Panasonic Toughbook CF-W7 review
A good mix of strength, low weight and high battery life, although ergonomics and value suffer in the process.
You'd expect a rugged laptop to be heavier than a standard one, but the Toughbook W series manages to be both small and light. Forming part of the Panasonic's semi-ruggedised range, they're more suited to business use than the almost indestructible units designed for vertical markets.
At 1.4kg, it weighs only slightly more than the ultra-svelte Sony VAIO VGN-TZ12VN/X (web ID: 122226), and at 270 x 215 x 54mm, its footprint is much the same, albeit twice as thick. There's little luxury on offer here, though, as the W7's chassis is finished in metallic silver that, while industrial in strength, looks and feels very plasticky. The chunky hinges and colossally thick screen make a real statement about the relative importance of function and form.
But the result is a laptop that Panasonic claims will survive a drop of 76cm on to concrete even when open, which would almost certainly put an end to a standard laptop, as well as resist water spillages on the keyboard. Part of this stems from some clever engineering, including components behind crumple zones and using a floating mechanism to isolate the motherboard and hard disks from impact stress. But there are also physical measures in place, such as the reinforced gap of more than a centimetre between the lid and the rear of the screen - a knock on the train won't get close to damaging it.
The screen has a 12.1in diagonal and is one of the few panels still clinging to the old-style 4:3 aspect ratio. The resolution is a rather modest 1,024 x 768 pixels, but there's sufficient brightness and clarity for use in the office and outside; that said, the screen isn't transflective, so will suffer in direct sunlight. A widescreen is of limited appeal in a laptop of this size anyway, since you'll only realistically fit in a single document page. Only those viewing large spreadsheets or after-hours DVDs will find issue with it.
The keyboard is also on the small side. It's reasonable in terms of travel and comfort, but many of the keys are miniaturised, so we wouldn't want to habitually use it for long periods. The touchpad is similarly tiny and suffers slightly from being offset to the left. It's also round - a peculiar design feature that takes some getting used to. Around the trackpad are various indicator LEDs and similarly curved mouse buttons. Locating these successfully is made even more difficult by their lack of travel.
Underneath a flap on the right palmrest, you'll find a custom-manufactured DVD writer (one of Panasonic's own). It's a nifty way of fitting an optical drive into the bespoke chassis, and there aren't many notebooks (ruggedised or not) that manage to cram one into a sub-1.5kg package. It writes to all the CD and DVD optical formats, including DVD-RAM.
When it comes to battery life, the W7 managed an impressive 7hrs 30mins in our light-use tests, and three hours in our heavy-use tests. That's partly thanks to the small screen, but even more so to the modest core specification. With an ultra-low-voltage Core 2 Duo U7500 processor running at 1.06GHz and 1GB of RAM on board, it's little wonder the W7 scored an unexceptional 0.48 in our benchmarks. However, this won't be an issue when plodding through office tasks or web browsing and, even though Windows Vista comes preinstalled (rather than the less demanding XP), everything ran smoothly until we started loading several applications at once.