The front of the CF-30 is dominated by the trademark solid metal handle. It’s fair to say that the handle is one of the defining features of a ToughBook, and there is something decidedly cool about being able to carry a notebook by a handle rather than having to put it in a bag. It’s also good to know that if someone tries to mug you, you can just smack them with your ToughBook, safe in the knowledge that the CF-30 won’t sustain the slightest bit of damage – unlike the mugger! The front of the handle sports a rubber housing where the stylus lives.
Also at the front is the sliding power switch and below that is a hardware switch for the wireless adapters. My review sample came equipped with an Intel Pro/Wireless 3945ABG Wi-Fi adapter and integrated Bluetooth. You can also specify the CF-30 with an integrated HSDPA adapter, which is unsurprising considering that Panasonic has been offering wireless WAN options on ToughBooks for years – as far back as the days of GSM data in fact. You can even have a GPS receiver embedded into your ToughBook, if you need to know where you are at all times.
At the left is another very secure door with two locking catches. Behind this one you’ll find the battery. Next to the battery is a very wide latched door, which hides both a PC Card slot and an Express Card slot. Below the expansion slots is a media bay, which was occupied by a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive in my review sample.
At the rear is a small rubber sealed flap hiding an RS232 serial port – legacy support is important on ToughBooks since many users still have serial based equipment that they need to connect to. There’s also a very large latched flap behind which there’s a D-SUB port, two more USB 2.0 ports, a headphone socket, a microphone socket and a docking connector. There’s a sliding door that reveals only the docking connector, so you don’t need to have the whole cover hinged down when docked.
Panasonic is still sticking with 4:3 aspect ratio screens for the ToughBooks, but I’m not sure how long this will go on for. With the vast majority of notebooks shipping with widescreen displays now, it probably won’t be long before it’s not commercially viable for Panasonic to continue its 4:3 trend. In fact I’m already aware of one ToughBook that will be switching to a widescreen display soon.
The screen in the CF-30 is a 13.3in affair with a native resolution of 1,024 x 768. Now that resolution may seem somewhat disappointing compared to many other notebooks, but you have to remember that this machines is designed to be used outside, in the pouring rain, when it’s covered in mud and dirt, so legibility is the most important thing with this screen. Like the CF-19 before it, the screen in the CF-30 is bright, very bright. With a brightness rating of 1000cd/m2 the screen in the CF-30 can be retina searingly bright, and I found myself having to dial the brightness down a couple of notches for comfortable office use. However, outside, in sunlight, that super brightness really comes into its own, allowing you to see what’s on the screen in almost any lighting conditions.