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Panasonic Toughbook CF-19 review

Verdict

A rough, tough laptop with serious attitude, but its keyboard proves an Achilles heel.

Review Date: 9 Apr 2009

Reviewed By: Jonathan Bray

Price when reviewed: £2,954 (£3,397 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

Panasonic's Toughbook laptops are a common sight at PC Pro, but it's usually in the shape of semi-rugged portables. The CF-19 is an altogether different animal. It's a beast of a laptop, aimed at use in extreme environments, from oil rigs to fishing trawlers.

It's certainly one of the most solid laptops we've ever picked up. And what it lacks in portability - though compact, at 2.25kg this is not the lightest laptop in the world - it makes up for in sheer resilience.

To say the chassis resists flex would be an understatement. Our usual manly efforts at twisting and prodding the CF-19's magnesium alloy case received short shrift and it was only when we stood on the lid that even the slightest movement was detected. Needless to say the laptop still functioned perfectly after its workout.

Every port is covered in either a rubber seal or latching and locking flap and each flap boasts a rubber gasket to prevent the ingress of water and dust. In fact, the CF-19 will stand up to a drop from 90cm, heavy rain showers and can be used in dusty or sandy conditions without complaint.

And these claims are as waterproof as the laptop is: the CF-19 is compliant with the military spec standard MIL-STD 810F for impact and vibration resistance and the IP54 standard for ingress protection. The first number in the latter rating is a score out of six for protection against dust and particles - it's "protected against dust limited ingress (no harmful deposit)" according to the technical definition; the second, meanwhile, is a score out of eight for protection against moisture, in this case the definition reads: "protection against water sprayed from all directions - limited ingress."

Either way, it stood up to all the abuse we dished out, from simple grappling through a drop from a metre onto solid ground to a glass of water being poured on the keyboard.

But the CF-19's talents don't end there. It's a tablet, so as well as being used in standard laptop configuration, you can unlock the screen, twist it around and lock it into place. A button on the front edge allows you to swap quickly between landscape and portrait screen modes, while a stylus tucked into the beefy screen bezel allows more accurate touchscreen operation than the poke of a podgy finger.

Other nice touches include an integrated strap on the spine, and a transflective screen, which means the CF-19 is just as easy to use outdoors as it is inside (its bright and surprisingly clear for a touchscreen); plus there are plenty of appropriate upgrade options, including GPS, fingerprint and smartcard readers, and an HSDPA modem.

Battery life is just as important as durability for a laptop designed to be used in the field, and here the CF-19 comes up trumps again. In our light use test our Windows XP-equipped review sample lasted a very impressive 8hrs 33mins - easily enough for a day at work in the great outdoors. Heavy multitasking reduced this to 3hrs 31mins - a still-respectable achievement.

It's by no means perfect, however. The keyboard is as cramped and uncomfortable to use as a 7in netbook's, with a short Space key, half-height Enter key and an annoyingly non-standard cursor key layout. The touch pad is pressure rather than heat sensitive, which means gloved fingers or the stylus can be used as well as a finger, but it's not very responsive. Neither is the 10.4in, 1,024 x 768 resolution screen particularly spacious, there's no integrated optical drive either and we were disappointed to find a mechanical 160GB hard disk, rather than an SSD, providing storage.

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