The high brightness of the display is all the more impressive, considering that it’s a touch screen. Ok, so the colours have that slightly washed out look to them, just like with all touch screen displays, but the big advantage is navigation. There’s no need to worry about the touchpad getting muddy or wet, simply stab the stylus, or even your finger at the screen to get things done.
Like previous fully rugged ToughBooks, the keyboard is a bit of a mixed bag. The keys themselves have a decent amount of travel and a strong spring back, which suits fast typers like myself. It’s also good to see the Ctrl key located at the bottom left, where it should be – this makes it easy for anyone that uses a lot of keyboard shortcuts. However, the keyboard layout is US, just like previous units, which means you get a small Enter key, rather than the traditional large Return key seen on UK keyboards. You’ll also find the @ key where the “ key should be and vice versa. It’s not a massive problem though, especially since I imagine that the majority of CF-30s won’t be used for writing massive documents.
The touchpad is smooth and responsive enough, although I far preferred using the touch screen. The two rubber buttons below the touchpad work well, and are easy to press even when the machine is soaking wet. Below the touchpad are indicator lights for Caps Lock, Num Lock, Scroll Lock, Multimedia Pocket (where the optical drive is), Hard Disk and MP Power.
If you do need to use a notebook out in the field all day, the CF-30 will keep you going for a good while. Running Mobile Mark 2005, the CF-30 managed a battery life of six hours 37 minutes – that should keep you going away from a power source for most of the day. The battery life isn't quite as good as the CF-29, but that wasn't running a dual core CPU. General performance isn’t going to set the world on fire, but ToughBooks are about robustness and usability in almost any environment rather than raw speed.
The CF-30 weighs a not insubstantial 3.8kg, but it doesn’t feel massively heavy when you’re holding it by the handle. And with dimensions of 302 x 285 x 70mm (WxDxH) it’s not small either, but again it doesn’t feel big or bulky – maybe because you don’t need a case to carry it around.
With a base price of £2,971, the CF-30 is far from cheap, but when push comes to shove, you either need a notebook that can survive this kind of punishment or you don’t, and if you fall into the former camp, the cost is, to some degree, irrelevant. Also, having witnessed the amount of research and testing that goes into the ToughBook range, it’s easy to see where that money is going – especially when you consider that the vast majority of notebooks on the market are not actually built by the company who’s name is plastered on them.
The ToughBook CF-30 is an amazing piece of technology – a notebook computer that can survive an immense amount of punishment. The fact that we managed to drive a car over a ToughBook and it just kept working, speaks volumes about Panasonic’s build quality. Put simply, if you need a mobile computer that can survive pretty much anything, this is it.