Convertible tablet PCs aren’t to every company’s taste, but in many working environments they are the perfect choice. Panasonic has a long tradition of making rugged laptops and tablets, and the ToughBook CF-C1 is the latest update of its ‘business ruggedised’ convertible tablet PC.
What is it and who is it for?
The ToughBook CF-C1 is designed for situations where work sometimes needs to be done standing up. Scenarios include market research, healthcare, sales activities and work in airlines. There are other sectors too, where both deskbound and standing activities are required, and a convertible tablet PC with is combination of traditional notebook style arrangement and screen outermost tablet style configuration can deliver considerable benefits. At a cost of around £1,600 (ex. VAT), however, and with internal specifications you could find on a laptop for half that price, you need to be certain that the ToughBook CF-C1 really does meet your needs.
Does it do it well?
The semi ruggedised nature of the Panasonic ToughBook CF-C1 means it is designed to take a few knocks and bumps. That is important for any mobile computer which will be carried, and the ways in which they are used mean that convertible tablet PCs can be more vulnerable than their laptop siblings.
The magnesium alloy chassis feels solid. The wrist rest area is a little vulnerable, but the lid is very tough indeed and the base, for the most part, also robust. The ToughBook CF-C1 is classed as ‘business ruggedised’ and is not so well protected— or bulky—as Panasonic’s fully ruggedised range, which also contains a convertible tablet PC. There is a payoff in terms of weight. The ToughBook CF-C1 comes in at 1.69kg, which is not much more than its non-rugged counterparts.
A thick rubber wrist strap fits to the underside of the chassis and this helps greatly when using the ToughBook CF-C1 while standing. It is not a problem when the machine is sitting on a desk—it simply sits underneath the base and causes the keyboard to be at a very slight, and not unpleasant, angle.
As you’d expect from a semi ruggedised laptop, the hard drive is shock protected. The keyboard incorporates a drainage system that helps protect it from liquid spills. Panasonic says a 200ml glass of liquid will drain away through holes under the keyboard. We tested this. It worked and we were able to continue working throughout.
The screen rotation system of convertible tablet PCs is vulnerable and Panasonic provides protection via a ‘triple hinge’ system. The screen rotates round a central hinge, but this can’t be turned until a lock has been released by sliding a button on the screen bevel.
The screen is touch responsive and supports multitouch so you can pinch to zoom into Web pages, for example. It also responds to a stylus, which lives in a housing on the right side of the chassis. Having this dual responsiveness makes the ToughBook CF-C1 well suited to a wide range of data input scenarios.
Taking these features into consideration the ToughBook CF-C1 manages to combine a range of ruggedising features with a relatively low weight, which is something of a holy grail for laptop computing.
Where does it disappoint?
The ToughBook CF-C1 is not an inexpensive computer and businesses may need to think hard about its ability to meet their needs. You are paying for the business ruggedised features and not the general specifications. So, this is an Intel Core i5 520M machine with a maximum of 4GB of RAM on board. The 250GB hard drive is adequate but not outstanding, and the fact that it uses a 32-bit version of Windows 7 Professional rather than the full 64-bit version will irk some businesses.
The wireless credentials are good with 802.11a/b/g/n supported, and you can include a modem and 3G data support if you wish. However, there is no optical drive, no Web camera and no fingerprint reader as standard. You can specify the latter two on a project basis, but that they are not present for one-off purchase will irritate many.
The screen may also be a slight disappointment to some. It measures 12.1 inches across the diagonal and has a resolution of 1280×800 pixels. We found the shiny coating made working with a light source behind us difficult.
Panasonic has become known for the circular touchpad which sits on its business ruggedised range. The distinctive shape doesn’t work well for some people, but we don’t find it much of a problem. You can drag a finger around the circumference of the touchpad for vertical scrolling, but there’s no horizontal scrolling built in and no multitouch support. You can finger the screen itself for either, however.
Panasonic says you can get 10 hours of life from the ToughBook CF-C1 if you use two batteries. The laptop has two battery bays and batteries are hot swappable so you can fit a new one without powering down. We were supplied with two batteries and achieved 5 hours 23 minutes of continuous video playback from a USB stick. We’d guess that you can probably get close to the ten hours Panasonic suggests, but only from a base of two fully charged batteries.
Would we recommend it?
If your working scenario requires a dedicated tablet the lure of Apple’s iPad is great and becoming greater as time goes on—as long as you’re not tied to Windows. Convertible tablet PCs suit those who need a physical keyboard and tablet features, but the trade-off is weight, bulk and less convenience when using a laptop in tablet mode. In the case of the Panasonic ToughBook CF-C1, the price reflects the semi-rugged features rather than the specifications, and may feel to some rather steep. Convertible tablet manufacturers need to keep at least half an eye on the tablet world going forward, and Panasonic needs to consider reducing its unit costs.