Panasonic Toughbook CF-T8 £1300
10th Nov 2008 | 16:33
A new generation of tough laptops
Panasonic have yet to release an Eee-style netbook PC; and with good reason - their Toughbook range of laptops has been hugely successful, and new, interesting additions to their line of ruggedised PCs are coming thick and fast.
At the bottom end of the latest toughbooks is the CF-T8, which comes in at £1300. We've got our hands on a pre-production sample to put to the test.
It's slightly ominous when you receive a supposedly ultra-tough PC in a box marked "handle with care", but upon removing it the quality of the product becomes apparent.
Although the silver and grey finish feels a little bit 90s (that's something we never thought we'd say), the lightness of the machine and the hardened outer combine to make this feel almost indestructible.
This is not a netbook
Inside, there's no de facto netbook 1.6ghz Atom lurking, with the T8 instead relying on a beefier duo-core Centrino 2 clocked at 1.2ghz.
The aspect ratio of the display is 4:3 with a resolution of 1024x768, making it feel far taller than the slightly squat widescreen laptops we've seen of late - but bear in mind that this is a computer designed for serious business users who like to fill their screens with infinitely tall Excel spreadsheets.
Having said that, video playback on the laptop is remarkably good - it coped well with high-definition 720p clips, but had sound synchronisation issues with 1080p files.
But, unless you're playing video through the VGA output, being able to play 1080p files on a 1024x768 screen is an exercise in futility. It's also only got a single speaker, so you'll have to invest in some headphones if you don't want to be stuck in 1980s TV mono.
Gaming performance was a real let-down, however - the inbuilt Intel GS45 graphics chipset could just about handle Half-Life 2, but balked at everything else we threw at it.
At this price we would expect a better chipset, and the old "it's for business users who don't need graphics" chestnut just doesn't really cut it any more - many, many applications, even on the web, depend on decent graphical performance.
Where the CF-T8 excels, however, is in on-the-road performance. A fully-charged battery will last eight hours in economy mode with wi-fi turned off. The screen is bright and clear, even in daylight, and it also incorporates a touchscreen for easy poke-and-clicking - which this reviewer only found out about when trying to wipe the screen.
Add to that built-in 3G capability (no dongles here!); the rigid, magnesium-alloy chassis and drop-and-spill resistance and you've got the perfect laptop for a long business trip away to the highlands.
Panasonic's latest isn't exactly going to take the world by storm, but for a minority of users - who either make spreadsheets on the sides of volcanoes or suffer from acute butter fingers - it's going to be essential.
And they've done a good job of packing it with the right features - our only major concerns being the lack of graphical athleticism, and the price.
Footnote: The Toughbook CF-T8 sample used in this test is pre-production and so the full-production model might be slightly different.