The Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1 is an ultraportable laptop/convertible tablet PC capable of withstanding hard knocks and spilt drinks. Updated, 10 May 2011

You wouldn’t buy a ToughBook for its looks, but this rugged ultraportable laptop is ideal for use in outdoor situations, where it should withstand all manner of bashes, drops and scrapes. And so you’d hope so, given that it costs a staggering £1,758 inc VAT. 

Unlike the other laptops in our group test, the Panasonic CF-C1’s 12.1in (1280x800-pixel) screen is able to revolve and fold back atop the keyboard to form a sturdy-feeling tablet. In this mode, input is via the firm press of a stylus. Provided that you’re right-handed, a rubber grip on the rear makes the laptop easier to grasp.

This matt display is perfect for use in the great outdoors and in direct sunlight, although a dedicated button for adjusting brightness is accessible in both laptop and tablet modes.

Despite its small screen, the 1.69kg Panasonic ToughBook sits at the heavier end of our ultraportables group test. It’s portable at 299x226x44mm, if somewhat thicker than the competition.

Plenty of grunt is available from the 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-520M processor. Combined with 2GB of DDR3 RAM, the Lenovo was able to record a very respectable 104-point score in WorldBench 6. It uses integrated graphics, however, and scored just 24fps in our Fear test.

The 250GB hard-drive capacity is on the low side, and only half that supplied by the Asus U36J. It is, however, significantly more capacious than the 128GB SSDs supplied by Apple for its MacBook Air and Samsung for its NP900X3A.

Connectivity options include a VGA output but no HDMI, two USB 2.0 ports but no USB 3.0, 802.11b/g/n wireless, gigabit ethernet and Bluetooth 2.1. An SD card reader is built in.

The keyboard is disappointing. Panasonic has tried to squeeze in as many keys as possible, resulting in small Backspace, Tab and Return keys - even the spacebar is tiny. The Del button is also oddly positioned next to the left arrow key. Outside in the cold with shivering hands, you could find fast, accurate typing difficult.

What really impressed us about the ToughBook was its longevity - its 10-hour battery life is comfortably the best in the category. Interestingly, Panasonic uses two 43Wh removable batteries, allowing you to swap in a fresh one on the go to extend runtime.

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1 is a ruggedised, convertible tablet PC capable of withstanding hard knocks and spilt drinks alike. What follows is our original review of the Toughbook CF-C1, by PC World Australia's Elia Plastiras, from 19 April 2011.

The 12.1in, semi-rugged Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1 is designed to withstand vibration, drops (up to 76cm) and accidental spills. It doesn't look pretty, nor does it feel great to use, but it's very useful. Its touchscreen allows you to use the notebook as a tablet PC, and there is even a handy strap on the underside of the notebook so that can carry it easily in one hand like you would a clipboard, for example.

At 1.5kg, the Toughbook CF-C1 is a deceptively light notebook that's not quite as rugged as previous Toughbooks we've seen (such as the CF-19MK3). Instead it's designed to be tough, yet still resemble a normal convertible tablet PC. It's good for all sorts of business users and field workers who want something sturdy for on-site work as well as old-fashioned office tasks.

The Toughbook runs a first generation Intel Core i5-520M CPU, which has a frequency of 2.4GHz, two cores and Hyper-Threading. It's joined by 2GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 250GB, 5400rpm hard drive and integrated Intel HD graphics. It comes pre-installed with the 32bit version of Windows 7 Professional.

It's not a powerful configuration by any means, but it supplies enough grunt to get through most office and web applications with ease; you can even use it for tougher tasks such as editing and encoding media files (although you might want to increase the RAM in that case). It recorded 55sec in our Blender test and 1min in our iTunes test, while in 3DMark06 it recorded 1335. These results are standard for a laptop with a 2.4GHz Core i5 and integrated Intel HD graphics.

The Panasonic's hard drive is a 250GB model with a 5400rpm spin speed and it recorded a transfer rate of 22.31 megabytes per second in our tests, which is sluggish. Panasonic has gone for more capacity and a lower price by installing a mechanical drive, but an SSD would make this laptop even more immune to data loss, and would make the system quicker as well.

We dropped the Toughbook CF-C1 numerous times from close to its rated 76cm height while it was operating and the system continued to run without any problems. The hard drive is mounted in a cage that has soft pads either side. (See Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1: Rugged credentials, next page, for full drop testing analysis.)

Tablet Advisor

Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1 hard drive cage

The hard drive cage. There is padding along the sides

The Toughbook CF-C1's 4-cell, 43Wh battery lasted 2hr 25min in our tests, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. You can get more life out of it by enabling one of the many Panasonic profiles that are present, or you could create your own. Either way, only two and half hours isn't a great result and you might want to consider the optional second battery if you'll be using the laptop regularly while in the field.

Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1 battery

The Toughbook's small and light battery. Up to two batteries can be installed in the chassis

Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1: Design

The design of the notebook section of the CF-C1 is a little different to the norm: it's made of magnesium, has a circular touchpad, and it has three cartridge-like bays with quick-release mechanisms on its spine. The bay on the left is for the hard drive, while the middle and right bays are for the batteries. One battery is installed by default in the right bay, while the middle bay has a weight saver.

