- Solid build quality
- Rigid screen hinge
- Dual hot-swap batteries
- Touchscreen supports finger and stylus input
- Excellent hand strap for use in tablet mode
- No optical drive
- No webcam
Panasonic's Toughbook range is designed for working environments that are too demanding for ordinary notebooks. These scenarios range from truly extreme conditions to a regular commute on a crowded train. Panasonic's 12.1in. CF-C1, a convertible tablet, is a 'business ruggedized' Toughbook suitable for moderately challenging environments.
The Toughbook CF-C1 is on the chunky side and less visually appealing than the Toughbook CF-T8, which we looked at back in 2009. Both the lid and base sections are larger than you'd normally expect to see in a notebook with a 12.1in. screen, resulting in an overall size of 29.92cm wide by 22.65cm deep by 3.06-4.43cm thick. At 1.69kg, the weight is in line with non-ruggedised ultraportables.
The chassis is made from magnesium alloy and is very solid. The lid section exhibits almost no flex, and what flex there is can't harm the delicate screen technology as there's enough air space built in. The base section is also extremely tough: we could cause a little bowing of the wrist-rest area by pressing on it, but that's all. Panasonic says the Toughbook CF-C1, like its other business-ruggedized computers, can withstand falls from a height of 76cm without damage and with the hard disk remaining intact, and pressure of up to 100kgf.
The ruggedised Toughbook CF-C1 has a dual-mode (finger and stylus operation) touchscreen
Panasonic says its engineering plays particular attention to the most vulnerable parts of a notebook — the screen, hard disk and keyboard. For example, a special drainage system helps protect the keyboard and touchpad from liquids, so that a full 200ml glass of liquid will simply drain away underneath the keyboard and not affect the electronics. Certainly the tumbler of water to which we subjected the keyboard had no effect at all on the notebook's ability to function.
The screen rotates on a 'triple hinge' system: like other convertible tablets, there's a central hinge around which the lid swivels — but the Toughbook CF-C1 has a locking mechanism that must be released using a slider on the lid before the hinge can be turned. This locking mechanism functions in both screen orientations, ensuring that the screen stays fixed in position.
There is a thick hand strap on the bottom of the chassis that you can use to help support the Toughbook CF-C1 when you're standing and using it in tablet mode. In notebook mode this strap sits under the base section on the desk. The strap doesn't prevent the notebook from sitting flat on a desk because the back of the device rests on feet that are part of the hand strap itself. This raises the back of the notebook and provides a small air space beneath the underside of the notebook and the desk. You can remove the hand strap if need be, as it's held in place by accessible screws.
The Toughbook CF-C1 has Panasonic's signature circular touchpad; you can drag a finger around the circumference to scroll vertically through documents. There's no multitouch support on the touchpad, but this is catered for by the touch-sensitive screen, which supports pinch-to-zoom. For finer control you can use a digitizer stylus which lives in a housing on the right side of the chassis. The 12.1in. screen, whose native resolution is 1,280 by 800 pixels, has a shiny coating that makes it difficult to work with a light source to the rear. Both resistive and capacitive screens are available. Viewing angles were not great, in either vertical or horizontal planes, on our capacitive review sample.
The keyboard is comfortable to use, but has some odd design features. The space bar is less than 50mm long, for example, and we found it hard to hit in the early stages of testing. Several other keys, including Tab, Caps Lock and Enter, are on the small side too.
The Toughbook CF-C1 runs on a 2.40GHz Intel Core i5-520M processor with just 2GB of RAM, expandable to 4GB. There is a 250GB hard drive which is protected by a magnesium case and four shock-absorbing pads. The operating system is Windows 7 Professional 32-bit.
Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR) are all present as standard. You can also specify a mobile broadband (HSPA) module.
The Toughbook CF-C1 lacks both an optical drive and a webcam. Other manufactures find space for both in smaller chassis sizes, and given the overall price of this notebook we are surprised at their absence. Our review sample also lacked a fingerprint sensor, although this is available as an option.
Ports and connectors are ranged around three edges of the Toughbook CF-C1. On the front is the on/off switch and a hardware switch for the wireless radios. The audio jacks are also on the front, along with a slot for SD-compatible media. All the status lights are on the front edge so that they are easily visible whether the device is in notebook or tablet mode.
The left edge houses the power connector, the Ethernet (RJ-45) port and two USB 2.0 ports. A third USB 2.0 port is on the right edge, along with a CardBus PC Card slot, a SmartCard slot and a VGA connector for an external display.
The Toughbook CF-C1 has a pair of hot-swappable battery slots on the back edge, giving a claimed 10-hour battery life
The lid extends downwards past the back edge when the system is in notebook mode, so there's no room for ports or connectors on the back. There are two battery slots, however, both accessible on the back edge.
The Toughbook CF-C1's Windows Experience Index (WEI) is on the low side at 3.4 (out of 7.9). The WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which was for Graphics (desktop performance for Windows Aero). Elsewhere, the scores were pretty respectable: 6.5 for Processor (calculations per second); 5.9 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate); 5.5 for RAM (Memory operations per second) and 5.1 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance).
Our review sample was supplied with two batteries, a configuration for which Panasonic claims up to 10 hours of usage. Usefully for mobile workers, batteries can be hot-swapped.
Panasonic provides a number of preconfigured power plans: Better Heat Dispersion, Mobile, Power Saving, Presentation and Standard. We chose the latter and played video continuously from a full battery charge. We got five hours 23 minutes of video under these conditions, which suggests that if you want all-day computing you're going to need both batteries fully charged at the start of a working day.
The mono speaker delivers decent volume, although the quality isn't great. Still, it should suffice for sharing audio content for small groups in a meeting room, or in the field.
Panasonic's rugged, touchscreen-equipped Toughbook CF-C1 is a specialist (and pricey) convertible Tablet PC. However, it lacks both an optical drive and a webcam, and it'll take a while to get used to the keyboard's small space bar. Dual hot-swap batteries are welcome though.