Panasonic CF 20 Field Review

Panasonic CF 20 Field Review

Panasonic’s new CF 20 convertible tablet/laptop is a terrific go-anywhere Windows computer. It performs well as a desktop replacement and is a very capable mobile device for use in harsh environments.

This Windows 10 (or 7) convertible can be used as a laptop, or with the tablet portion detached. I found the tablet to be very quick to detach and re-attach with a very secure solid feeling locking mechanism.

Desktop Replacement

As a desktop replacement the CPU, RAM and Solid State Drive combine to make this a very capable device for most users.  Panasonic has incorporated a sophisticated passive cooling system utilizing “heat pipes”.  This should allow the CPU to operate at higher clock speeds for longer time periods than other passively cooled computers with out this system.  However, for those users that must perform tasks that require lots of processing power for extended periods of time (i.e. video editing) the 1.1 to 2.8 Gigahertz CPU may not be ideal.

There are a remarkable number of opportunities for connecting peripherals along with expansion options:

  • On the Keyboard
    • 3 x USB ports
    • SDXC Card Reader
    • HDMI
    • VGA
    • 10/100/1000 Ethernet
    • Serial Port
  • On the Tablet
    • 1 x USB (with optional 2nd USB)
    • Micro SDDXC
    • HDMI
    • 10/100/1000 Ethernet
    • Headphone/speaker jack
    • Micro-SIM card slot

The CF 20 is capable of driving two additional external monitors.   With all of these options for connecting peripherals I would have a hard time justifying the purchase of the optional docking station.

Field Use

Panasonic CF20 buttons

It is in harsh environments that this computer really excels.  Both the tablet and keyboard are rated at IP65 for dust and water ingress protection.  Essentially this means that it can be used in heavy rain and blowing sand or dust.  I was fortunate that it was raining when I was doing my testing which allowed me to really see how well it can function in a challenging environment.

Panasonic has done a great job of producing a tablet with a highly sensitive multi-touch screen.  Unlike most tablets, this allows for the use of a fine tipped stylus (most tablets require the use of  about a 6mm stylus).  This makes writing and annotating much more precise.  I suspect this contributes to the excellent hand writing recognition, which quickly became my preferred method of text entry when detached from the keyboard.

In order to use the touch screen in rain the tablet must be put in “Touch/Water” mode.  With small water droplets on the screen there is no issue with performance.  I did find that larger droplets activate the digitizer occasionally – more of an inconvenience rather than a significant issue.  To remedy this issue it is only necessary to shake the water off of the screen or turn off the screen and wipe it off with your hand.  I have not found a tablet that performs better in heavy rain.  The CF 20 is on a par with Panasonic’s FZ-G1.  Below is a link to a video in which I have demonstrated the use of the CF 20 in the rain.

CF 20 Review

The screen on this tablet can be easily viewed in full sunlight.  In most cases it is not necessary to have the screen on full brightness to easily work with it – 50% is sufficient in most cases.  Running the screen at 50% brightness will greatly extend battery life.  And if you find one battery will not get you through a full field day you can swap it out for the optional keyboard battery.

For most field users managing power consumption to get through a field day is something that is always on their mind.  The use of a low power consumption CPU in this tablet goes a long way towards this.  However, in most cases it is the screen that consumes the majority of the power.  Keeping the screen off as much as possible is a good practice that will extend run time.  Panasonic makes this easy by allowing users to program the A1 or A2 button to turn off the screen with one touch.  The screen can quickly be turned on again by swiping the screen twice.

I found the tablet to be relatively light-weight when compared to other ruggedized tablets.  To put it in perspective I also have an iPad Air 2 in a LifeProof Case – total weight 708 grams.  The CF 20 (tablet only) weighs 950 grams.  The difference is noticeable but I was surprised how close the weights are.

Closing Remarks

I found only two issues of note when testing this device – both are relatively minor.

  1. I found the stylus to be a little awkward to put back into the “garage” on the side of the tablet as the stylus cross section is not round.   It needs to be oriented just right to get it back into the garage.  I expect with practice I would learn to get the orientation right without having to think about it.
  2. The port covers have a sliding lock on them to ensure they remain closed.  It is possible to knock these with your hand and put them into the unlocked position.  This could potentially lead to water or dust ingress.  However, I expect the likelihood of this occurring and resulting in an issue is very low.

If your field staff need a device that will function as a very capable desktop and as a terrific device for field use the CF 20 is an excellent option.  There are many hardware options that will make this a suitable device for a wide range of work environments.

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