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Panasonic has carved a strong niche for itself with the Toughbook range of notebooks. The Toughbooks appeal to a different market from most other notebooks in that they are built to withstand a significant amount of abuse. As such Toughbooks are often seen in the hands of field engineers where a rugged shell is far more important than a few more MHz of processor power.
Traditionally the Toughbook notebooks have been large, heavy and pretty unattractive, but things are very different now. As well as the bombproof Toughbook range, there is now the Toughbook Lite range of products, which still offers a degree of robustness, but does so in a more aesthetically pleasing package.
The Toughbook W2 is the latest in the Toughbook Lite range and it has to be said that it does look every bit the cutting edge, stylish, ultra-portable notebook solution. With dimensions of only 268 x 41.5 x 210mm (WxHxD) and weighing in at a mere 1.3kg, the W2 will be a joy to carry around with you, so much so that you might forget it’s in your bag. But what’s really amazing about the Toughbook W2 is that even though it’s incredibly small and light, it is, as the name suggests, quite tough. The W2 isn’t quite as tough as the fully rugged notebooks, but you can still drop it from around 30cm, safe in the knowledge that it will still be working.
The W2 really does look great, with the body constructed from magnesium alloy and finished in silver. The screen and the hard disk are both shock dampened to ensure that they sustain no damage if the unit is knocked or dropped. Opening the notebook up reveals a sea of silver and grey that complements the external design perfectly.
As is always the case with very small form factor notebooks, some compromises have been made. The most significant compromise with the W2 is the keyboard. The keys are very small indeed and it can be quite difficult to achieve a full-speed typing rate. My hands are pretty small and even I had problems typing. That said, after I got accustomed to the key dimensions I was able to type pretty fast, but then I used to write entire features on a Psion Series 5. Most annoying is the tiny Return key along with the miniscule Spacebar. Amazingly though, despite the ridiculously tiny Spacebar, I only found myself missing it a couple of times. The entire keyboard is also a little flimsy, and when striking the Return or Backspace keys the whole right side of the keyboard flexes. The same thing happens on the left side of the keyboard but to a lesser extent.
The touchpad is much more appealing for a number of reasons. First and foremost it looks good, which is a strange observation for something as dull as a touchpad. But Panasonic has managed to make the touchpad a point of interest by giving it a circular shape. When I first saw the round touchpad I thought it was a design gimmick and would probably be a nightmare to use. However, when I did start using the touchpad it proved to be just as easy to manipulate as a standard rectangle one. The quarter-circular selector buttons also make a refreshing change, although the absence of scrolling buttons is a little annoying.
The screen is a 12.1in TFT display with a native resolution of 1,024 x 768. This might seem like a low resolution by today’s notebook screen standards, but considering the size of the screen it’s fine. The lighting is bright and even and there were no dead pixels evident. The colours aren’t quite as vibrant as I’ve seen with other notebooks, but the screen was perfectly usable in any lighting conditions.