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Panasonic Toughbook

Panasonic Toughbook

By Tony Holte, PCI #0135/EMSCI #279
Saint Paul (MN) Police Department

Last year, I was given the opportunity to test out the Panasonic Toughbook U1 Ultra Handheld Computer.  I used it from March to May as a bike patrol officer in downtown St. Paul, MN, so I was able to experience using it in both moderate and colder temperatures.

This computer uses Windows as its operating system.  The Saint Paul Police Department also uses Windows-based programs for CAD, report writing, data collection, and CCTV.  Having a mobile computer that ran on the same system provided me with the seamless ability to interact, as if I were in a squad car.

Here is a run down of how the Toughbook U1 Ultra worked out for me:

Ruggedness – True to its name, this computer is a “Toughbook”.  There is nothing flimsy about it.  It has a rugged housing that allows for more than your basic bumps and dings.  I dropped it from about five feet onto a concrete floor and it didn’t skip a beat.  The accessory inputs all have doors on them to protect them from the elements.

Battery Life – This unit has two high-capacity batteries.  Carrying it in a bike bag all day was no problem.  I work an eight-hour shift, and the unit had a lot of life left at the end of my tour.

Keyboard – The individual buttons were easy to use, even while wearing full-fingered bike gloves.  It was much easier than trying to using a touch screen keyboard.

Digital Camera – The 2mp camera was useful for taking notes and keeping records of field interviews.  However, the picture quality is not sufficient for basic crime scene documenting, which would require at least an 8mp camera.

Barcode Reader – While I didn’t use it on this unit, this option is great to have.  To be able to input driver’s license and ID card info this way would be a lot faster and enable me to keep my eyes on my subject more.

Fingerprint Reader – This is another great piece of hardware that is perfect for a law enforcement application.  Prior to this computer I would have to use a separate piece of equipment that was dedicated to running unidentified people’s prints.

Display – The LED screen is capable of up to 6000 nit* in direct sunlight and can automatically adjust the screen brightness to the environment.  While the resolution was just fine, the overall size was too small for what I need to accomplish.  The programs that I used for report writing and CAD would only display about 1/3 of the total window on the screen.  I had to constantly scroll around the window be able to read or enter info on all of the fields. 

There is a definite need for bike patrol officers to have mobile computers.  In my opinion, a laptop or smart phone isn’t the answer.  The Panasonic Toughbook U1 Ultra is the closest thing that the market has to offer.  It can certainly withstand the abuse of being carried in a bike bag all day, going up and down stairs and being laid down during a tactical dismount.  The Windows operating system allows for seamless integration with existing systems (assuming your department runs on Windows).  All the extra features offered are law-enforcement friendly.  I would like to see a better camera on the unit and larger screen is a must-have.
For more information and to find a dealer, visit www.panasonic.com/toughbook.

*A nit is a unit of measurement for the brightness over one square meter of a display. This value takes into account the number of LEDs per pixel, pixel pitch and millicandelas.  It tells you how intense the display will be when viewing it directly.

Tony is a bike patrol officer on the downtown beat in Saint Paul.  He was certified as an IPMBA Instructor in 2007.  In 2008, Tony and the other members of his training cadre instructed more than 100 Bicycle Rapid Response Team Officers in anticipation of the Republican National Convention.  Tony focuses his teaching efforts on enhancing individual officers’ confidence, team-building, and officer safety.  He holds fast to the philosophy that “there is no more effective way to do police work than as a bike officer.”  He enjoys riding with his family when not riding at work.  He can be reached at tonyholte@gmail.com.

(c) 2013 IPMBA.  This review appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of IPMBA News

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