This is the most rugged and customizable laptop I’ve ever tested – and it’s not a Getac

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Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • Panasonic’s ToughBook 55 is a rugged laptop that can withstand the rigors of outdoor environments plus it offers fast speeds due to its satellite connectivity.
  • The model’s modular design enables users to swap out certain pieces of hardware for something else, such as exchanging a battery for a fingerprint reader.
  • It is, however, not for everyone: The Toughbook 55 is very expensive, heavy, and doesn’t have the nicest display.

Rugged laptops are a unique classification of laptops that I bet most people are unfamiliar with. They’re designed to be exceptionally tough — capable of withstanding harsh environments and surviving being dropped from several feet in the air. Something like this isn’t really meant for the general public; but in the right hands, it can be a total life changer.

Also: This laptop is so rugged the manufacturer allowed me to drop it from waist-height

This brings us to Panasonic’s new Toughbook 55 The company’s latest rugged laptop has an extraordinary modular design. Owners can remove certain components known as xPaks and replace them with something else. For my review build of the ToughBook 55, I was able to pop out the extra battery and install a fingerprint reader. Then I exchanged the Blu-Ray player for one that reads standard DVDs.

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Panasonic ToughBook 55

The rugged Panasonic Toughbook 55 is a perfect way of taking the internet with you when you’re far from home thanks to its support of satellite connectivity among other features.

The process of swapping xPaks is very simple. On the bottom of the laptop — next to swappable parts — is a latch with a lock icon on it. Pushing the latch unlocks the xPak, which can then be removed simply by pulling on a built-in handle. I think this is an ingenious way to allow customers to build a laptop that perfectly meets their needs. It’s not something you see very often in the tech industry — apart from the Framework laptops — and it’s a type of tech I wish we’d see more often. I’m a big fan of modularity. Keep in mind that you can only swap out a few parts. You can’t attach a new display or anything like that. 

Also: Dell is refreshing its popular XPS laptop line with all the AI features (and they still look good)

Going back to the battery, my unit came with two separate batteries that, according to Panasonic, allow the unit to last 20 full hours. I tried testing the battery by running my usual test of playing a YouTube live stream at 720p nonstop and with the battery saver turned off. In my testing, the batteries lasted about 12 hours — not as long as the company claims, but still a decent amount. Plus, you can buy other battery xPaks and install those to extend the laptop’s longevity.

Next, I want to go over the design because it is by far the Toughbook 55’s most eye-catching aspect. 

It is thick. The laptop measures nearly an inch and a half thick when closed and clocks in at almost five pounds, making it one of the heaviest laptops that I’ve ever used. Major components, like the screen, are surrounded by thick bezels for protection. It’s also made out of a durable magnesium alloy chassis. As good as the protection may be, it does come at the cost of comfort. The trackpad is small — taking up only a small portion of the wrist rest — and does not have any haptic feedback. Pressing down on it doesn’t register a click like on other laptops. To make up for this, there are a couple of buttons below the trackpad serving as the mouse.

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Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

What’s more, I have some issues with the screen because certain features clash with others. You see, the ToughBook 55’s display has an anti-reflective coating, which is great to have when you’re using the laptop outside under direct sunlight. You can see content just fine thanks to this feature. However, it’s also a touchscreen, which means it smears easily. The glass attracts fingerprints like a magnet. The smears aren’t very noticeable in the shade, but out in the sun, it’s all you can see.

Additionally, the display doesn’t take up the full size of the screen because of those thick bezels nor can it output a super high resolution as it peaks at 1080p. That’s a decent resolution although nothing great.

Of course, it’s not all bad. I enjoyed typing on the keyboard. It was a comfortable experience. I don’t believe the keys have any special features like a low travel distance. Each cap feels like they’re made with the same hardy material as the Toughbook 55 but smoother. I think the laptop’s hardy construction lends itself well to the keyboard’s comfort. Plus the backlighting is great to have when typing at night.

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Cesar Cadenas/ZDNET

Performance-wise, the Toughbook 55 runs pretty well thanks to its 13th-Gen Intel i7 processor and 32 GB of RAM. I didn’t experience any drops in performance at any time. The default storage size is 450GB. That’s smaller than I would’ve liked, but you can always expand it with an xPak. This does speak to one of the main issues affecting the Toughbook 55. It’s already an expensive product; to build it to your liking, you’ll have to spend a lot more. So if you plan to purchase, you’ll need to be ready to invest a lot into it. 

ZDNET’s buying advice

The Panasonic Toughbook 55 is not meant for the everyday user or as a main laptop. Keep in mind that this is a niche product meant for a niche audience. It’s bulky, it’s heavy, it’s complicated to use; this machine is not for everyone. That said, if you are the audience – such as an outdoorsman or professional looking to stay connected far from an office – then this could be the laptop for you. I honestly don’t think you can do better than this computer. The Toughbook 55 is such a unique machine that it’s in its own class.

Also: The best rugged laptops that can handle anything

The Toughbook 55 is currently available for purchase with an “estimated street price starting at $2,399”, according to Panasonic. Individual xPAKs start at $89 although the price tag will fluctuate depending on what you want.  

Keep in mind this isn’t a laptop you can go to Best Buy and pick off the shelf. You will have to contact Panasonic’s sales team if you want to buy a unit. If you prefer a smaller machine, the company does sell the smaller Toughbook 33, a 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid.





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