The Toughbook CF-52 has several ruggedised features. We already noted the splash-resistant keyboard and solid shell. The 80GB hard drive is mounted in shock-absorbing foam and connected to the motherboard by flexible cable. Panasonic says it will withstand a 90cm drop. The whole laptop should survive a fall from a height of 76cm, roughly the height of an office desk. Note, though, that this test assumes the laptop is not switched on.
Many of the ports and connectors ranged around the sides of the casing are protected by covers. This is not the case for the SD card slot or the multi-format DVD drive on the left-hand side, though. The front-mounted audio sockets are not protected either, and nor is the physical switch that turns Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off.
On the right-hand side, a Type II PC Card and a single ExpressCard slot are layered one above the other and protected by a hinged cover. A second cover protects a pair of USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire connector. At the back there are two further USB 2.0 ports, again protected by a hinged cover. Further covers protect the external 15-pin monitor connector, Ethernet and modem ports and a 9-pin serial port.
All of these hinged covers feel robust and have a 'spring-back' action that, while not locking them in place securely, at least ensures some measure of protection when a peripheral is removed.
As far as options go, the most important one is HSDPA connectivity, which will boost the base price of £1,291 to around £1,549. Other optional components include a fingerprint reader and a smartcard reader.
We tested this laptop's battery life by running Battery Eater and it delivered a total battery life of 2 hours 32 minutes, which we found disappointing, especially given Panasonic's own estimate of up to 7.5 hours.
Battery Eater is a demanding test that provides a minimum estimate of a laptop's battery life, and the CF-52 does have a large 15.4-inch screen to power. Even so, we'd expect more from a machine designed to spend much of its life on the road. Run Wi-Fi for long and you're likely to need access to mains power at least once per working day, unless you carry a spare battery.
The Toughbook CF-52 is a very solidly built laptop, with a hardened outer casing, shock-mounted hard disk and covered ports. Although the 15.4-inch, wide-format screen is nice, this 3.3kg system isn't the most portable of its kind -- even with its carrying handle. Battery life also falls a long way short of Panasonic's claims.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday