First Looks: Panasonic Toughbook CF-18

One Tough Book to Crack

One Tough Book to Crack

There is a laptop that is heavily trusted and used by the military, police force, fire department, field scientists, and people who work in harsh outdoor environments wanting a notebook that can withstand tons of beating and abuse: the Panasonic Toughbook. While the basic design of the Toughbook series has barely changed over the years, there really hasn't been a need for a radical design shift because the group of users for which the Toughbook targets is known to be particular about functionality and durability rather than industrial design. Now, with the new Toughbook CF-18, Panasonic looks to continue its core product principles for its Toughbook series.

Not for the Faint Hearted

Upon initial inspection, the Toughbook CF-18 looks undistinguished– looking like one of those hypermart “my first computer” for children. It's only upon closer scrutiny does the Toughbook CF-18 reveal its true character. Encased in a skin of magnesium alloy, the CF-18 should withstand day-to-day knocks without much fuss. Further proof of its ruggedness can be seen by the hardy latch that is similar to those found on toolboxes for securing the LCD screen firmly in place when moving about from places to places with the CF-18 in hand. Even the USB, power, communication, and audio/video connection ports are all protected with rubber covers while larger ports, battery, and drive compartments have separate covers that can be securely latched, thereby making the CF-18 resistant to water splashes.

Two for One

Although the CF-18 runs on Windows XP operating system, the CF-18 can be transformed into a tablet PC simply by rotating and folding the screen down against the keyboard. This ability to transform from a regular notebook to a tablet PC is very handy for mobile warriors where using a stylus or your fingers to drag and drop windows, tap icons, and even write down notes is clearly much more convenient than using a keyboard.

The stylus is tucked away in the bottom left corner of the screen and completely out of sight when its use is not required – finger inputs would do in most cases.

But if running a stylus or your fingers across the screen is still too far out for you, you'll be pleased to know that the Toughbook is every bit as easy to live with as any other humdrum notebook, despite its heavy-duty "armor". The combination of a moisture and dust-resistant LCD and keyboard in particular, allows for worry free handling and usage even amidst heavy rainfall or sandstorm.

Though it may appear clunky, the CF-18 only weighs 2.1 kilograms, and while its dimensions seem to suggest an LCD screen of at least 12-inch, it is in fact only fitted with a 10.4-inch display (due to the heavy padding around the screen), which may cause problems for people with poor eyesight. Thankfully, brightness of the screen can be easily adjusted by splash proof buttons installed at the front of the notebook, along with other buttons frequently used when the CF-18 is used in its tablet form. Granted the industries for which the CF-18 is targeting are mostly staffed by men, the small keys that form the keyboard can therefore be seen as a major ergonomic drawback that might require some getting used to - but even then, do not expect text input to be as comfortable and as fast as typing on your regular keyboard.

Final Thoughts

In all, the CF-18 was designed first for mobility and durability rather than outright raw processing power. By going the way of a Pentium M 753 ULV (Ultra Low Voltage) processor that's paired to an integrated graphics chip, the CF-18 is highly energy efficient, lasting close to five hours in our tests on a single charge. If by now you're interested in getting the Toughbook CF-18, you'll do well to know that procuring one is not as easy as walking in to your nearest notebook dealer.

Because the CF-18 is not meant for the masses and given it has a price tag ranging between USD$3,000 to USD$3,600, prospective buyers have no other choice other than to contact local Panasonic office for purchase enquiries – yes, it's expensive, but for people who cannot afford to lose precious data and documents while on the job, this Toughbook promises to be with you through all the good times and bad – literally.

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