The convertible laptop tablet concept isn’t new, but there’s something remarkable about the way the Panasonic Toughbook family combines its famous durability with surprising portability. Indeed, the newest member, the Toughbook CF-C1, lays claim to being the lightest convertible tablet on the market.
The CF-C1 is classed as business-rugged, so it doesn’t boast the nigh-on indestructible physique of the fully rugged models elsewhere in Panasonic’s range. It still rises a chunky 58mm from the desk, which doesn’t sound or feel like a step forward from its fully rugged siblings. But appearances can be, and are, deceptive: at just 1.49kg it isn’t much heavier than the most featherlight ultraportables.
Yet the CF-C1 sticks to the usual Toughbook design brief. The thick-set magnesium-alloy frame is hardly catwalk stuff, but it both looks and feels entirely utilitarian: its priority is practicality, and it doesn’t care a jot about doing it with style. The oversized chassis leaves plenty of room around the vital components inside, so, in the event of an accidental drop or blow, it keeps working where other laptops would give up the ghost.
Panasonic rates the CF-C1 to survive drops of 76cm, and we can believe it. Press as hard as you like on the lid and, while the plastic gives, there isn’t the slightest hint of it breaking through to the LCD panel inside. In fact, despite the low weight, the whole chassis feels impressively resilient and flex-free. And if you’re clumsy enough to pour a cup of tea across the keyboard, you’ll see it trickle harmlessly from drainage ports on the underside.
Our model came with the 12.1in 1280 x 800 capacitive multitouch panel – a resistive panel is available for applications where gloved usage is required – and in tablet mode it works as well with a finger as it does the stylus, which stows away on the right flank. Viewing angles aren’t great, and there’s a little grain due to the touch layer above the LCD panel itself, but it’s fine for business purposes and, crucially, the brightness is high enough for outdoor usage.
Simple, practical touches such as the comfortable hand strap make it easy to hold with one hand, and type or scribble with the other. The buttons on the screen’s edge provide useful shortcuts to bring up the onscreen keyboard, or switch between applications while in tablet orientation.
The optional twin-battery arrangement is also brilliantly executed, and adds flexibility. There are two slots at the rear, each of
which can take a 6000mAh battery. With the standard single battery, the CF-C1 gave us 5hrs 4mins of light usage, but with both we got a tremendous 10hrs 57mins – and it only upped the weight to 1.71kg. Even better, for applications where you simply can’t afford to power down your laptop, they’re hot-swappable. Panasonic even makes an optional four-bay battery charger to turn yourself into the ultimate road warrior.
The rest of the CF-C1’s internal specifications are impressive. The Core i5-520M processor, 2GB of RAM and 250GB hard disk combined for a result of 1.55 in our benchmarks, and there’s no lack of useful business-centric features. Mobile broadband is present, as is an Intel dual-band 802.11n wireless chipset, Bluetooth and Gigabit Ethernet, while a TPM 1.2 chip helps keep sensitive data under lock and key.
If we have one real complaint to level at the Panasonic, it’s that the keyboard is a mite cramped for our liking. There’s no undue flex to worry about, but those with larger fingers may find the wide, shallow keys cause a few typos now and again. It’s the only mark on an otherwise unblotted copybook, however, as the circular trackpad is every bit as responsive and pleasant to use as it is peculiar to look at.
Convertible tablets are a niche category, but for in-the-field businesses that require their unique tablet abilities, Panasonic has produced an accomplished example. It’s by no means cheap, but with the usual Toughbook build quality accompanied by two years of accidental damage cover and three years of standard warranty, the CF-C1 should work out to be worth every penny in the long run.