Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 Review: The Toughest 2-in-1

by Reads (4,709)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 8
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 9
      • Usability
      • 8
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 8
      • Features
      • 8
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 8
      • Total Score:
      • 8.29
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Unquestionable durability
    • Excellent display quality
    • Hundreds of configurations
  • Cons

    • Frustratingly insensitive touchpad
    • Difficult to re-dock the tablet
    • Top-heavy design flops over on your lap

Quick Take

Minor design issues aside, the Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 is truly in a class by itself. No other device comes close to offering this level of certified durability and performance.


It’s safe to say that the 2-in-1 format is not simply a fad or trend in computing design. It’s here to stay. Panasonic serves as evidence, as it’s given this design to its Toughbook engineering department. The outcome: the Panasonic  Toughbook CF-20, Panasonic’s first Toughbook with a removable tablet display. We were lucky enough to get a hold of one of these newest designs for a complete run through.

Build & Design

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 is a very rugged 2-in-1.

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 is a very rugged 2-in-1.

Right out of the box you can tell this is no ordinary PC. The Panasonic CF-20 sports the now signature look of Panasonic’s fully rugged Toughbook line; sturdy ABS plastic edges with beveled corners all around, and silver-toned magnesium alloy panel on the top. Total weight is 3.9 pounds, which is about a full pound heavier than comparable consumer devices like the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 or the Lenovo Yoga 710. But it’s 1.2 pounds lighter than its predecessor the Toughbook 19.

The specs list that this device complies with both the U.S. Military strict requirements for durability (MIL-STD-810G) and the IEC standards for resistance to dust and water (IP65). As if that wasn’t enough, the Toughbook CF-20 also complies with the U.S. Military standards for electromagnetic compatibility. But wait, there’s more; the device includes optional Class I Division 2, groups ABCD compliance. This alphabet soup of standards means the Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 is one tough sucker with the papers to prove it.

A quick glance around the laptop reveals clearly labeled access panels, each one hiding the requisite ports and plugs one would expect. Slide them back slightly and the panels swing open to reveal the port. A small detail that field techs will surely appreciate is that all the doors are replaceable and secured with a simple Philips head screw. In fact, looking all over the front and back of the devices reveals that every screw holding this thing together is a Philips head. This is quite an advantage for the servicing the Panasonic CF-20 in the field as it means there won’t be any frantic searching for a unique Torx bit or micro sized hex bit.

The Panasonic CF-20 handle doubles as a kickstand.

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 handle doubles as a kickstand.

At the back edge of the laptop there is an integrated handle that pops out with a solid dual click as the extending arms lock into an open position. The spec sheet describes this handle as also serving the dual purpose of being a kickstand. That description is a little misleading though. The Panasonic CF-20 is one top-heavy device. When set on a flat surface during testing, the rugged Windows 2-in-1 would tip over backwards with even a small amount of pressure on the screen. This is not good for a touchscreen laptop, but it’s where the ‘kickstand’ portion of the handle comes into play. By extending the handle out, you get a little more stability and can use the touchscreen without fear of toppling the whole unit backwards. Instead of a kickstand, call it a “stabilizer.”

One additional issue we discovered during testing, the CF-20 is not good for literal lap use. As laps have a naturally declining angle, the PC flops back as soon as hands come off the keyboard. The kickstand does little to remedy this situation.

Display & Tablet

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 display is a compact 10.1-inch screen with a 16:10 display ratio in full HD, which comes out to a 1920 x 1200 native resolution. Such a high resolution on such a small display makes for a very sharp and clear image, with a pixel-per-inch count of 224. This is just slightly more than the renowned Retina display on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Panasonic claims a super bright 800 nit display, and our experience showed that this was enough to accomplish its intended purpose of usability in direct sunlight. The touch screen supports 10 point multi touch and also has the handy feature of being usable while wearing work gloves. However, like our testing of the ToughPad FZ-G1 revealed, this functionality depends greatly on the type of work gloves being worn. While wearing the newer form-fitting work gloves like those from Firm Grip or Mechanix, the touch screen responds well. But using old style work gloves with thick suede or leather fingers produces little or no response from the touch screen.

The Panasonic CF-20 keyboard dock is very secure.

The Panasonic CF-20 keyboard dock is very secure.

The tablet release latch resides on the inside of the laptop. It’s also lockable to prevent any accidental release. True to the Toughbook lineage, the latch seems extremely secure with no wiggle or play when attached. The toughness of this latch cuts both ways, as it takes a lot of pressure to attach the tablet back into its slot. Often during testing, the tablet would seem secured, but any attempt to move the device, and the screen would drop right out. We found the most efficient way for securing the tablet involved a solid whack on the top edge.

The tablet has a cradle for an active stylus which unfortunately was not included with our tester, so we can’t provide any insight into its performance. We found some issues with the FZ-G1 ToughPad stylus that we hope Panasonic addressed. Thankfully, Panasonic addressed another FZ-G1 complaint by relocating the stylus cradle to the right side from the left. This prevents the awkwardness of a stretched stylus tether across the screen for the majority of the right-handed users.

The front of the tablet has several buttons along the lower edge along with some indicator lights. The first two buttons are customizable hot buttons, the first of which comes default set to launch a custom control panel for various options settings. Then there is a set of volume up and down buttons, followed by the standard Windows home button, and then an auto-rotate lock button. The three indicator lights provide status on the first battery, Wi-Fi connection, and charging status. The last button on the row is the typical power button.

Ports & Audio

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 has an expansionist’s dream array of ports, including some intelligently duplicated ports as well. Starting on the right side of the keyboard dock, there’s a VGA connector, a USB 2.0 slot, a full size HDMI port, and a standard size SD/XC memory card slot. There is also a power plug behind a beefy sealed door.

