Panasonic has produced a machine that offers above-average resistance to maltreatment, without being excessively heavy. The Toughbook weighs 2.9kg excluding its power supply, which is very reasonable for a semi-hardened design, especially as it's also an all-in-one build with an integral CD-ROM drive and floppy drive.
The Toughbook has a magnesium alloy lid to provide proper protection from crush damage to the screen during transportation. The body of the machine is made from thick, fibreglass-reinforced mouldings with impact-resistant rounded corners.
Unlike the CF-25, the Toughbook isn't splash-proofed, so there are apertures in the case for cooling fans, the ports are exposed and the drive and battery compartments don't have waterproof seals.
Getting at the hard disk and battery pack is easy enough, as both are accessible beneath protective panels in the base. The panels are locked shut by large, robust catches, and the battery compartment panel is metal with an unbreakable rubber hinge.
The hard disk compartment is partially lagged with impact-deadening foam, and the drive itself is mounted in a surround that's partly filled with shock-absorbent polymer gel. I also noticed that the ports on the back panel were mounted on what appeared to be a single section of metal concealed within the outer casing. This should prevent shearing-type breakages of the connectors themselves should, for example, an attached printer cable be accidentally pulled. It also has the benefit of making the Kensington lock attachment next to the USB port impossible to break out of the body of the machine.
Sound comes in the form of a Yamaha OPL3-SA FM chip with a monaural speaker under the front edge of the case. This is adequate for one-to-one presentations, although the sound is thin and weak.
The optical trackball fitted to the Toughbook is a good example of its type. Panasonic maintains that 'many users' prefer trackballs to mousepads. I'm not one of them. Although it works, I still find having to use one finger to point and another to click rather awkward.
The keyboard was average, with a moderately responsive action but some sag in its base plate, a short spacebar and small Enter and Backspace keys. In its favour, the keypad is higher than the palmrest, which reduces forearm strain while typing, and the editing and cursor keys haven't been combined to save space at the expense of ease of use.
Panasonic has opted for a 12.1in SVGA resolution TFT screen, which operates at the standard 18-bit undithered maximum of 262,144 simultaneous colours. This should be more than enough, and while SVGA's 800 « 600 resolution isn't as nice as 1,024 « 768 XGA, it's perfectly usable. The screen is driven by the ever-popular 2Mb NeoMagic MagicGraph 128XD accelerator, which means decent performance and stable drivers.