Panasonic's ToughBook laptops have always been true to their name, even if they've been described with words that aren't as flattering, like bulky, unattractive and heavy. So the new 8-series, particularly the CF-F8, attempts to correct this. It's aimed at business professionals, the pathologically cack-handed or anyone who fancies a laptop with an integrated briefcase-style handle. It'll be on sale by the beginning of 2009 for around £1,519.
The CF-F8 is -- for the most part -- an attractive machine, to tell the truth. We especially like the lid because of its matte black finish, which brings welcome respite from the glossy, smudge-happy lids littering the market these days.
One of Panasonic's main aims was to keep the CF-F8 as light as possible. It tips the scales at just 1.6 kilos, making it the lightest laptop we've seen in this class. While adding a carry handle to the device might seem counterintuitive, we believe, after spending some time with it, that it makes sense -- you no longer have to cradle the laptop precariously in your armpit when moving between meeting rooms, for instance.
Generally you'll never have to worry about the CF-F8 breaking from accidental damage. Panasonic says it's "business ruggedised", which means it'll withstand falls of up to 76 centimetres -- or about waist height. If you're carrying the laptop any higher than this, you're either asking for trouble or freakishly tall.
After you've dropped the CF-F8, there's a chance someone or something might run over it. Thankfully the lid -- when closed -- is capable of withstanding up to 100Kg of pressure before the display or internal components suffer any damage. This is likely to come in handy if you've accidentally placed the laptop in a rucksack and absent-mindedly leant up against a wall, or allowed piles of luggage to be placed on top of it.
The CF-F8's keyboard is spill resistant, as you'd probably expect. It can comfortably shrug off approximately one full cup of water, but will also handle more caustic substances like washing detergent, alcohol, salt water or human perspiration. Panasonic demonstrated this feature in front of our very eyes, although thankfully nobody volunteered their sweat.
The CF-F8 has a very sensible specification. That's to say its internal components are well-suited to its intended purpose. It comes with a 2.26GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, 3GB of RAM, a 160GB hard drive and an integrated 3G module that lets you connect a SIM card for go-anywhere Internet access.
The CF-F8's screen is also worth a mention. It's relatively large at 14.1-inches, and sports a 1,280x800-pixel 16:10 resolution, but its best attribute is the matte finish. Unlike with the majority of glossy-coated laptop screens, you can actually use this one outdoors without battling to see past your own reflection.
Although the CF-F8 is "business ruggedised", it isn't as strong as the "fully ruggedised" laptops which made the ToughBook brand what it is today. Laptops of this ilk can withstand 91cm drops, operate at temperatures over 140 and under -20 degrees Fahrenheit, and can function at high altitude and under increased atmospheric pressure. In other words, if you take the CF-F8 to Baghdad, insurgents will laugh at you and probably blow you up.
You should also be aware that the CF-F8's ports are exposed. Use it in sandy environments -- not necessarily Iraq; the beach will do -- and sand is likely to get inside and wreak havoc.
Panasonic hasn't gone down the route of solid state disks, which seems odd for a laptop designed with durability in mind. Panasonic believes most SSDs offer a false economy, since strong impacts can disconnect their rigid connections to the motherboard, and its CF-F8 uses a flexible connector that's far less likely to become dislodged. Still, we can't help but wonder why it hasn't combined this flexible connector with an SSD for the ultimate in durability.
Panasonic's mice and keyboards are generally quite good, but not quite on a par with the best examples in the laptop world. We usually find it a struggle to adapt to the slightly awkward -- almost rounded -- shape of the keys, and this laptop was no different in that respect. Also, while the tiny mouse trackpad looks nice, a larger surface area would surely help the overall usability.
We can't wait to get another look at the CF-F8. It's likely to be more expensive than many laptops with the same components, but its ruggedness provides plenty of peace of mind for those worried about accidental damage. If you want a laptop that can withstand the everyday bumps and shakes of modern life, this one will be difficult to ignore.
Edited by Marian Smith