On the left side we find a good old-fashioned D-Sub 9-pin serial port. As old-school as this port is, its presence is practically essential for the target market. This is the port most commonly used to interface with a variety of specialized firmware-only computing devices. This is followed by an RJ-45 network jack, two USB 3.0 slots, and a Kensington security lock hole. The back side of the keyboard dock is bare due to the handle / kickstand. The bottom of the keyboard dock has a connector for external broadband devices, and the interface for an expansion dock accessory which comes in both desktop and vehicle flavors.

The CF-20 has many duplicate ports, and that's a good thing.

The Panasonic CF-20 has many duplicate ports, and that’s a good thing.

On the tablet half of the device, the left side has a quartet of essential connectors behind a single access door. This includes a micro-SD slot, a 3.5mm audio/mic jack, another USB 3.0 port, and an HDMI connector. Behind its own door is another RJ-45 network jack. The right side of the tablet is mostly taken up by the cradle for the active stylus but there is a duplicate power plug and another Kensington security hole on this side as well.

All Panasonic CF-20 ports are hidden behind easy-to-access panels.

All Panasonic CF-20 ports are hidden behind easy-to-access panels.

Note that there are duplicate ports between the two halves of this unit. This is a good thing. Being able to use the tablet portion with a wired network and powered connection, and connect to an external display means the computing half of the device maintains usability on a long-term basis should the keyboard dock get lost or get pierced by errant shrapnel.

As far as audio goes, there’s a fairly loud and clear squawk box in the tablet half of the device and it will function fine as long as it is expected to reproduce beeps and blips. But any attempt at music reproduction should be relegated to a set of headphones.

Keyboard & Touchpad

The Panasonic CF-20 touchpad is small and finicky.

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 touchpad is small and finicky.

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 keyboard is a full size 82-key setup with a rubberized feel, and it’s sealed off to prevent any liquid entry into dock itself. The keys are also backlit, which can be adjusted in brightness or just turned off completely. In testing, the typing feel was pleasant with a adequate feedback from the keys. We’re happy to see a near full-sized array of cursor control keys as well.

The touchpad is a decent size given the compact nature of the device, but it’s small compared against those found on full-sized laptops. It’s also the source of one our biggest annoyance.

Touchpads have evolved over the years to the point where most users are comfortable with the lightest and most graceful of swipes registering the correct corresponding movement on the screen. Not in this case. Somewhere in the process of designing what we are sure is a very rugged touchpad, Panasonic managed to remove all the sensitivity and responsiveness that has become expected. Instead, any use of the touchpad must be done with a very purposeful amount of pressure in order to get a response. It’s something users could adapt to in time, but it’s especially annoying in the interim.

Performance

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 comes in 592 combinations, according the configuration tool on the Panasonic website. However the bulk of those variations are due to the highly specialized accessories available, such as magstripe readers, dedicated GPS modules, smartcard readers, and so forth.

When it comes to the basic configurations of the device, the core is pretty fixed. All of the CF-20’s currently come configured with an Intel CORE m5 processor (m5-6Y57) running dual cores at 2.8GHz, 8GB of RAM, and either a 128 or 256 GB SSD. Our tester came with 128 GB. The sole GPU option is the onboard Intel HD 515 chipset. Wireless capabilities are also provided via the typical on-board Intel AC8260 chipset, which provides all the current 802.11 flavors (a/b/g/n/ac). The base unit starts at $3,099.

As with previous tablets, we tried out some easy games such as mahjong and Candy Crush, and these performed fine, both in terms of graphics and game response, and in terms of the touchscreens accuracy and sensitivity. We also downloaded the graphics intensive Asphalt 8 Airborne and ran through a few of the warm-up races in the stock Dodge Dart GT. The gyro chip and the graphics processor kept up just fine through the half dozen races we completed.

Our Panasonic CF-20 review unit was equipped with the full 1080HD webcam on the front and an 8MP camera for the rear. Some sample shots from the 8MP rear camera came out quite clear although the color seemed a little washed. Some Skype calls with the HD webcam were sharp and responsive, but did require a well-lit room.

The PCMark8 test scores came back with a Work score of 4076 and a Home score of 3040, which is a good notch above comparable 2-in-1’s such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with a less powerful Core m3 processor.

Benchmarks

wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):
wprime

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
pcm8 h

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):
pcm8 w

3DMark 11 is a benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3dm11

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
toughbook2in1cdmark

Battery

Panasonic claims the single battery that comes standard with the CF-20 is capable of 7 hours of runtime, but our demanding Powermark test came back far below that measurement with just over 3 hours of runtime from a single battery pack. Given this device is equipped with a conceal mode that kills all backlighting to the screen, I imagine that is the setting that was used to achieve their projected battery life. If you really need to stretch the device out to 7 hours then you should be ordering the optional 2nd battery that can be installed in the keyboard dock.

Our Panasonic CF-20 review unit did come with the optional hot swap battery and we verified that we were able to remove the sole battery back without shutting down the system, albeit we tested this for no more than a minute.

PowerMark “Balanced” battery life test results listed in minutes (higher scores mean better life):

powermark

Conclusion

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 is a very rugged 2-in-1.

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-20 is truly in a class by itself. No other device comes close to offering this level of certified durability and performance. In fact, the CF-20 is right up there with the latest 2-in-1 offerings from Microsoft and Lenovo. Furthermore, it is clear that Panasonic have market researched the heck out of their target market as the device is loaded with little touches that would only matter to the military personnel, first responders, and contractors who need this level of durability in their portable PC.

Pros:

  • Unquestionable durability
  • Excellent display quality
  • Hundreds of configurations

Cons:

  • Frustratingly insensitive touchpad
  • Difficult to re-dock the tablet
  • Top-heavy design flops over on your lap

 



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