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Panasonic Toughbook CF-54 review - Hands on

Michael Passingham
13 Feb 2015
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We try out Panasonic's lighter, thinner and stronger semi-rugged CF-54 laptop

Panasonic's Toughbook line of laptops received a new addition today in the form of the CF-54. This new "semi-rugged" notebook is claimed to be stronger and more powerful than its predecessor while remaining light and relatively thin. We went hands-on at an event in Leipzig, Germany, to give this brand-new machine a once-over.

There are three distinct base models available, but each can be upgraded with various optional extras. Below are the base prices and UK (ex VAT) pricing estimates.

€1544 (£1141) for non-Full HD, non-touchscreen version with 500GB HDD, €1792 (£1324) for Full HD, non-touchscreen and 128gb ssd and €2247 (£1661) for the Full HD touchscreen model .

DESIGN, BUILD AND STRENGTH

We weren't invited to chuck the Toughbook CF-54 out of the window or spill our German sparkling water on it, so we can only go on Panasonic's claims of improved strength. The headline features include drop protection up to 76cm, 200ml of spill resistance on the keyboard and touchpad, IP5x "dust resistance" (the next level up is IP6x "dust protection") and US military Department of Defence (MIL-STD 810g) vibration resistance.


It can also operate in temperatures as low as -10 degrees celcius, with a built-in hard disk warmer (above) for both the HDD and SSD models included as standard.


The design of the chassis is based around Panasonic's new "honeycomb" design philosophy. The lid is made from a very thick and pleasingly rugged-feeling silver plastic that incorporates this honeycomb structure. Panasonic says this design is stronger than conventional flat surfaces, and that it can withstand a weight of 100kg spread over the surface of the lid. 

Considering how rugged the laptop looks, it's amazingly light. The basic Full HD touch screen model that comes without any of the extra hardware (see below) weighs 2.1kg, and the entry-level 1,366x768 non-touchscreen edition is even lighter at 1.9kg. For a worker constantly on the move, this laptop would appear to be the perfect companion.


Placed next to the CF-54 (above, left), the preceding CF-53 (above, right) looks straight out of the 90s when compared to the modern lines and more subtle styling of the newcomer. The biggest departure aside from the lid styling is the chiclet keyboard, which uses curved keys that Panasonic compares to a leaf. Greenery or otherwise, this is one of the best laptop keyboards we've ever used. There's loads of travel with each key press, and the key tops have a comfortingly grippy coating and a high-contrast design so the white letters stand out more than on other laptops.

The touchpad is great, too. While it's fairly small, it's very sensitive and picked up our taps, swipes and drags without fail. The physical buttons below the touchpad are separated so there's less chance of you hitting the wrong key.

^All of the CF-54's ports are hidden behind water-resistant flaps

The touchscreen, meanwhile, is bright, clear and vivid. We don't get any colour accuracy or contrast figures from our time with this pre-production model, but from a purely qualitative standpoint, it's great. Even better, the anti-glare coating should mean it's easy to view when outside. It's also very accurate. Using the optional stylus, we had no problems with accurate clicks and taps in Windows 7, and drawing and writing signatures was easy. It's a shame, though, that there's no place to store the stylus unless you opt for a version of the laptop without a DVD drive or third battery, which means you'll have to tie it to the laptop and leave it hanging when not in use.

You can switch the touch screen into a hyper-sensitive mode that allows the user to be wearing protective gloves and taps should be registered from up to 10mm away. This seems to be a realistic claim, although this mode should only really be used for basic taps and is not really suited to tasks that require accurate inputs.

EXTRA FEATURES

This is one of the most customisable laptops on the market at the moment. Bear in mind, though, that not all the additions we'll describe below will be available from all resellers.

^An array of some of the extra hardware you can add to your Toughbook CF-54

First and foremost is the slot on the left-side of the laptop where, in our model, the DVD drive is found. This can be replaced with a smart card reader, legacy PC card reader or, most impressively, a third battery. This 2960mAh battery is in addition to the 4200mAh primary battery found in the standard version of the laptop, boosting estimated battery life from 11h to 18h.

The second battery is very low capacity, but its purpose is to power the laptop while you're switching between primary batteries. Turn the laptop over, hold down the battery removal switch and, if the green light says the hot-swap battery is charged, you can safely remove your primary battery without the laptop switching off. You have around a minute to complete the task before this second battery runs out.


Elsewhere, there's an expansion zone (above) in the bottom of the laptop that has space for all manner of connectors including Common Interface, PCI, PCI-E, DisplayPort and USB. You can also add GPS trasponders, a 4G modem and a fingerprint reader, and you can choose from additional ports including VGA, Serial, a second LAN port and a rugged USB port (used in the car industry).

You can upgrade the standard "Broadwell"-generation Intel Core i5 5300U vPro processor to a 2.9GHz Core i7 if you wish, and you can also add an AMD FirePro M5100 graphics card if you're planning to do graphics intensive work such as computer-aided design (CAD). This does require a slightly thicker base plate to be installed, though, increasing the laptop's thickness from 29mm to 39mm.

Whether these options are available will depend on which reseller you use. Buyers from bigger businesses dealing with Panasonic directly will have a better choice of extra options, though.

The Panasonic Toughpad CF-54 finds itself in a great middle ground for workers who don't spend all their time on the move and outside, but occasionally do work in the field. It doesn't have the extreme protection of "fully rugged" Toughpads but it doesn't need to. It feels strong and looks the part, although we have yet to put its ruggedness claims to the test. While its appeal will be limited to companies, small businesses or self-employed people who work outside, we were impressed nonetheless.

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