Review by Sunetra Chakravati,
12/12/2011 3:57:40 PM
Still works after having water thrown on it, getting stomped on and being pushed off a desk; more portable than fully rugged laptop; can choose to upgrade RAM to 4GB.
Keyboard could be a bit cramped for larger hands, sold with dated Internet Explorer 6, battery life is rather low considering it's not the lightest of laptops
If you’ve read our reviews of tough-phones such as Sonim’s Land Rover S1, you’ll know we love punishing anything with allusions to indestructibility. The Panasonic Toughbook CF-52 actually came out a couple years ago – but it is interesting because it’s only ‘semi-ruggedised’. It’s not meant to take quite the same beatings as its predecessors, and instead of being waterproof up to a meter and shatterproof even if you throw it out the window, it’s merely meant to survive a fall off a desk, or a liquid spillage that is presumably mopped up quick-smart. Regardless, Panasonic has invited us to direct some aggression at it, and so we have.
Like any tough-gadget, the CF-52 is fairly low on specs and high on the protective gear instead. The laptop is actually built like a flight case, handle included, with a magnesium alloy body surrounding the 15.4-inch LCD screen. Rubber coverings protect the two USB ports and Ethernet card, while the hard drive and inner components are fixed to the body so that the laptop is meant to be able to survive intense vibrations – such as if it were in the backseat of an all-terrain vehicle going cross-country, possibly. The screen can tilt back 190 degrees, which could make it useful for mobile field workers who would be viewing it at just about any angle besides sitting at a desk. We slammed it shut repeatedly – the cardinal laptop sin – but thanks to a heavy hinge mechanism, it generally closed quietly anyway. The keyboard itself is great to type on, and though its keys are really light, there’s none of that horrible clicky sound you get on low-rent keyboards. Though it may be a little cramped for larger hands, there’s lots of space all round the keys themselves to help protect the keyboard, and gentle ridges where your hands go, making it a very comfortable experience indeed. Though the laptop supports Windows Vista, our model ran on the lighter, less RAM-intensive Windows XP Professional. Rather unforgivably, this also means it’s preloaded with Internet Explorer 6, Microsoft’s notoriously virus-plagued, dated browser. And considering even Microsoft now considers the browser officially dead, you’d think someone could go ahead and load on a more recent version. At 1GB of RAM and a 2GHz dual-core Intel Centrino processor, the CF-52 is pretty solid and was able to stream video and surf the web without any noticeable lag in response time.
The keyboard and touchpad are ‘splash-resistant’, and are meant to stop water from entering the guts of the computer. So naturally, we poured half a glass of water directly on the keyboard while the laptop was running. Physically, it seemed to resist all liquid, and the next day all was operating as usual. We then pushed the laptop off the desk while it was playing a YouTube video and aside from a glare-attracting crash, there were absolutely no detrimental effects, and the video kept on playing. Finally, we invited our colleagues to tread, walk and stamp on the Toughbook. None of them left a mark, though it should be noted that there’s definite flex in the outer layer of the body, and this felt somewhat less sturdy than the rest. All this ruggedness comes in at 3.1kg, which is actually around the same weight as a studio-level laptop such as a 15-inch Dell XPS model. Where it differs though, somewhat surprisingly, is in the battery life. Though Panasonic claims a battery life of seven hours, we only squeezed about half that out of it. If you were taking it out for the day – and presumably that’s the intention – you’d have to lug along its AC adaptor as well, and that’s just a bit silly for a laptop that’s not even running any particularly heavy programs.
Note: We got about four hours of straight use out of the laptop, when actively using it.
If a hardy casing is more important than graphics, memory and processing speed, the Toughbook CF-52 is a great balance between a normal laptop and a fully rugged one. It’s about the size of a regular computer, but offers some damage-resistance features that would be incredibly useful for anyone in a physically active job.