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Panasonic ToughBook CF-H1 Mobile Clinical Assistant review



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When it comes to mobile computing Panasonic has carved out a good niche for itself. The ToughBook range is pretty much the de facto standard when it comes to rugged mobile computers, and not without good reason. While other manufacturers have tried to make existing notebooks more rugged, Panasonic took the opposite approach and created rugged machines from the ground up. As such it has put Panasonic in a great position when it comes to creating mobile computers for specific markets, mixing its penchant for rugged build and flexible bespoke configurations to produce products the meet their customers' requirements exactly.

Last year Panasonic was one of the first manufacturers to show off Intel's Atom platform in its ToughBook CF-U1 UMPC. This proved to be a great device for anyone who needed a fully rugged device, but didn't want the bulk of a full size notebook. Now Panasonic has worked with Intel again to produce the ToughBook CF-H1 Mobile Clinical Assistant. And with Intel pushing its Digital Health initiative hard, it must be pretty happy with what Panasonic has brought to the market.

At its most basic level the ToughBoook CF-H1 is a digital tool for use in a medical environment and can be used for anything from reading patient notes, to accessing medical databases. However, in the true ToughBook tradition, this device has quite a few tricks up its sleeve.

First and foremost the CF-H1 is a fully rugged device, which means that it will withstand drops from almost a metre high (90cm to be exact). That means that even the most clumsy doctors or nurses won't have to worry about dropping the device, or having it fall off a patient's bed or table. It's also waterproof, which is nothing short of essential in the medical environment.

The waterproof nature also means that the device can be regularly wiped down with alcohol swabs to reduce the chances of carrying germs from one patient to another. The fanless hardware design also cuts down on the chance of airborne germs being transported by the CF-H1, since there are no vents sucking air into the chassis. The touch screen design means that there's no keyboard to get dirty and germ ridden, while the chassis is completely sealed, with the power socket and battery compartments hidden behind locking doors.

It's the 10.4in screen that dominates the CF-H1 - with standard 4:3 aspect ratio and a resolution of 1,024 x 768. Of course this is a touch screen panel, but it can also be used with a digitiser pen, which ships in the box. The screen itself is very easy to read, even in bright fluorescent lighting, which is a good thing since that's the kind of environment where it will be used. Of course the built-in soft keyboard in Windows is as bad as ever, but in reality this device is likely to be loaded with bespoke applications and the end user probably won't have to go near the desktop.

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Martin Leventon

January 29, 2009, 6:57 pm

The question is wether at 2K a machine is will the NHS be able to afford to add some into the IT infrastucture they have. Personally if I had a spare 2k id be buying one myself !


January 29, 2009, 8:00 pm

Oops - just realised I'd worked out the VAT at 17.5 per cent instead of 15. Fixed now - sorry about that!

Yes it does remain to be seen whether the NHS will adopt this kind of device, but I'd be happy to know that my taxes were going into the health service rather than certain other areas. Best not to get me started down this road though :)


January 29, 2009, 8:16 pm

I've tried one out & found them too heavy to balance in your hand whilst on a ward, what did you think Riyad? ps What OS does it have & how much RAM on yours?


January 30, 2009, 1:47 am

@MobyVia - Everyone in the office, myself included, found it really comfortable to use with one hand through the strap at the back. Of course how long you’d want to use it like that is debatable, but I’m assuming that you wouldn’t be holding the thing the whole time you’re with a patient.

The version I had was running XP and only had 1GB of memory, but was still surprisingly nippy. I imagine that anyone thinking about rolling these things out would employ a very lean OS build and then run bespoke apps. Ultimately any hardware is only as good as the software that runs on it.

bar simpspinn

January 30, 2009, 5:19 pm

Just how much were you paid for this - ahem, 'article'?


January 30, 2009, 5:34 pm

We're on 10 per cent commission for every CF-H1 sold in the UK :)

No, seriously, just because it's a little uncommon doesn't mean we've been paid to feature it. We just thought it was something a little more different, and thus interesting, than "just another notebook." And TR has a history of featuring TooughBooks which, we concede, most consumers would never buy.

Dave Manchester

January 31, 2009, 2:21 am

This was a real stab from the past for me.

In 1992 I formed a partnership to design and build such a device as this. At first we were going to use the EO-440 and EO-880 (PenPoint OS) but that was killed by AT&T as soon as we finished writing the proposal (for a nursing home).

The target device would be a tablet PC, wireless, lan connected, and have a bar code reader. It would also have had fax and voicemail. We had in mind using it on medicine carts in convalescent and nursing homes.

We actually went to many trade shows looking for equivalent functionality to the discontinued EO pc's. Our final proposal included the Dauphin DTR-1 with MS Windows for Pen extensions, PenOP for signature authentication, with PowerBuilder generated applications on a Novell Network.

Alas, our Client had nowhere near the amount of money to fund the pilot project (and I learned a valuable lesson about doing proposals on spec). On the upside, we learned a lot about the state of the art circa 1992-1996. Also, many of the features we demanded and communicated to vendors started to appear around 1996-99 with the initial iterations of PDA's from Palm and others.

Sigh. It just doesn't pay to be too far ahead of Your time without Angel Investors. It's been 17 years, and here is this fine machine.

Good Job Panasonic!

- David C. Manchester



January 31, 2009, 8:34 pm

@bar simpspinn - And there I was thinking that a fully rugged touch screen device with unique features like integrated RFID and wireless smartcard security might be of interest to some people. I'm glad you pointed out the error in my thinking, what would I do without you. Strangely though, my bank account doesn't seem to have grown since publication - do you think I should contact someone about that?

@Dave Manchester - I've spoken to a few people over the years who had great ideas, but simply couldn't find the backing to implement them. It's a frustrating situation, especially when you have to watch someone else bring something similar to market. That said, I think the only reason that Panasonic has gone down this route is because it has already carved such a strong niche for itself with its ToughBooks, that it can carry that reputation and knowhow across, while also making use of existing manufacturing facilities.

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