Panasonic's Toughbook range have the effective image of a pair of Stubbies. Not a couple of glass bottles of beer, but the fairly iconic men's work shorts range, in that they're never really the most visually attractive laptops you could buy, but even a cursory glance at them suggests that they can take more than a few knocks that would leave more "boutique" designs in a pile of shattered glass and plastic.
The Toughbook CF-C1 carries on this tradition with a solid but mostly understated design look. The biggest change in this particular convertible tablet's design is that the trackpad is circular, with the two mouse buttons at the base, similar to the Panasonic Toughbook CF-W7.
The circular rim of the trackpad does allow for scrolling, but it's not always a smooth operation. Overall, a circular trackpad is an oddity that we're still not quite sure of from a practical viewpoint, but it certainly makes the Toughbook CF-C1 stand out.
The real design surprise with the Toughbook CF-C1 isn't the circular trackpad, or the fact that it's a convertible slate-style tablet, but the carrying weight. We're extremely used to ruggedised notebooks coming with the penalty of extra heft, but the Toughbook CF-C1 bucks that particular trend. At 1.47kg, the first time you pick up the Toughbook CF-C1 you might be tempted to wonder if Panasonic's only sold you an empty shell of a notebook, and forgotten to put in any circuitry inside.
The innards are, as with most rugged notebooks, more suited to business (and business in the field, at that) than they are to play. An Intel Core i5 M520 2.4GHz handles processing duties along with Intel's GMA HD graphics solution, a 250GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM. The Toughbook CF-C1 uses a 12.1-inch 1280x800-pixel multi-touch-capable display. There's no optical drive present, but you do get a single Type II PC Card slot, three USB 2.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 and VGA port.
On the software side we were a little disappointed to note that the version of Windows 7 Professional that Panasonic pre-loads onto the Toughbook CF-C1 is only the 32-bit version; 64-bit would be preferable. Panasonic also pre-loads a variety of utilities on the Toughbook CF-C1, including handwriting recognition software.
As with most ruggedised notebooks, an important part of the specifications sheet has to concern itself with exactly how tough the Toughbook CF-C1 actually is. It's part of what Panasonic refers to as its "Business Rugged" line, which means it's not quite as robust as its fully ruggedised brethren, but that also means it's lighter and less covered in heavy rubber port flaps. Panasonic states that it'll survive drops of up to 76cm, can withstand foot pressure of up to 100kg and can drain off up to 170ml of water spilled onto the keyboard even while active. We certainly wouldn't try those tests with an ordinary notebook.
The Core i5 processor in the Toughbook CF-C1 isn't top of the line, but it's no slouch either, and our benchmark scores reflected that with a score of 5421 in PCMark05 and a slightly less impressive 1365 in 3DMark06, but that's not too surprising given the use of Intel's low-range integrated graphics solution. The display screen appears a little washed out in regular light, but this gives it excellent viewing characteristics in bright sunlight. If your work environment is mostly outside, this would make the Toughbook CF-C1 a very sensible choice, although with the default battery you might not want to spend too much time out there. We tested the Toughbook CF-C1 with our standard battery test, which involves disabling all battery saving features, turning the screen brightness up to full and running an XviD video until the battery is exhausted. The single battery solution lasted a rather weak two hours and 21 minutes until it gave up. You should get more use in real-world solutions, but the out-of-the-box Toughbook CF-C1 isn't a battery monster, although it does support dual batteries as an option with hot-swapping support.
The Toughbook CF-C1 delivers a very solid business package at a rather exceptional price. We say exceptional not in that it's a bargain, but simply that many businesses will baulk at the asking price of AU$3299. If you work in environments that aren't quite hazardous enough to warrant the full toughbook status but that would still send a regular notebook to its grave within minutes it may be a worthy investment, however.