The latest addition to Panasonic's Toughbook line of rugged computers is designed not only to weather dust, water and accidental drops. It is made to keep up with the increasingly mobile demands of corporate users thanks to its mini-PC form factor.
The CF-U1 Toughbook sits somewhere between a handheld PDA and a laptop computer in an attempt to combine the best of both worlds -- the portability of a handheld and the power of a PC. The mini computer is based on Intel's Atom processor and is compact and relatively light at 1.06 kilograms. It runs on either Windows XP or Vista.
Apart from featuring the recently-launched low-power Atom processor, the CF-U1 also has two batteries that can be "hot-swapped" where one battery can be taken out and replaced without turning off the entire system. Each battery can last about 3-4 hours.
To ensure the Toughbook can perform in harsh environments, Panasonic built a frame and case from magnesium and plastic and put rubber around the edges. As a result, it can survive drops of up to 120 centimeters, which approximately the height when the device is hand held. It's also possible to seal the ports, which effectively blocks dust, water and other particles. Additionally, it has a PC charging cradle in which the connector is also dust and water-resistant.
Panasonic has also made improvements to the Toughbook's layout so it should be easier to use. There are scroll buttons on its upper left hand side of the screen and zoom buttons just below them. It also has application buttons that allow users to open software applications with one touch. Two keyboard versions are available -- a 10-key and a full QWERTY keyboard (divided by the number keys in the middle). The LCD has also been improved over previous machines from Panasonic so it's easier to use in sunlight.
In a move to protect its position as market leader in this rugged laptop segment, Panasonic is prioritizing the overseas market and will release the machine from August. In Japan it will launch in October. Pricing is set to around ¥250,000 (around US$2,490) in Japan.