Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 review: The most badass 2-in-1 PC gets a welcomed refresh for 2021

The TOUGHBOOK 33 brings support for private LTE networks, Intel 10th Gen, and other improvements to the most uncompromising convertible PC ever.

Panasonic Toughbook 33 2021 Reversed
(Image: © Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Panasonic is synonymous with many things, including its nearly one-of-a-kind series of TOUGHBOOK laptops and tablets. Now going into its 25th year, Panasonic is refreshing the best-selling rugged device laptop, the TOUGHBOOK 33 (CF-33).

Just imagine Microsoft's Surface Book if it went to boot camp with the U.S. Marine Corps.

First introduced in 2017, the TOUGHBOOK 33 is an always-connected laptop that turns into a tablet with pen and inking support. It is also one of the craziest PCs I have ever used. While I find it fascinating, the TOUGHBOOK 33 is designed for the military, police, EMTs, fire, and anyone who works in the most extreme environments.

I have spent the last ten days using it and here is what you need to know about this nearly indestructible laptop.

Just the specs

Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 (2021): At a glance

Panasonic Toughbook 33 2021 case

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 is a rugged 2-in-1 tablet with optional keyboard attachments designed for harsh environments to be used by EMT, police, fire, and military use. We're using the optional Premium Keyboard for this review, although there is also a Light Keyboard.

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CategorySpec
OSWindows 10 Pro
ProcessorIntel Core i5-10310U vPRO (4.4GHz)
Intel Core i7-10810U vapor (4.9 GHz)
RAM16GB or 32GB (DDR4-2666MHz)
GraphicsIntel UHD
DurabilityMIL-STD-461F, MIL-STD-810G and IP65
Storage512GB or 1GB removable OPAL NVMe SSD
Display12.0-inch 3:2 QHD (2160 x 1440)
Up to 1,200 nits
Capacitive gloved multi-touch
Anti-reflective (AR) screen treatment
Concealed mode; Day/Night modes
PortsTablet: Type-A (1.5A), Type-C (10Gbps, PD), HDMI, RJ45, Audio
Keyboad: Docking, x3 USB-A, SDXC UHS-II, HDMI, VGA D-sub, RJ45, Serial USB
AudioDual-array mic
Dual 91db front-facing speakers
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6 AX201
Optional 4G LTE w/ sat GPS, CBRS Band 48, Band 14 EM7511, FirstNet
Optional dedicated GPS (u-blox NEO M8N)
Dual high-gain antenna pass-through
Bluetooth 5.1 (Class 1)
Camera2MP full HD front
8MP auto-focus with triple flash rear
KeyboardPremium Keyboard (emissive; rubber)
Light Keyboard (emissive)
TouchpadPressure-sensitive touchpad with multi-touch
SecurityWindows Hello IR
Optional fingerprint via Smartcard add-on
BatteryStandard: Li-Ion (1,990 mAh x2)
Long Life: Li-Ion (4,120 mAh x2)
Dimensions12.1" x 9.6" x 0.9" (12.3" x 11.4" x 1.8" with optional Premium Keyboard)
Weight3.4 lbs. (6.1 lbs. with optional Premium Keyboard)

TL;DR

Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 (2021): What's new

Panasonic Toughbook 33 2021 Snow

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

It has been four years since the last iteration of TOUGHBOOK 33, which makes sense as townships, governments, and private contractors who buy it deploy them for years at a time. For 2021, Panasonic is right at the sweet spot for refining old features and supporting new ones that this market segment demands.

Here is the short version of what's new for 2021:

Performance

  • Storage: 512GB NVMe SSD standard, up to 1TB supported
  • RAM: 16GB DDR4 standard; up to 32GB supported
  • Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1
  • 10th Gen Intel Core i5 and i7 with vPRO processors

Functionality

  • Louder speakers
  • Improved camera, Windows Hello IR
  • Brighter barcode reader
  • Revised advanced keyboard with brighter LEDs, more liquid resistant

Flexability

  • Band 48 CBRS supported
  • Dual SIM with eSIM
  • USB-C port
  • New pen and digitizer

Stat of the art security

Some of these features, like 10th Gen Intel with vPRO, are expected. The same applies to more RAM and improved storage options as customers requested those for productivity reasons. Panasonic is not using Intel 11th Gen because those vPRO processors are not due until later this spring and need further testing.

