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Caption by: Sandra Vogel
When we reviewed Panasonic’s 'business ruggedized' CF-T7 notebook last year we were impressed, but not overwhelmed. The concept of a toughened-up 12.1in. ultraportable designed for everyday use rather than for military or other demanding outdoor work is appealing. The CF-T8 is the next generation in the line. Like its predecessor, it lacks an optical drive — but is it an improvement in other respects?
The CF-T8's magnesium alloy casing is solid, if not especially attractive. This notebook is quite thick for an ultraportable, measuring 4.93cm at its maximum; this is partly due to the thicker than usual casing for the lid section, which provides plenty of protection for the screen. The footprint is compact enough, at just 27.2cm wide by 21.4cm deep. The CF-T8 is also nice and light, at just 1.385kg (do measurements need to be quite so precise?).
The Toughbook Executive CF-T8 is a 'business ruggedized' 12.1in. ultraportable weighing 1.38kg.
The two sections of the clamshell do not have a physical clasp, which we prefer, but the hinge mechanism is solid enough to require both hands to prise the notebook open for use.
The display measures just 12.1in. across the diagonal. This is fine for an ultraportable, but Panasonic uses a somewhat dated 1,024-by-768-pixel (4:3 aspect ratio) screen. Wide aspect ratio screens with 800 or more pixels of depth are more common these days; you certainly won't want to try working with two document windows opened side by side on this machine.
On the plus side, the XGA TFT display is touch-sensitive and can be driven by a fingertip. A strap on the underside of the notebook, towards the back edge, can be used to help you cradle the CF-T8 in your palm if you need to hold it in order to work standing up. This feature was present in the CF-T7 too.
A strap on the underside of the CF-T8 helps you hold it if you need to use the touch-screen when standing up.
The keyboard exhibits absolutely no flex and we had no trouble touch typing at speed. This is despite the fact that the QWERTY keys and number row are a little wider than they are tall. The result is a little cramped, so anyone with large hands might have more of a problem than we did.
Beneath the keyboard, embedded in the wrist rest, is the touchpad. This is the same circular affair we saw in the CF-T7, and before that in the CF-W5. You quickly get used to the unusual shape as far as cursor movement is concerned; the two mouse buttons are embedded in a large circular frame around the touchpad, and these are also fairly easy to get used to, although they are a little small.
Horizontal and vertical scrolling is supported by the CF-T8's circular touchpad, and is configurable.
You might think that the round shape of the touchpad precludes vertical and horizontal scrolling functionality, but you'd be wrong. This is achieved by running a finger around the very edge of the touchpad — you can even configure both how much of the circumference is given over to vertical and horizontal scrolling, and the width of the scroll control area.
Both keyboard and touchpad are water resistant.
The Toughbook Executive CF-T8 runs Intel's 1.2GHz Core 2 Duo SU9300 processor, which has 3MB of L2 cache and an 800MHz frontside bus (FSB). There was 3GB of DDR2 RAM installed — 1GB on the motherboard and 2GB in a single DIMM slot. The chipset is Intel's GS45, which includes the GMA 4500MHD graphics module. This is a Centrino 2 system, with vPro remote management technology.
Our review sample came with Windows XP Professional installed, but the factory configuration is Windows Vista Business. XP Professional is actually a downgrade option.
The 120GB hard drive is shock resistant. There is no optical drive, which we feel as a serious omission: many notebooks of a similar size manage to fit in an optical drive.
Communications options are not as plentiful as they could be either. Mobile broadband is an optional extra (not included in our review sample), which brings the price up to £1,499 (ex. VAT). Wireless connectivity is therefore limited to Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g, Draft-N) and Bluetooth (2.0+EDR), while wired links are Gigabit Ethernet and 56Kbps modem. A slider switch on the front edge lets you turn wireless comms on and off.
The CF-T8 can withstand a drop of 76cm while switched on. This is about the height of an office desk, so there's no guarantee that it will be undamaged if dropped while you're standing.
As there's no edge-space taken up with an optical drive, you might expect the CF-T8 to be brimming with ports and connectors. In fact, there's not an outstanding range.
On the front, alongside the wireless slider switch is a pair of audio jacks. The battery charge indicator is also here, along with an LED showing whether the notebook is in power-saving ECO mode. The remaining indicators are ranged around the frame of the touchpad. There's no hardware button for ECO mode, which you control via a system tray icon.
Another system tray tool rotates the display through 90, 180 and 270 degrees; each of the three rotations can be mapped to a keyboard combination of your choice.
The left edge carries a Type II PC Card slot; beneath this, where it's a little fiddly to access, is a reader for SD-compatible cards (including SDHC). Behind this is a 50-pin port replicator connector and, further back still, a VGA port plus the main power input.
The right edge houses the Ethernet (RJ-45) and modem (RJ-11) connectors and, sitting side by side, the notebook's three USB 2.0 ports. These are too close together for two adjacent ones to be used with, for example, a typical mobile broadband dongle and a memory stick. Preferably, the USB ports would be separated around the edges of the casing.
Panasonic claims that the CF-T8's 5,800mAh Li-ion battery is good for 8 hours' work in Windows Vista with ECO mode disabled. We turned the ECO mode settings off, turned Wi-Fi on and turned off Windows XP Professional's power management features — forcing the screen to stay on, the hard disk not to shut down, and turning off system standby and hibernation.
We then ran Battery Eater, which delivered a battery life of 3 hours 27 minutes. This is a fairly good result, given the lack of power management and Battery Eater's demanding workload. Battery life should extend considerably beyond 3.5 hours under less testing workloads and with sensible power management features implemented.
The Toughbook Executive CF-T8 updates the CF-T7 with new internal specifications and a slightly revised casing design. But some features that we would expect from a higher end notebook are missing, notably a wide aspect ratio screen, an optical drive and a webcam. If you need the ruggedness and the touch-screen that this notebook offers, then it's a reasonable choice. Otherwise it's a little short on features.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel