Forget everything you know about thin-and-light laptops because Panasonic just rewrote the rules with the new ToughBook Y2. This laptop not only undercuts the competition by more than a pound, it also offers good performance and major-league battery life, running for more than five hours per charge. With its 14.1-inch screen, Pentium M processor, and unique CD-RW/DVD drive integration, the ToughBook Y2 is a beautifully designed and well-built machine that hits all the right notes for business. Its entertainment capabilities leave a little to be desired, however; if you're more recreationally focused, check out the Sony VAIO VGN-A190. At $2,600 (as of September 2004), the ToughBook Y2 is definitely expensive, but its design and engineering make it worth the money.
Panasonic crams an awful lot into the ToughBook Y2's slim package. It tips the scales at just 3.3 pounds, making it the lightest laptop on the market to feature a 14.1-inch screen. Measuring 1.4 inches thick, 12.1 inches wide, and 9.4 inches deep, it's 2 pounds lighter than either the IBM ThinkPad R51 or the HP Compaq nx5000, and it's smaller than the Dell Latitude D600. Its 12-ounce AC adapter nudges the ToughBook Y2's travel weight to a mere 4 pounds, but the power pack's three-prong plug may be an inconvenience in older buildings with ungrounded outlets.
While it is a solid performer, the ToughBook Y2's components are mediocre. There's a 1.3GHz Pentium M processor, a 4,200rpm 40GB hard drive (which is a little on the small side for us), and just 256MB of 266MHz memory; the system's Intel Extreme2 graphics accelerator uses up to 64MB of precious system memory. Also unfortunate, the system tops out at 512MB of RAM, and there's no DVD burner option. The laptop's under-the-keyboard combo CD-RW/DVD drive, a guaranteed conversation starter in economy or business class, has a flimsy-feeling cover, and we worry about its durability.
But Panasonic's designers make up for the ToughBook Y2's middling components by showing great attention to detail, with features such as a case hinge that opens down and back--not up--making for a lower clearance than that of conventional systems; it'll come in handy when a giant sits in the airplane seat ahead of yours and reclines into your lap. The laptop's 14.1-inch XGA antiglare display looks pretty good, even in direct sunlight, but we noticed uneven backlighting on the sides of the panel.
The ToughBook Y2 has all of the basic business-minded connections you'll need, including a pair of USB 2.0 ports and plugs for an external monitor, audio, modem, and LAN; just about the only thing missing is a FireWire port. There's an Intel Pro/Wireless 2200 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio, with a better-than-average range of 112 feet, and a Secure Digital slot for moving photos, digital music, or making backups, but there's no Bluetooth option. We like that the ToughBook Y2's LED battery gauge has five notches (the more info, the better), and we also appreciate the responsive and roomy keyboard, with 20mm keys. We're less excited by the puny spacebar and the round touch pad, both of which take some getting used to.
Despite its slow 1.3GHz Pentium M processor, the ToughBook Y2 scored surprisingly well in CNET's tests. Its MobileMark 2002 score of 146 puts it on a par with the comparably equipped Sony VAIO PCG-Z1A and ahead of the Toshiba Tecra M2, which has a faster processor; still, the other systems are several hundred dollars cheaper. The ToughBook Y2's crown jewel is its 7,050mAh battery, which ran for an excellent 5 hours, 18 minutes between charges.
Like many other business notebooks, the ToughBook Y2 comes up a bit short on software. Still, you get Microsoft Windows XP Professional and a few decent utilities for creating CDs and configuring wireless options. While most other vendors offer a one-year warranty (and a few are cutting that to 90 days), Panasonic backs the ToughBook Y2 with a three-year warranty that is one of the best in the business; the company will repair broken systems quickly, wherever you are in the world. Panasonic's excellent tech support is available 24/7 via a toll-free phone call or e-mail, and a technician was on the line in just 45 seconds with an answer to our test query. As the ToughBook line is aimed at corporate customers, the Web site doesn't go beyond driver downloads, manuals, and FAQs.