Support for Band 48 CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) is fascinating. It is effectively a private LTE network that governments or institutions can deploy, giving them all the LTE security without a public network's risks. Consumers won't see any value to it, but secure agencies will. Likewise, TOUGHBOOK 33 is the first all-rugged Windows 2-in-1 that now supports eSIM. While not widely used yet by U.S. carriers, it is expected to change in the coming years. Of course, there is standard nano-SIM hardware too.

Panasonic Toughbook 33 2021 Hero

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Features like louder speakers are needed since police, EMT, and first responders need to hear the audio in some boisterous environments, including burning buildings, highways, and places where sirens are likely roaring.

The pen and digitizer are also upgraded. The TOUGHBOOK 33 pen is siloed on the side of the tablet with a quick-release mechanism to pull it out (you won't lose it when siloed). The pen is now comparable to modern prosumer Ultrabooks with low latency and high accuracy.

So much stuff

Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 (2021): What I like

Panasonic Toughbook 33 2021 Snow

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The TOUGHBOOK 33 is so packed with features, ports, and abilities it is difficult to summarize. At its core, it is a super rugged Windows 10 tablet that meets MIL-STD-461F, MIL-STD-810G, and IP65 certification. Add on the Premium Keyboard, and it's now a fully rugged laptop. Flip the display around, and you now have an alternate way to interact with it.

The tablet (which can be purchased without the Premium Keyboard) has multiple ports for Type-A, Type-C (with Power Delivery), full HDMI, Ethernet, headphone, and AC power. There is also a full-sized siloed pen on the right with exceptionally good inking.

On the front of the TOUGHBOOK 33, there are multiple hardware buttons for easy interaction. Two buttons (A1, A2) are user assigned and can be used to launch Panasonic's settings or enable the barcode reader, for example. There are also dedicated buttons for volume, Start, orientation lock, and power. Next to those are LEDs for the status of both batteries. Users can lock the tablet portion to the keyboard, and managers can hardware lock them further so employees cannot separate the two.

Panasonic Toughbook 33 2021 Pen

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

On the rear of the TOUGHBOOK 33, the metal compartment can unlock and reveal the two hot-swappable batteries. Below the left one is the nano-SIM slot for LTE.

The screen is also terrific and more premium than I expected. It has a lovely 3:2 2160 x 1440 resolution that supports touch but also works while wearing gloves. It's sharp, crisp, and the colors look great. Because this tablet is used outdoors, brightness can shoot up to an astounding 1,200 nits (most laptops struggle past 400). The direct bonding ensures excellent viewing angles with no discernable layering.

Moving onto the Premium Keyboard, it has a Docking Connector (25-pin), three Type-A, SD card reader, another HDMI, VGA-D, Ethernet RJ-45, and a Serial USB D-sub 9 pin. All the ports on the tablet and keyboard are locked behind sliding doors for protection and water resistance.

When combined, the tablet and the keyboard and be locked together, so it does not flop open. A grab-handle deploys from the bottom, so you can just grab and go to your next assignment.

TOUGHBOOK 33 supports two cameras with a front-facing 2MP full HD one, and a solid 8MP rear shooter with autofocus and a triple LED flash. The front one now features a privacy shutter. Typically, I do not expect much from these devices for imaging, but these cameras are better than average and quite good. Windows Hello infrared (IR) worked flawlessly. A fingerprint reader can also be installed via an insertable SmartCard CAC.

The audio, via the dual front-facing speakers, is booming and better than expected. At a 75 percent volume setting, I registered a peak of 80+ dB, which is near that of a vacuum cleaner. These are good speakers that Panasonic claims can hit 91 dB at max volume.

Overall, the TOUGHBOOK 33 is a brutalist's dream design. And yet, it is not bigger or more complicated than it needs to be as everything is easy to figure out even without a manual.

Panasonic also uses some clever software. The display can switch to various colors for low-light/nighttime usage without straining your eyes. Choose green, red, orange, blue, or even greyscale. The feature works in conjunction with the brightness sensor so it can enable automatically.

Throw in things like Wi-Fi 6, 4G LTE, and literally a built-in handle to carry the TOUGHBOOK 33, and this convertible laptop can do it all. It will survive on a battlefield, the back of an ambulance, or your local police cruiser.