We like this bay design as it gives the Toughbook good versatility (you can easily switch between configurations that give you more battery life or a lower weight - the batteries are hot-swappable), and maintenance is relatively easy should you ever have to replace the hard drive. Another aspect of the design that's positive is the screen mounting. Unlike many tablet-convertible PCs that are held by a central pin that takes care of both tilting and rotating, therefore requiring a strong and sometimes bulky mechanism, the Toughbook's screen has separate mechanisms for tilting and rotating.

A horizontal bar is attached to the spine of the chassis, and this takes care of the tilting motion (and can lock the screen at 90 degrees); meanwhile, a hinge in the centre of this bar allows the screen to be rotated and laid flat on the keyboard for when you want to use it as a tablet. There are two locking points on either side, so the screen can't accidentally rotate on its own. The screen only rotates one way.

Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1: Screen

In tablet mode, the Toughbook's screen was accurate and responsive. It's a dual-digitiser screen (like the screen in the Fujitsu TH700), which means you can use your fingers or a the supplied pen (which sits neatly hidden in the chassis when you are in normal laptop mode). It claims to also be a multitouch screen, but we could not get any regular gestures to work (pinching, for example). The screen recognised taps everywhere, including at its extreme edges. We found it easy to write on this tablet for the most part, and Windows 7's handwriting recognition had a high rate of accuracy when deciphering our cursive writing - it could correctly identify some words that we couldn't even read ourselves after messily jotting them down.

For design applications, the dual-digitiser screen can be problematic. In Google SketchUp, resting a palm on the screen while drawing almost always moved the cursor and we could only use the program effectively without resting a palm on the screen. We got around this by switching the input to to pen-only mode.

The screen's overall quality isn't good for graphics tasks, mainly because it gives off a lot of glare and just looks dull overall. Its viewing angles are not great and the screen can look muddy or too pale depending on which orientation you are using in tablet mode, but unless you are looking at photos, it shouldn't pose too many problems. The screen won't automatically change orientation in tablet mode - you'll have to press the rotate button on the bezel to rotate the screen manually. Other buttons on the bezel include brightness, on-screen keyboard, lock and user (which brings up a dashboard of settings). The buttons also have a backlight that can be switched on via the dashboard settings. We think that's a nice touch.

We're not fans of the Toughbook's keyboard, which we found too cramped, and we couldn't get comfortable with the layout of some of the keys (such as the Delete key not being in the top-right corner). The touchpad also takes some getting used to because it's circular. We're not sure why it's circular, but we're guessing it may add strength to the design. One good thing about the circular touchpad is that you can use a circular gesture all the way around the pad to scroll up and down long documents.

When you use the Toughbook on your lap for long periods of time, it will only get slightly warm on its left side, but it nevertheless may be a little uncomfortable. An air vent is present on the lest side of the chassis and it has a fan that spins constantly. The faster it spins, the more of a wheezing sound the laptop makes as the vent holes are quite small. Something that will definitely be uncomfortable when you use the Toughbook on your lap is the set of legs at the rear of the notebook, which will dig into your thighs. These legs are there to give the hand grip clearance when then notebook is placed on a desk.

Around the edges, you get three USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit ethernet, a 56Kbps modem, microphone and headphone ports, an SD card slot, a VGA port and a PC Card (Type II) expansion slot. You also get dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, a webcam and TPM 1.2. A screen-mounted fingerprint reader is optional. It also has a facility for a docking station.

Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1: Rugged credentials

Our colleagues at PC World Australia tested the Toughbook's rugged credentials by dropping it from the height of a typical office table. The screen bore the brunt of the fall, but it survived. They also tried pouring water on the Toughbook CF-C1 to see how well it resisted liquid damage. The laptop has drainage points, but it seemed like most of the water just flowed over the palm rest. We did pour a lot of water, though, and also held it at a slight angle. It survived.

Visit PC World Australia to see videos of the rugged testing.

We do like the idea of the semi-rugged touchscreen laptop, and the Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1 certainly has merit. In an ideal world, however, we'd bolster the configurations somewhat: we'd give it 4GB of RAM and an SSD instead of a mechanical hard drive, and we'd add a few modcons such USB 3.0 and HDMI.

Panasonic Toughbook CF-C1: Specs

  • 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-520M processor
  • Windows 7 Professional 32bit
  • 2GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • 250GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive
  • 12.1in (1280x800) LCD dual-digitiser touchscreen
  • Intel GMA HD graphics with 765MB graphics memory
  • Bluetooth
  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • VGA
  • mic
  • 56Kbps modem
  • SD card slot
  • PC Card (Type II) slot
  • four-cell, 43Wh rechargeable battery
  • tested battery life 145 mins
  • webcam
  • 299x226x44mm
  • 1.69kg
  • 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-520M processor
  • Windows 7 Professional 32bit
  • 2GB DDR3 SDRAM
  • 250GB 5400rpm SATA hard drive
  • 12.1in (1280x800) LCD dual-digitiser touchscreen
  • Intel GMA HD graphics with 765MB graphics memory
  • Bluetooth
  • 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • 3 x USB 2.0
  • VGA
  • mic
  • 56Kbps modem
  • SD card slot
  • PC Card (Type II) slot
  • four-cell, 43Wh rechargeable battery
  • tested battery life 145 mins
  • webcam
  • 299x226x44mm
  • 1.69kg

OUR VERDICT

If rugged is what you need, then this is the business – but be prepared to pay the higher price. However, if you need something super slim, or that'll forgive you for being a poor typist, then avoid the ToughBook. As an alternative, you can also use it as a tablet with stylus input.

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