Panasonic unveiled the Toughbook CF-20 on Tuesday, adding the first fully detachable 2-in-1 device to its Toughbook range of rugged business computers.
Due for a January 2016 launch in the UK, starting at £2218 plus VAT, it combines milspec-grade durability with an Intel Skylake processor and the option of a Windows 10 Professional OS.
The device was shown to press at a launch event in London, with V3 in attendance. Unlike the Toughbook CF-MX4, which had a 360-degree rotatable screen, the Toughbook CF-20's detachable touchscreen is a completely removable tablet. As such, this is where the key internal hardware is found, including an Intel Core m5-6Y57 vPro CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 2,600mAh replaceable battery.
Its durability comes from a magnesium alloy case with polymer and elastomer guards placed around the edges, with ports sealed by rubbery plugs. These allow the Toughbook CF-20 to meet the MIL-STD-810G and MIL-STD-461F standards for shock and impact resistance and weather- and heat-proofing, as well as the IP65 standard for water- and dust-proofing. As with previous Toughbooks and Toughpads, this machine is designed to operate in hazardous working environments.
The model we were shown was, according to Panasonic, two iterations away from being ready for public sale; this was apparent in how some of the port plugs were loose. However, it does indeed feel supremely sturdy, with an extremely solid keyboard dock, scratch-resistant glass and a firm mechanism for locking the tablet in place. Despite this, it's not as thick or heavy as most rugged devices, measuring a manageable 272x234x33mm and weighing 1.76kg. An integrated, slide-out carry handle aids portability even further.
We were also impressed by the range of ports. These include one USB 3.0 port, one microSDXC card reader, an HDMI connector, an Ethernet port and a micro SIM slot on the tablet, plus two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, a full-size SDXC card reader, a second HDMI connector, a VGA port, a second Ethernet port and a nine-pin serial connector on the keyboard dock.
The keyboard, too, is pretty decent; we were expecting thin, spongy keys, but the action is still satisfyingly clicky, and the strange curvy shape of the keys didn't affect our typing accuracy.
The display, however, is well-equipped but lacklustre in practice. It's been treated with anti-glare and anti-reflection coatings, but at least one of these adds a dulling, oily effect over the entire screen, which compounds the already flat-looking colour balance. On the other hand, the FHD 1920x1080 resolution ensures that details are crisp and sharp, and it's worth mentioning that the touchscreen capabilities work even with gloved fingers.
The Toughbook CF-20 will launch with a choice of Windows 10 Professional or Windows 7 Professional. That's good news, as both include IT management and encryption tools that the base Windows versions do not - though we'd prefer Windows 10 Pro for the Continuum UI, which can adapt to specialised tablet and desktop modes depending on whether the keyboard dock is attached.
We did run into a couple of bugs in the test unit's Windows 10 Pro OS, though; at one point the automatic screen rotate feature got permanently stuck on portrait mode, and the Microsoft Edge browser window somehow shrunk itself, and could only be resized by manually dragging the edges. We're sure that these are the software's fault, not the device's, but they prove that glitches are something to be wary of when using a new OS like Windows 10.
As for bloatware, the only proprietary application we could find was a Panasonic utility tool, though since this only controlled basic settings like screen brightness and camera configuration, we're not sure why it was necessary when Windows already handles them just fine.
Speaking of the cameras, these were a letdown. The 8MP rear camera, which is an optional extra, takes some seriously fuzzy and desaturated photos, while captured movement appears incredibly blurry. The main 2MP front-facing camera, meanwhile, adds a weird orange tint. Obviously the Toughbook CF-20 isn't a device for taking professional-quality snaps or creating video content, but the capability for video comms does seem like an afterthought compared to the immaculate design elsewhere.
The Intel Core m5-6Y57 vPro CPU is taken from Intel's latest Skylake range. It's a 1.1GHz dual-core chip, which doesn't sound particularly powerful, but it is at least paired with a good 8GB of RAM. This helped the Toughpad CF-20 achieve reasonably nimble speeds during our time with it; it doesn't hesitate with basic tasks like opening apps or loading media-heavy webpages.
That said, it did start to slow down when running multiple windows at once; we're concerned that overclocking may be necessary to maintain reliable performance over time. On the bright side, being a professional-grade processor, the Core m5-6Y57 does come with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip to keep the system protected in case it detects some tampering with the hardware.
Both the battery and storage are upgradable. The basic model includes a 256GB SSD and a 2,600mAh battery, which provides up to eight hours of use. That may not be enough for some tasks, so it's good thing that it can be optionally augmented with a second 2,600mAh mounted inside the keyboard dock, as well as with a "bridge battery" that allows the main battery to be swapped out on the fly without the device switching off.
Additional SSD options include secondary 256GB or 512GB drives, both of which should provide ample space. All of these, including the standard drive, are fitted with heaters to prevent them breaking in extreme cold.
Overall, the Toughpad CF-20's display and performance probably won't be able to compete with conventional detachables like the Microsoft Surface Book. Even so, it's unlikely that anyone will want a rugged device to watch films or play games - they'll want something resilient, something that can survive a drop and resist the elements, all while providing the functionality of a business convertible in a form factor portable enough to comfortably carry around. On those grounds, the Toughpad CF-20 looks tough to beat.
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