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Panasonic ToughBook CF-74 - Rugged Notebook - Panasonic ToughBook CF-74
Unlike most notebooks these days, the ToughBook range hasn't moved over to a widescreen aspect ratio for the screen, and this 13.3in example sports a somewhat conservative 1,024 x 768 resolution. I generally like to see a much higher resolution on a screen this size, but you have to consider the target market for the ToughBook. These notebooks are not designed to be used on a desk all day, they're built to be dragged around from pillar to post without the user having to worry about them. And although the CF-74 isn't built to be as indestructible as the CF-29 or CF-18, it will still happily function in significantly harsh environments. If you're out in the field it's probably easier to work with a lower resolution and larger text/icons - of course I know that you can customise font sizes and icons, but most corporate IT departments don't want to muck about with custom configs for each user.
The CF-74 is water resistent, but not quite to the level of the CF-29. That said, there's no need to panic if you're caught in a sudden shower, or if you spill your coffee over the keyboard. The integrated solid metal carrying handle makes transporting the CF-74 simple, without the need for a notebook specific carrying bag. Being able to carry ToughBooks in this matter also means that you can be up and running in a matter of seconds, without the need to remove the notebook from a bag before you start working.
The keyboard layout is typical ToughBook, which means that some users may find it a little unusual. If you're used to working on a US keyboard notebook it won't be a problem, but if not, you may find yourself missing the very small Return key at first. To be honest though, even if you're used to a large Return key, it won't take long to get used to its dimensions on the CF-74. The Spacebar is also surprisingly small, but still I didn't find myself missing it once during my time with this ToughBook.
The keyboard layout may be somewhat unusual, but the action is first rate. There's a significant amount of travel in the keys and each one feels completely separated from the surrounding keys. There isn't the slightest hint of flex in the keyboard no matter how hard you type, and there's a strong break at the end of the travel to facilitate fast typers. Touching on layout once more, at least Panasonic has placed the Ctrl key at the bottom left of the keyboard, where it should be - so if you're a keybaord shortcut junkie, you'll be very happy indeed.