Panasonic Toughbook 55 MK2 review: The ultimate semi-rugged laptop gets even better for 2021

Panasonic has updated its groundbreaking 2019 Toughbook FZ-55 semi-rugged laptop with Intel 11th Gen, Wi-Fi 6, and Thunderbolt 4, making it ready for Windows 11 and more.

Panasonic Toughbook 55 Mk2
(Image: © Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

When it comes to professional-level rugged and semi-rugged PCs, no one does it better than Panasonic. The company is going on its 25th year of being the No. 1 seller of laptops for military, government, industry, police, and utility, and for a good reason — they're the best.

Introduced in 2019, the Toughbook 55 (FZ-55) is one of Panasonic's most popular offerings. It's a 14-inch laptop with three modular bays, 4G LTE, and a touchscreen with pen support. The new MK2 model keeps the overall design but refreshes the internals jumping from Intel 8th Gen to Intel 11th Gen along with all the other improvements that come along with it.

Here's why the Toughbook 55 is still the best semi-rugged laptop on the market.

Panasonic Toughbook 55 MK2: Price and availability

Panasonic Toughbook 55 Mk2 Mountain

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

The refreshed Panasonic Toughbook 55 MK2 is now available direct through Panasonic and associated resellers like MooringTech and GovDirect. It replaces the original 2019 Toughbook 55 (MK1), although all the existing accessories, mounts, chargers, and batteries are fully compatible between the two.

Pricing begins around $2,000 depending on volume purchases and configuration choices. The Toughbook 55 can be configured with various processors, optional 4G, dedicated GPS, touch or non-touch display, RAM (16GB to 32GB), and storage (up to 2TB).

Special orders can be made for Toughbook 55s with no cameras and no wireless connectivity (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) for security concerns.

Panasonic Toughbook 55 MK2: What you'll like

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

The Panasonic Toughbook 55 MK2 is classified as a semi-rugged laptop. The new MK2 model effectively makes it an excellent consumer Ultrabook but built for professional field use. The target audience is police, fire, EMT, military, government, and utility, although anyone can buy one for personal use.

Being semi-rugged means being MIL-STD 810H compliant for short drops (3 feet), salt fog, temperature shock, etc., and being IP53 certified. IP53 means the Toughbook 55 is "dust and splash-proof," primarily because the ports (ingresses) have covers. The keyboard is also spill-resistant, the display is recessed for impact protection, and the chassis is a rugged magnesium alloy.

While the MK2 version is identical to the 2019 MK1 model externally, the hardware has been refreshed to make it faster and better than before (it's also better suited for the optional Windows 11 upgrade).

Here's what's new for 2021:

  • 11th Gen i5 and i7 vPro CPUs (up from 8th Gen)
  • Intel Iris Xe graphics (up from UHD)
  • 512GB to 2TB NVMe SSD (doubled max size, faster read/write)
  • 16GB to 32GB DDR4 3200MHz RAM (doubled std size, 1.5x faster)
  • Wi-Fi 6 (up from Wi-Fi 5)
  • Bluetooth 5.1 (up from BT 5.0)
  • Thunderbolt 4 (up from Type-C 3.1)
  • USB-A 10Gbps (up from 5Gbps)

Specifications for the Toughbook 55 MK2 make it on par with modern laptops in 2021:

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CategoryPanasonic Toughbook 55 MK2
Operating systemWindows 10 Pro
Display14-inch, 16:9, IPS
HD (1366x768) Non-touch or Full HD (1920x1080) Touch
Anti-reflective and anti-glare
Day/Night Mode
Up to 1,000 nits
ProcessorIntel Core i5-1145G7 vPro (4.4GHz)
Intel Core i7-1185G7 vPro (4.8GHz)
GraphicsIntel Iris Xe
Memory16GB or 32GB DDR4 3200
User-upgradeable to 64GB (2 DIMMs)
Storage512GB, 1TB, or 2TB Quick-release OPAL NVMe SSD with heater
Front camera1080p with privacy shutter
Tetra-array mic
SecurityInfrared with Windows Hello
Secured-core PC
TPM 2.0
NEST BIOS compliant
Kensington cable lock (x2)
Optional SmartCard reader (xPAK)
Optional contactless SmartCard reader (xPAK)
Optional fingerprint reader (xPAK)
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6
Bluetooth 5.1
Optional 4G LTE-A (FirstNet)
Dual-SIM (Nano, eSIM)
CBRS Band 48 compatible
Optional dedicated GPS (u-blox NEO M8N)
PortsUSB-C Thunderbolt 4
USB-A x2 (10Gbps, 5Gbps)
HDMI 2.0
Ethernet RJ-45
Optional: USB-A, Fischer USB, VGA, 2nd Ethernet, Serial D-sub 9-pin
Audio92db speakers (top deck)
Battery6300mAh (optional x2)
Up to 19 (38 hours x2)
Hot swap with optional 2nd battery
Water resistanceIP53
Dimensions10.7 x 13.6 x 1.3 inches
Weight4.6 pounds (HD model), 4.9 pounds (Touch FHD model)

Thanks to the latest Intel 11th Gen processors, improved SSD, faster RAM, and Iris Xe graphics, Toughbook 55 does well in our benchmarks. Panasonic's thermal solutions are pretty basic compared to prosumer laptops. Hence, performance is not at the top, but it is markedly improved from the previous MK1 model with 8th Gen Intel and much slower internal storage. As an example, the SSD jumps from a measly 500+MB/s to over 2,300MB/s for sequential read.

Battery life is outstanding. With both battery packs enabled, the Toughbook 55 blows past 20 hours of usage easily and can likely go past 25 hours, especially when leaving it in night mode. Since the battery packs can be hot-swapped, this laptop could go for days. Toss in a 100W or 120W solar charger, and you could use this laptop indefinitely in the field.

Panasonic is unmatched in this field, and the Toughbook 55 shows why.

Opening the Toughbook 55 MK2, you are greeted with a 14-inch IPS display. Our review unit features the Full HD screen with touch support, which works while wearing gloves, and includes a siloed stylus. Users can choose between the four touch modes (inking only, touch and inking, touch, or touch with gloves).

While not a color-accurate display (63% sRGB, 47% DCI-P3), the Toughbook 55 MK2 is not aimed at graphics professionals or those who do professional media editing. The screen is uncalibrated, which is not unexpected. However, it does hit over 900 nits of brightness, which, when combined with the matte and anti-reflective properties, makes it very viewable outdoors (there is also a sensor to auto-adjust brightness).

Like other Toughbooks, the Toughbook 55 MK2 has a day/night mode where users can set the display to orange, green, red, blue reduced, or grayscale. Likewise, the keyboard backlight can also be set to white, red, blue, or green. The screen can also drop down to just 0.6 nits of brightness (the lowest I have ever seen), which makes this laptop excellent for night work or while wearing night goggles.

The spill-resistant keyboard is replaceable and very enjoyable to type on even compared to prosumer laptops. The keys are spread out enough that you can type while wearing gloves.