Review Panasonic has been making notebooks for a long time, but you may not have come across the Toughbook brand before. The reason for this is that Toughbooks tend to attract a buyer who is more concerned with durability than design and performance. To get an idea of who the Toughbooks appeal to, next time you see a BT engineer working on a junction box in the street, take a look over his shoulder. It's a near certainty that he'll be working on a Toughbook, writes Riyad Emeran.
As the name suggests, Toughbooks are built to be, well, a bit tougher than your average notebook. In fact, the fully rugged units sported by field engineers are built to withstand impact, water, dust and just about any other environmental hazard that mobile computers might be subjected to. But not everyone wants to carry around a large, heavy, metal and rubber clad notebook, no matter how strong it might be. With this in mind, Panasonic created semi-rugged Toughbooks.
The semi-rugged Toughbook may not be impervious to water, or be able to withstand a car rolling over it, but it does give the user a bit of extra peace of mind without being too oversized or heavy. The CF-51 is Panasonic's latest semi-rugged notebook and at first glance it doesn't look too different from any other notebook. OK, so it's a little larger than most, and weighs more than some, but on the whole it just looks like a notebook.
But it's what's beneath the skin that sets the CF-51 apart. To start with both the base and lid are reinforced with magnesium alloy to protect the screen and internal components. This allows Panasonic to guarantee that the CF-51 can withstand a drop from a height of 30cm. That might not sound like much, but on the occasion when you drop an expensive piece of kit, you'll notice that it seems to take an eternity before it hits the ground, probably never to work again - quite simply, any kind of shock protection is a good thing.
Of course, for a notebook to remain operational after being dropped, the hard disk needs to be protected. To facilitate this, the hard disk in the CF-51 is cocooned in an impact and vibration absorbent enclosure - it's also easily removable in case you're very paranoid about losing your data. In fact, pretty much everything is modular in the CF-51 - push a little switch and the hard disk caddy slides right out of the front, push another one and the battery will slide out, while the optical drive will slip free from the chassis with similar ease. So, no need to get out the screwdriver for this machine then. Well, unless you want to add memory to the free SO-DIMM slot.
Despite being a rugged notebook, the CF-51 looks good. The magnesium alloy lid looks good and the single Panasonic logo suits the minimalist styling. Apart from the matt silver lid, the rest of the notebook is finished in black - not particularly inspiring, but not offensive either. Lifting the lid reveals a fairly standard keyboard and touchpad layout. The keyboard is a bit of a mixed bag - most of the keys are a decent size, but bizarrely the Return key is tiny. I always find it strange when a manufacturer decides to reduce the size of the Return key, since you really don't want to be missing it when you're typing at full speed. Likewise, the Backspace key has also been reduced - another often used key that's been made harder to strike. On the plus side, the cursor keys are set apart from the rest of the keyboard, and the Ctrl key is in at the bottom left, right where it should be.