Panasonic Toughbook CF-Y5 review
There are better-value alternatives, but the CF-Y5 is superbly built, very light and boasts an excellent keyboard.
Anyone who commutes to work with a laptop in their backpack will know the sense of foreboding that accompanies the sight of a packed train carriage - it can be the most dangerous time of day for your notebook. And while we've come to expect good things from Panasonic's range of fully ruggedised laptops like the CF-19, it's clear they're overkill for the office. But the CF-Y5 is only semi-ruggedised, with the aim of helping the laptop last longer than the average machine.
In spite of accommodating a 14.1in screen, the CF-Y5 weighs only 1.5kg, largely due to the chassis being made from light-but-strong magnesium - Panasonic claims it will survive drops of up to 30cm. This isn't a particularly impressive statistic, though, as 30cm is considerably lower than the average office desk. More reassuringly, the keyboard has a drainage system beneath it, so any liquid that falls between the keys is routed past the sensitive core components and drained on to your desk. We checked this with a cup of water - a hair-raising test for a £2,000 laptop - but the CF-Y5 soldiered on without skipping a beat. Panasonic also claims the system will survive up to 100kg of pressure when shut, so there's little problem shoehorning it into that full backpack, no matter how crowded the train. The screen is extremely well protected, and the 60GB hard disk is mounted on shock absorbers to protect it should the system get rudely yanked from a desk.
It all feels reassuringly solid, and using the CF-Y5 is a genuine pleasure. The keyboard is a particular highlight - it's solid with a good amount of feedback. The circular trackpad is less positive: it takes a little getting used to, and the accompanying mouse buttons are a little out of the way compared with most laptops.
The 14.1in screen is another fine touch, and the resolution is higher than we'd expect at 1,400 x 1,050. In practical terms, this means the Toughbook is excellent for CAD applications, besides making it far more practical for workers who tend to have dozens of windows open at once. It isn't perfect, though. The CF-Y5's vertical viewing angles are poor; they're even noticeable when square on to the panel. There's also a problem with uneven backlighting, with the bottom of the screen appearing much brighter than the top. Colours are otherwise accurate, but contrary to Panasonic's claims the CF-Y5 isn't routinely suitable for outdoor use, as some areas of the screen simply aren't bright enough.
But it's fine in more normal conditions, and there are plenty of other touches that make the CF-Y5 a perfect companion for anyone who spends as much time on the road as they do at a desk. The battery ran for 2hrs 26mins under intensive use, rising to an impressive 6hrs 33mins under light use. The DVD-RAM drive also pops open on the right-hand side of the wristpad, so you can insert discs from the top - an advantage if you're on a crowded train, and less liable to be damaged. And it's worth reiterating the weight here - even including the power supply, the CF-Y5 weighs just 2.2kg. The frequent traveller will also welcome the TPM 1.2 module for encryption duties, albeit without any biometrics to back it up.
The explanation for the Toughbook's excellent battery life lies with its low-power CPU. The Intel Core Duo L2400 has a lowly core speed of 1.66GHz, but in return it outputs only a maximum 15W of heat, which means the CF-Y5 doesn't need masses of cooling power either. Performance takes an inevitable hit. Panasonic hasn't yet made the leap to Vista, so the effect isn't as bad as it might be: in conjunction with a lowly 512MB of RAM it returned an application benchmark score of 0.78.