Enterprise Mobility & the Connected Worker Blog

Lighter & Mightier: New Rugged Devices on Opposite Ends of the Spectrum Released by Zebra Technologies & Panasonic

by Emily Gove and Rowan Litter 6/9/2022

Two new rugged device lines have recently been announced, which have promising features designed to improve usability and durability for their respective markets. Zebra Technologies has announced the release of two new members of its TC5X Series of mobile computers (TC53 and TC58), while Panasonic is launching its new TOUGHBOOK 40 laptop. With the TC5X devices offering optimized screen size and enhanced dimensioning capabilities, and the TOUGHBOOK 40 exceeding durability standards of past devices, these new products will collectively cater to a wide range of user needs.

Zebra TC53 & TC58
New products in Zebra’s TC5X series have been designed to meet the evolving needs of enterprises and frontline workers, as they seek to perform more work with fewer people and resources. On top of capabilities shared with earlier TC5X devices, the new products have a faster Qualcomm processor, CBRS connectivity, bigger and brighter screen, green laser for outdoor scanning and measuring, battery hot swap capacity, advanced range scanning, and heightened depth perception. With a changing labor landscape demanding that frontline and warehouse workers perform more tasks, the new TC5X products will make workers more visible and eliminate the need for docking into stationary systems or larger devices. Key functions include mobile-driven point-of-sale, mobile workstation functionality for training and customer service, order fulfillment functionality, and barcode scanning. Zebra also introduces one-touch parcel dimensioning capabilities to the TC5X series, a first in the industry that is likely to set it apart from competitors.

The TC5X series offers a change to the industry norm, both in screen size and measurement capacity. In a mobile computer market where 4-5 inch screens tend to be more common, the TC53 and TC58 will feature a 6 inch screen. The larger screen size is designed to give frontline workers a range of larger device features without the need to connect to a docking station. The new devices also offer new Zebra Dimensioning™ capabilities. Zebra Dimensioning™, officially certified as legal for trade by the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, enables users to measure and verify package sizes with a single touch. When used at both shipping and delivery points, this new feature has the potential to minimize billing disputes, sizing issues, and damages. This new tool eliminates the manual entry of package dimensions, shifting the measurement process to closely resemble the scanning of a barcode. Shippers are also able to enter box sizes as items within the software, so that a quick scan will identify a set product. Zebra Dimensioning ™ offers an edge to the TC5X series, making it appeal to enterprises in retail and warehouse management (TC53), as well as transportation and field mobility (TC58).

A surprising area of growth for mobile handhelds has been in the area of screen size. Whether users will gravitate toward larger mobile handhelds and shift away from the 4-5 inch size that has been popular in the sector remains to be seen. These new products may signal an inflection point for mobile handhelds and larger devices within the rugged category, and cross-category distinctions may blur as the screen size of new handhelds changes.

Panasonic Toughbook 40
On May 24, Panasonic announced the launch of the much anticipated TOUGHBOOK 40. This fully-rugged notebook computer fills a gap in Panasonic’s rugged mobile computing portfolio that has been present since the discontinuation of the company’s last fully-rugged notebook computer, the TOUGHBOOK 31. The development of the TOUGHBOOK 40 was fueled by customer feedback and includes new features and technologies that address the mission-critical and harsh environments of the utility, public safety, and federal/military sectors. This 14” FHD touchscreen display laptop is larger, but lighter than the TOUGHBOOK 31, with increased battery life (36 hours) and audio power (95db speakers) for workers operating in the field and with lots of background noise. There are also more I/O boards, authentication options and modular configurations available to customers with strict requirements, such as the military. As demand for better connectivity increases across enterprise devices, the TOUGHBOOK 40 serves with options for Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1, as well as the choice of a 4G LTE/LTE-A modem or the option to future-proof with a 5G-modem when a 5G-enabled version of the device releases later this year. Both these cellular options support FirstNet (band 14) and CBRS Private LTE (band 48) for enterprises operating on their own private network. The rugged certifications include 6’ Drop, MIL-STD-810H, MIL-STD-461H, C1D2, IP66, making the TOUGHBOOK 40 Panasonic’s most rugged mobile device ever available.

Before the release of the TOUGHBOOK 40, Panasonic customers were reliant on the semi-rugged TOUGHBOOK 55 for a rugged laptop option. For many enterprises, the 55 was not durable enough to handle the harsh environments typically common in field service, public safety and the military. An alternative was the TOUGBOOK 33 2-in-1 detachable notebook, which had the benefit of being a fully-rugged device, but with a smaller display and a detachable keyboard option, which may not have been practical for customers in need of purely a laptop functionality; in some instances, customers would screw the display and keyboard of the 33 together, eliminating the detachable functionality. Now the TOUGHBOOK 40 combines the laptop/display benefits of the 55 and the fully-ruggedness of the 33 along with the most advanced specifications on the market for mission-critical computing needs. Unfortunately for customers, the TOUGHBOOK 40 will require new docking stations and accessory equipment with no backwards-compatibility with older models. Ultimately, the TOUGHBOOK 40 is poised to bring Panasonic success in an increasingly competitive rugged notebook computers market.

The companies mentioned above were featured in VDC Research’s reports, 2021 Rugged Handheld Computers and Smartphones and 2021 Rugged Notebooks. For more information or interest in custom research services, please email info@vdcresearch.com.