It looks like a briefcase. It almost weighs like one at about 2.5 kgs. I can carry around my valuable stuff in it and drop it on the ground without worrying about it cracking.

I'm talking about the latest in Panasonic's Toughbook range, the CF-53 that landed on my table for a review. The CF-53 belongs to the semi-ruggedised line-up of personal computing machines by Panasonic. Finding middle ground between genres like ‘Business Ruggedised' and ‘Fully Ruggedised', the Toughbook CF-53 also tries to find the balance between roughing it out while trying to look elegant. And I have to say it does one of those jobs much better than the other – no prizes for guessing which one it is!

What keeps it safe?

At the core of the machine is an Intel Core i5 vPro processor. Unlike most other laptops or portable computers that you can lay your hands on, the Toughbook CF-53 comes with a detachable hard drive. This design factor has been incorporated keeping data security in mind. Each Toughbook also comes with a built-in security chip (TPM) for data protection. Most critical parts of the laptop, for example, the hard drive, the battery and the display, are encased in a special magnesium alloy to enable better heat dissipation.

Having crafted the device while keeping markets like India in mind (places prone to dirt and dust), the fan used to cool the system is also proprietary - one that doesn't let dust accumulate in the system too easily.

The case in which the hard drive is lodged is made up of shock-absorbing polymers to help insulate against vibration and shock. A non-breakable plastic seal covers all vital interfaces and connections. According to the company, this is what helps the Toughbook CF53 withstand a 76 cm-drop. I didn't have a ruler handy, but dropped it on the floor anyway and the Toughbook did what it does best – survive. The design on the top of the laptop- referred to as the “bonnet design” – has enhanced blocks to absorb impact and protect the 14-inch LCD display in case it's dropped. All the ports in the laptop, with the exception of the Power Connector, are airtight, hence waterproof. The touchpad with the click-keys can survive the occasional coffee spill or two as well.

Finger-talking

The chunky keypad with its bold typeface is comforting in a regressive sort of way. While the layout is a little different from the standard keyboard – there is no ‘Ctrl' key to the right, ‘Insert' is on the bottom-most row of the keypad – the keyboard is very comfortable to type on. The same applies to the use of the touchpad and right/left click buttons which make no pretentious claims to be sleek or sassy – just bigger than the one in the previous models. The keypad supports a couple of multi-touch gestures apart from the usual scrolling up and down. Scrolling vertically with two fingers took me to the end of a document or web site. When I was browsing through a couple of my pictures on the laptop, a three finger horizontal scroll took me through them all, while a one-finger scroll would let me zoom in and out. The same function was also served by the pinch-and-zoom gesture when I wanted bigger fonts or icons. The 14-inch LED screen is your run-of-the-mill display - nothing spectacular when it comes to visuals.

Tech talk

The laptop comes with a 320GB hard drive, a PC Card, ExpressCard and an SD Memory Card Slot. Connectivity ports on the device include three USB 2.0 ports and a USB 3.0 port. You also have an HDMI port and a microphone and 3.5mm headphone jack at the front of the laptop to plug in to. This laptop also comes with a touchscreen model that is yet to be launched in the Indian markets. The company claimed that the battery life on the Toughbook CF-53 lasts almost 10 hours and it was one of those rare cases where I couldn't contest it. While switched off, the laptop took about 2-3 hours to get completely charged. And it gave me company throughout my day at work, connected continually to the Wi-Fi network.

Final word

The rundown of specs that the Panasonic Toughbook CF-53 boasts of could easily be found on any other laptop across any of the gazillion brands in the market now. What makes the CF-53 different (while also narrowing and focusing on a very niche clique of consumers) is its emphasis on design that lends the product unparalleled durability. Hence, buying the CF-53 to use at home would be like paying a CIA agent to do your laundry. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration! But the CF-53 is ideally designed for people who find themselves working in precarious environments, ones in which it is difficult for them to operate on a regular computing machine. Examples could be engineers who are out in the field, army personnel, factory managers – you get the drift. And for those, the Toughbook CF-53 would be a strong brother-in-arms.

Love: Built to survive, long battery life

Hate: Average screen, sturdy but heavy, pricey

Rs 99,000

mahananda@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on November 16, 2011)
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