Real tough guy: Panasonic’s Toughbook CF-AX2 reviewed

Laptop computers are generally fragile, but Panasonic’s Toughbook CF-AX2 takes the Ultrabook concept and makes it capable of surviving more than just the most basic of drops, making it ideal for people who are tough on their gear.

Features

Built to survive, Panasonic’s CF-AX2 Toughbook isn’t your ordinary Ultrabook. It’s thin and light, but designed differently, to take a beating from the world, or a clumsy owner if the case may be.

That said, it still needs to be a computer, and a usable one at that, so to make that happen, Panasonic has included many of the specs you’d expect to find in an Ultrabook, except in a machine that can take a beating.

There’s an Intel Core i5 processor here, taken from the third-generation processors also known as “Ivy Bridge” and clocked at 1.8GHz, working alongside Intel HD 4000 graphics, 4GB RAM, and a 128GB solid-state drive.

You’ll find all of this sits under a 11.6 inch touchscreen display, running the resolution of 1366×768, and sitting in a frame that still has a Windows button sitting dead centre at the top.

There are ports aplenty on the Toughbook, with so many options that are normally missed on Ultrabooks. As such, expect to find wired Ethernet, VGA monitor, SD card slot, microphone, headphone, two USB 3.0, and an HDMI port, as well as a Kensington lock that has been built into the metal frame of the machine. Good luck stealing this thing when it’s held in place with a Kensington lock.

Two batteries also arrive on the Toughbook CF-AX2, one built in and the other removable.

The Toughbook CF-AX2 also employs a rather interesting design whereby a different type of perpendicular hinge is used, making it possible to push the screen so that it not only lies completely flat, but that it wraps around the back of the computer and keyboard section, effectively turning it into a tablet on one side with a keyboard on the other (when used in this mode, the keyboard deactivates).

A few buttons exist on the outside of the computer to help in this mode, with volume buttons and a rotation lock, while a wireless switch allows you to quickly turn wireless connections on and off.

Performance

If you think about a durable machine, you might automatically assume the product has to be heavy, built with lots of thick pieces of metal or with large protrusions of rubber to stop anything from breaking when the product falls. If you think this way, though, and then look at Panasonic’s 11.6 inch Toughbook, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Pick up the CF-AX2 and you’ll be surprised at the weight: it’s just so light, and very well balanced. There’s plastic surrounding a metal casing and overall, it just feels complete.

We’re told the machine weighs 1.15 kilograms, which isn’t much more than the lightest Ultrabook we’ve felt yet, the LG Z940, but altogether, Panasonic has crafted a super well-weighted machine.

In fact, the design and balance of the CF-AX2 are so good, it’s easy to consider this Toughbook a work of art.

And then you drop it.

And it doesn’t break.

That’s the first thing you learn about Panasonic’s Toughbook series, and it can make for a fun way to scare people, since this is one computer that can take most of what you can throw its way.

Unlike other heavier Panasonic Toughbooks, there is no water resistance here, but the drop proofing is such that a fall from just over half a metre won’t dent the laptop at all. Try doing that with another Ultrabook (actually don’t, because disaster will ensue).

Moving past the incredible build quality, Panasonic’s take on the convertible is one of the best we’ve seen, incorporating a double hinge that makes the machine work in both a traditional laptop design — screen sitting perpendicular to the keyboard and computer innards — as well as letting the screen fold backwards and ignore the keyboard altogether, functioning at this point like an 11 inch tablet.

It’s an intriguing concept, and one we wish more laptop makers supported, as it not only means the screen can lay completely flat, but also that the touchscreen on the AX2 can turn into an 11 inch tablet with gestures control in a heartbeat.

Be careful of your fingers, though, as the double hinge has the tendency to nick the flesh of your digits as your flipping the screen around.

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