The notebook computer market is pretty cut throat, but Panasonic has managed to avoid this problem by ensuring that it has no competition for its mobile computers. I'm sure that there are manufacturers out there who will insist that they also produce rugged notebooks, but in reality, the ToughBook is the Daddy. Yes, that's right, the Panasonic ToughBook is to mobile computing, what Ray Winstone's Carlin was to borstal.
But the ToughBooks aren't just about being bullet proof, Panasonic has also pioneered technology in these machines that has taken years to appear elsewhere. Let's look at the recent trend for integrating 3G wireless WAN modules into notebooks - although Panasonic doesn't offer this feature in the CF-74, it has for several years offered integrated GSM and GPRS modules in ToughBooks. It's features like this that have made the ToughBooks very popular with companies like BT, that need field staff to be connected wherever they may be.
The ToughBook CF-74 in front of me right now sits somewhere between the CF-29 and the CF-51 that I reviewed a while back. It doesn't feel quite as bomb proof as the CF-29, but it will still survive a drop of almost a metre - something that I tested myself. The magnesium alloy casing is very strong, but most important is the hard drive enclosure that protects all your valuable data. Even after being dropped on the ground several times, the CF-74 booted without issue - a neat trick, but something that I take for granted with these machines.
Unlike the CF-29, the CF-74 doesn't have a touch screen, which is a bit of a disappointment. I have to say that I was never a big fan of touch screens on notebooks, but I became a convert when I reviewed the CF-29. On the plus side, the screen is a bit more bright and vivid without the touch screen coating. Talking of brightness, this is the brightest notebook screen I have ever seen, bar none - so much so, that it actually hurt my eyes to sit in front of this machine with the screen at full brightness! Of course the point of this retina burning brightness is that when you're using a notebook outside, the strong ambient light can make it difficult to see the screen, but the ToughBook CF-74 suffers no such issues.