As with any self-respecting business laptop that needs to accommodate a huge variety of uses and add-ons, the Toughbook CF-19 is stuffed to its rugged gills with features and connectivity, all protected by individual covers to keep out dust and liquid.
Behind a series of similar ‘doors’ on the laptop’s left we have the power jack, a USB 3.0 port, mini Firewire port, 56k modem jack, and Gigabit Ethernet jack. A large flap with a more intricate/secure opening mechanism hides a physical wireless switch and a collection of card slots including a full-size SDXC reader, a PC card slot, and a 54mm ExpressCard slot.
At the rear to the left you’ll find full-size VGA and Serial ports (the latter, believe it or not, still being useful in some scenarios), while to the right we have a USB 2.0 port and a single cover that hides headphone plus microphone jacks and a SIM card slot for mobile broadband. The rear ports are covered by the Panasonic Toughbook CF-19’s carrying strap, but this can be opened to provide easy access.
On the wireless side of things this Panasonic Toughbook is equally well-endowed, with Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and optional 3G mobile broadband. Other bays and covers protect various modular components, such as the easily removable battery and hard drive/SSD.
As the CF-19 can be converted into a tablet, all the main controls and power switch are accessible in either mode. At the front to the left you’ll find screen brightness with an LED indicator, a virtual keyboard toggle, maximize/minimise windows button, very handy screen rotation button, and lock button. To the right, meanwhile, is the large power-on/off switch.
Along with Lenovo and HP, Panasonic generally makes some of the better laptop keyboards around; the reason we rarely reference this in reviews is because Panasonic only occupy a small niche in the business laptop market here in Europe.
Either way, this expertise shines through in the key feedback, which is nice and crisp. Layout is also mostly decent, with good spacing, a large right-shift key, and plenty of dedicated function keys. However, there are a few annoying quirks too: the Enter key is US style, and the cursor keys are arranged in an L-pattern rather than the usual square or half-cross. When it comes down to it, the typing experience is superior to what you can expect from the average 10-inch device, but not as good as that offered by the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad, which actually has less width to work with. Of course, that won’t survive you dropping it from a balcony…
The Toughbook CF-19’s touchpad is tiny, but works well. The same can be said of its buttons, which are slightly difficult to press under their protective rubber sheaths but nicely responsive nonetheless. Neither the keyboard nor pad offer ideal usability, but we’re guessing that’s the price you pay for the weatherproofing and ruggedness.
Of course, the keyboard and touchpad are not the only ways to interact with this Panasonic Toughbook, as its 10-inch screen also supports touch. However, it’s not the super-responsive capacitive type of touch you’ll find on the average smartphone or tablet; the CF-19 harks back to days of yore when touch-screens were resistive.
Now before you throw up your hands in despair, there’s method to this madness. Capacitive tech requires you to touch the screen with a finger or other conductive material. In other words, in environments/circumstances where you’re frequently required to wear gloves or be holding objects (e.g. medical), a capacitive screen would be little use. With resistive, you can touch the screen with pretty much anything, from a banana to the back of a biro. The obvious downside is that it’s not as responsive and can require a firm poke to work.
But what about if you require speed or accuracy? In these scenarios, resistive touch is far from ideal. Well, that’s where Wacom’s super-slim, pressure-sensitive stylus comes into play. Neatly tucked away in a slot in the screen’s lower bezel, it resembles nothing so much as Samsung’s S Pen as found in the Galaxy Note II (not surprising as they share the same Wacom tech), except Panasonic’s model has no buttons.
Of course, the stylus isn’t just handy as a navigation tool, but also allows diverse uses like handwriting, digital signage, sketching, and more. The matt surface of the CF-19’s screen can make writing and drawing more pleasant than on the slippier glass most Wacom-enabled mobile devices offer, but at the same time we found the surface texture slightly inconsistent, making these very tasks quite difficult. However, we imagine the smoother bits will wear in a little with a month or so of use. Unfortunately, this Toughbook’s poor screen quality and low resolution means we can’t really recommend it for artists and serious photographers regardless, but for its intended use-group the stylus is a God-send.