Panasonic is the market leader when it comes to rugged personal computing devices, which can be delivered to those who work in the most extreme conditions. These can include fire departments, the police department, the military, and more. Those using the device should be able to do the job from wherever they are, and the device should be up to the task without the user having to worry about something silly like breaking it or connecting to Wi-Fi.
However, the reason I love Panasonic Toughbooks is that they are made to do just about everything. I reviewed the Toughbook 55, a Windows 10 PC, in September, and almost every piece is modular. You can change the batteries, the SSD, add an additional SSD and more. You can use your imagination in this case.
That’s why I was interested when the company contacted me about the Toughbook A3, their newest Android tablet. Panasonic says it has been moving towards Android for tablets since the end of Windows CE, and companies are buying. While it has a full portfolio of Android devices, the A3 is the largest and the newest.
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 660, quad 2.2GHz, quad 2.8GHz|
|Body||10.7×7.72×0.65in, 1.98 pounds|
|Monitor||10.1 inch, 1920×1200, 10-point capacitive multi-touch with rain detection and glove touch modes, anti-reflective screen treatment, up to 800 nits|
|Audio||Built-in microphone, loud 94dBA speaker|
|Entry||Five definable buttons|
USB type A
Qualcomm WCN3990 IEEE802.11 a / b / g / n / ac / d / h / i / r / k / v / w with MIMO
|Battery||5580mAh dual lithium ion|
|Memory storage||64 GB eMMC / 4 GB LPDDR4|
IP65 dust and water resistant
6 ‘drop resistant and drop proof (500 drops, 3.3 ft 5 rpm)
The Toughbook A3 has the kind of design you would expect from such a product. It’s thick, heavy, and it looks like you could throw it across a room and it wouldn’t even scratch. Everything is black except the traditional silver bezels found on Panasonic devices.
It’s also IP65-rated, despite having tons of ports and removable parts. However, most ports have covers, which can be raised to access the port, or can be removed entirely. The left side has a power port underneath the DC IN cover, and next to that you’ll find USB Type-C and USB Type-A.
The Toughbook A3 may actually come with an optional second Type-A port. Remember, these are meant to work in the field for whatever you need to do, so it may be necessary to connect to an additional peripheral.
On the other side, you’ll find a pen garage and a covered 3.5mm audio jack. Pen input seems to be one of those things that Panasonic always includes, even on something like a foldable laptop. Presumably, there is a lot of demand for it.
At the top, there is a barcode scanner. That is really optional and removable.
And at the bottom, there is a dock connector.
However, you may have buried the LED here, because the Toughbook A3 actually has two batteries. Not only that, but they are hot swappable, which means you can change one without having to turn it off. This can be really helpful during mission critical tasks where turning off a battery would take too long.
Removing the battery is quite simple. There’s a switch next to either one that you can flip to unlock, slide up to unlock, and simply lift the battery. Underneath, you’ll find a nano-SIM slot (yes, it’s dual-SIM), and you’ll also find the microSD slot under the battery on the right.
This is really cool. Panasonic says this is the only Android tablet with hot-swappable batteries, a feature found only in laptops. It’s also great that it supports two SIM cards, something common on phones but rare on tablets, especially when cellular connectivity is rare on tablets to begin with.
Display and audio
The Toughbook A3 features a 10.1-inch 1920 x 1200 screen, giving it a 16:10 aspect ratio. What I find really cool is that it offers a brightness of 800 nits. That means you can use it anywhere, even in the brightest sunlight. It is quite wild. Again, I keep coming back to this idea that this is meant to do anything, go anywhere, and handle all conditions.
The same goes for audio quality. The speakers hit 94dBA, which means you can hear it in a noisy crowd. This reminds me of law enforcement and military use cases, which can operate in noisy environments.
Back on the screen, you can handle all kinds of input. As I mentioned it supports pencil input and of course it supports touch. However, that is not all, because it is intended to work in the rain and with gloves.
You will also notice on the front of the device that there are a lot of buttons. That includes six on the bottom and one on each side. Everything except the power button is customizable. Using an app that Panasonic pre-installs, you can configure what these buttons do, what these button combos do, what they do when you long press and what happens when the device is activated.
Software and battery life
These things are meant to handle extreme conditions, but also certain types of conditions. For example, a Snapdragon 660 chipset, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of eMMC storage doesn’t sound very premium, but most people who use the Toughbook A3 will only run one or two applications. That’s why Panasonic’s focus is elsewhere, on things like incredible connectivity, display and audio, and more.
That connectivity includes 4G LTE, which is certified for AT&T, Verizon, and FirstNet. If you’re not familiar with FirstNet, that’s the LTE band reserved for first responders, so they don’t have to worry about a congested network in an emergency. Oddly enough, I couldn’t use my Google Fi SIM on it. Panasonic never promised Fi support, of course, but it’s only the first time I’ve seen something from the T-Mobile network that doesn’t work on an unlocked device.
Panasonic also includes a selection of apps to use with the A3. For example, UserButtonManager is the one I mentioned earlier that allows you to customize buttons. That app also allows you to customize what happens when you wake up the device, so you can, for example, load a kiosk app. There are also applications for hardware diagnostics, device management and a barcode reader.
There’s an app called StylusNote, which is exactly what it sounds like, and there’s an app to sign documents.
There is also a quick setup app, which will allow you to set up a wide range of Panasonic Toughbooks in no time. You can grab them and use NFC or scan a QR code to set up the new devices.
Speaking of setting up the new Toughbook A3 units, if you have a problem, like one breaks, Panasonic ships a new one as soon as it receives the report. The new unit is preconfigured, so it is ready to go as soon as it is placed in the user’s hands.
The battery life is also fantastic. Panasonic promises up to nine hours on both batteries, and I found that it got those numbers easily. I guess this is while connected to cell phone and doing some active tasks. Of course, if you’re using this in the field, you may have extra batteries, as one of the key features of this tablet is the ability to hot swap batteries.
Panasonic also has a battery replacement program, in case your company doesn’t know how many additional batteries to order. It detects the state of the battery and, if it fails soon, the company will send a new one immediately.
Another thing worth noting is that it runs Android 9 Pie. Yes, for most, this seems like a strange choice, but the idea is not to create fragmentation in any business that uses Android tablets. Panasonic says it has a plan to upgrade to Android 10 when a customer wants it.
Also, I didn’t run benchmarks on the Toughbook A3. This really isn’t that type of device, as the mid-range specs should indicate.
I really love the Panasonic Toughbooks. As I’ve said a few times, it seems like they can do anything. They are expandable, have cellular connectivity, and more. With 4G LTE, a super bright screen, and powerful audio, I feel like the Toughbook A3 can be used anywhere.
The biggest problem is probably the price, as this starts at $ 2,699. Of course, and my problem with the version of the operating system, is by design. While the A3 has midrange specs, it is not a midrange device. It’s a rugged tablet with stylus holder, dual SIM 4G LTE connectivity, dual hot-swappable batteries, an 800 nit display, and 94dBA audio
You’ll also notice that in many of these photos, the Toughbook A3 is wet. Yes, I took the photos on a rainy day on purpose, because with a device like this, why not? It can handle almost anything, almost anywhere.
To pick up an A3 Toughbook, you will need to contact your Panasonic sales representative.
Gallery: Panasonic Toughbook A3 review
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