Panasonic's Toughbook range covers a spectrum of toughness, from military-grade fully ruggedised laptops to drop- and spill-resistant business ruggedised systems. In the middle sit a number of semi-ruggedised laptops, including the wide-screened CF-52, available for around £1,350.
Despite its 'semi-ruggedised' classification, the Toughbook CF-52 is a seriously solid-looking laptop. When closed it looks more like a slim briefcase than a portable computer, thanks to its hard outer shell and built-in carrying handle.
The shell comprises a lid section made mostly of magnesium alloy with a black plastic section towards the top that adds visual interest and provides space for the Panasonic branding. The rest of the system is encased in hard black plastic.
The handle is built in to the front of the laptop. It's hinged to the left and right, allowing it to be laid almost flush when not in use. Unlike the handle on the Getac P470, this handle does not lock into a snug position when not in use.
The upper and lower sections of the Toughbook CF-52 are locked in place when the laptop is closed by a very sturdy clasp. There's almost no chance of the two sections being prized apart by anything other than your fingers.
Its ruggedised casing is one factor contributing to the CF-52's weight -- at 3.3kg, it's unlikely you'll want to carry it very often or very far. It's also large, measuring 356 by 52 by 287mm.
The good news is that the 15.4-inch screen has a wide aspect ratio and stretches almost to the boundaries of the space on offer. The display has a native resolution of 1,280x800 pixels and can easily support two document windows open at once. It's also up to the job of displaying complex graphics -- as might be needed in the field by architects or engineers, for example.
The keyboard looks a little lost in its wide surroundings. The Qwerty keys are full sized and responsive, however, and we had no problems with touch-typing. The space bar is a little shorter than we would like and the Enter key could be bigger, which takes a little getting used to. A full-width row of half-height function keys above the number row gives access to various functions, including screen brightness and volume control.
The two-button touch pad, which sits in the wrist-rest area, looks relatively small in its surroundings. It incorporates vertical and horizontal scroll bars along its right and bottom edges, which we found a little temperamental to use at times. The entire keyboard area, including the touch pad, is splash resistant.
The Toughbook CF-52 has a 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 processor. This includes 2MB of L2 cache and an 800MHz frontside bus. Our review sample came with 1GB of RAM, which can be upgraded to a maximum of 4GB.
You may need extra RAM if you intend to run Windows Vista Business on this laptop. Ours came with Windows XP Professional, for which 1GB is quite sufficient.
Bluetooth and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi are both integrated, along with Gigabit Ethernet. Graphics are handled by the GMA X3100 module integrated in Intel's GM965 Express chipset.