelter in a Storm
The system has an excellent selection of I/O ports, a generous number of which are on the tablet. Locking panels cover the ports, which helps to keep the tablet and dock's interior clear of water and muck. On the left of the tablet screen, you'll find an Ethernet port, a headset jack, an HDMI port, a microSD slot, and a USB 3.0 port. On the right, there's a power jack and storage for the included active pen. On the keyboard dock's left side, you'll find another power jack, a second HDMI port, a full-size SD card slot, a USB 2.0 port, and a VGA connector. On the right side of the keyboard, there is a second Ethernet jack, a serial port, and two more USB 3.0 ports. We like that the keyboard base has an Ethernet jack and power connector, so you can leave it behind while using the tablet in the field and then easily plug back in.
The keyboard also has a standardized power/antenna dock connector on its bottom panel, which can be clipped to a vehicle mount used with previous Toughbook laptops, a plus for upgraders. 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4 handle local wireless connections, while a 4G LTE modem can keep you connected when Wi-Fi isn't available. A locking door on the back panel of the tablet gives you convenient access to the included hot-swappable battery packs.
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Good Components, Finicky Touchpad
The base version of the Toughbook 33 comes with an Intel Core i5-7300U processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, and is the tablet alone. Our tested configuration includes the Premium keyboard base packaged together with the tablet. There is an optional Lite keyboard ($299.99) which weighs 4.81 pounds when the tablet is connected. One thing to note when choosing keyboards: The Lite version is comfortable to type on, but its port selection is limited to one USB 3.0 Type-B, and its top-heavy body teeters over when you tilt the screen back too far (past 100 degrees).
If you're going to be writing a lot of reports or entering data, it's worth paying extra for one of the keyboards, though because the touchpad on both of them is resistive rather than capacitive, it can be a bit finicky. You'll have to press the touchpad hard to get a response, but you'll be able to control the cursor while wearing gloves or when using the blunt end of a ballpoint pen on the touchpad. The backlit keyboard on both bases has a comfortable, full stroke and has zero flex, even when we pressed hard on the keys. The XSlate R12 comes with a wireless keyboard, but it's not nearly as robust. The Toughbook 33's keyboard docks are as sturdy as the rest of the system, as they also survived repeated drops to the floor from our test bench.
Two tiny speaker grills flank a row of keys (two programmable function keys, volume, and a Windows Start key) below the screen. They sound fine for listening to a video-conferencing session, but are underpowered for videos or music. There is a 1080p HD front-facing webcam (with IR for Windows Hello logins), and an 8MP rear-facing camera with LED flash. Pictures from both cameras looked a little grainy compared with the ones from current smartphones, but they are clear enough to document an insurance claim or to record a completed plumbing repair job. The system comes with a three-year warranty.
Excellent Battery and Performance
The Toughbook 33 was able to complete our multimedia tests like Handbrake (2:06), Cinebench (346 points), and Photoshop (3:45) much faster than other rugged systems like the Dell Latitude 12 Rugged, Getac V110-G3, and the Getac S410. Its score of 3,044 points on the PCMark 8 Work Conventional test was better than average, with the Getac S410 coming in a few hundred points higher. 3D performance was good among the rugged PCs with integrated graphics. You're probably not going to be playing games on this business system, but it's all set for viewing projects like architectural renderings and blueprints.
Battery life is excellent for a rugged system, lasting 10 hours, 23 minutes on our rundown test with both batteries, bested only by the Dell Latitude 12 Rugged (10:41, also with dual batteries) and the Getac S410 with its extended battery pack (11:57). Otherwise, the competition lasted from a low of 5:50 (Getac V110-G3) to about 8.5 hours (Getac V110). The fact that most of the other rugged competitors only have 720p screens is significant, because the Panasonic's QHD uses more power than the others.
Modern Rugged 2-in-1, Done Right
Sure, the Panasonic Toughbook 33 is overkill for the average office worker. But if you work in harsh elements, the Toughbook 33 is fully rugged, able to shrug off repeated drops and running water, and you can view the screen under direct sunlight. It's light to hold in Tablet mode, and securely connects to its keyboard dock when you use a physical keyboard. And strong multimedia performance and battery life round out the package.
Other Panasonic 2-in-1 Convertible Laptops
Joel Santo Domingo is the Lead Analyst for the Desktops team at PC Magazine Labs. He joined PC Magazine in 2000, after 7 years of IT work for companies large and small. His background includes managing mobile, desktop and network infrastructure on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Joel is proof that you can escape the retail grind: he wore a yellow polo shirt early in his tech career. Along the way Joel earned a BA in English Literature and an MBA in Information Technology… More »
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