Toughbook Keyboards: Demystified

Posted by Austin Potter, Bob Johnson on 10th Nov 2015

Date Last Modified 9/5/2023

If you're learning about Toughbook computers, you might need help understanding the differences between the various keyboard options available. You might ask yourself, "Which one's the best?" or "Why should I care?" To answer these questions, consider where and how you’ll use your Toughbook.

Panasonic's Toughbooks have three keyboard options, each specifically suited for specific applications. These three options are a backlit chiclet, a rubberized backlit, and the standard keyboard. The three keyboard options aren't necessarily "good, better, or best" but rather address function and comfort in how you plan to use your Toughbook. Swapping keyboards is also made quick and easy if you need to upgrade your keyboard after reading this post. We have produced numerous videos illustrating changing the keyboard on different Toughbooks.

Standard Keyboard

The default or “standard” keyboard option is what typically comes standard on most Toughbooks. It provides a similar feel for those used to typing on traditional consumer laptops. It should meet all your needs if you use your durable laptop in a dry setting during the day. Most fully rugged and semi-rugged Toughbooks like the CF-31 and CF-54 will come standard with this keyboard style. The CF-19 also includes a standard keyboard, but it is much smaller. The standard keyboard has large mechanical keys, is easy to use, and while it doesn’t come with all of the additional features the other two keyboards include, it still makes a solid keyboard for those who don’t need all the extra bells and whistles.

Several different styles of Toughbook keyboards

If you plan on using your Toughbook outside during nighttime hours or in any other low-light situation, then an emissive backlit keyboard would be the ideal choice. The backlit chiclet keyboard is also the most comfortable and responsive for typing. This keyboard's feel is similar to the latest consumer laptops made by Lenovo, Dell, and Hewlett Packard. The Backlit chiclet keyboard is the keyboard of choice for most applications. The benefits of this keyboard include its highly responsive keys and its proficiency in the darkness. Since this keyboard is fully rugged, most laptops that meet that standard will include this type.

Some potential uses for this keyboard are:

  • Working in the dark: An emissive backlit keyboard will allow you to see the keys clearly if you are working in a dark room or at night. Notably, police officers working the night shift will find this particularly helpful.
  • Using a laptop outdoors: If you are using your laptop outdoors during the day, an emissive backlit keyboard will allow you to see the keys even in bright sunlight.
  • People with poor vision: People who commonly struggle to see the keys on a traditional keyboard in low-light conditions may find that the backlit chiclet keyboard is easier to see.

One of Panasonic's hybrid laptops, the CF-33, has two options for keyboards: a premium, and a lite version. The lite version has a red backlight with four brightness levels. The premium keyboard has the same red backlight but includes additional USB and power ports. These keyboards are exclusively compatible with the CF-33.

The latest rugged backlit keyboards are even RGB capable, allowing for a custom color palette of your choosing. The newer Toughbook FZ-55 and FZ-40 also includes that same type of RGB backlit keyboard as well as an optional fingerprint reader that is attached using a ribbon cable hidden under the palmrest. The newer Toughbook RGB keyboards are just as responsive as the CF-31 or CF-54 keyboards.

Backlit Rubberized Keyboard

The backlit rubberized keyboard is the best choice if you primarily use your Toughbook in a wet, grimy, or greasy environment. The backlit rubberized keyboard is by far the most rugged -- offering the best protection from grime and moisture. However, at times, toughness comes at the price of comfort. The rubberized keyboard is not suitable for extended typing sessions. However, it is perfect for minimal typing needs in harsh environments, thanks to its rubber design.

Some typical applications where a rubberized keyboard works the best would include:

  • Marine Navigation: Rubber keyboards are used in marine environments to withstand salt water and humidity.
  • Construction sites: Rubber keyboards are resistant to dirt and dust.
  • Power plants: Rubber keyboards are non-conductive, making them safe to use in areas with a risk of electrical shock.
  • Medical environments: Rubber keyboards are sanitized easily and are germ-resistant.
  • Food processing plants: Rubber keyboards are used in food processing plants to prevent the spread of bacteria.

Unfortunately, if you find yourself in need of a backlit rubberized keyboard, it only made its claim in select Toughbook models. The backlit rubber keyboard is compatible with the following models of Toughbooks:

  • CF-27
  • CF-28
  • CF-29
  • CF-30
  • CF-31
  • CF-18
  • CF-19
  • CF-52
  • CF-53
  • FZ-55
  • FZ-40

The backlit rubberized keyboard of the FZ-55 and the FZ-40 comes with an optional fingerprint reader as well.

External Fully Rugged Keyboards

The external fully rugged keyboard became popular with the introduction of fully ruggedized tablets like Panasonic's Toughpad FZ-G1 and Dell's Latitude 7212. Available with either a standard USB connection or Bluetooth-capable access. These keyboards come in all three versions: standard, backlit, and rubberized. Here is a demo video about adding this keyboard to the Toughpad FZ-G1.

Some typical uses for these keyboards include:

  • Industrial setting: A rubberized external keyboard can be permanently mounted with a tablet to operate machinery.
  • Vehicle Mounted tablets: An external chiclet keyboard with backlit keys can be permanently mounted with a tablet inside emergency vehicles.

In addition to the external keyboard and tablet combination, Toughpads can include a snap-on keyboard. This type of keyboard will convert the tablet into a hybrid laptop. The jump keyboard by ikey is considered a fully rugged keyboard and allows you to use your tablet like a laptop.

Two versions of the iKey keyboard, backlit and rubber

The Importance Of The Perfect Keyboard

All in all, the keyboard is the main input device on any computer. You spend most of your time typing on a laptop. That being said, you want the keyboard to be comfortable and enjoyable to type on. Think of it like a pair of shoes. What do you do if a pair of shoes is not comfortable enough for you? You end up swapping them out for a more comfortable pair. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple with a keyboard, but if you make the right choice when purchasing a laptop or external keyboard for a tablet, you will never face this issue.

If you are stuck on which keyboard would be best for your situation and environment, check out our selection assistance form. After you fill out this form, we can ensure you find the right rugged laptop or tablet for your workplace. We’ll even pair it with the perfect keyboard for you. Go to any of the videos on our YouTube channel, and you will see how enthusiastic Bob is about keyboards. We refer to him as “Keyboard Crazy.” If anyone is going to know the best keyboard for you, it will be Bob. Call our office at 877-202-7788 to get the proper assistance selecting a keyboard.

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