SAN MATEO (04/24/2000) - With today's mobile workforce growing, it is crucial to keep your off-site employees in the loop at all times. Undoubtedly, your IT department distributes an increasing number of notebooks for this very purpose.
However, the perils that lie on the open road, such as rain, coffee spills, and gravity, could damage your company's notebooks and cause a serious loss of data and productivity. In addition, the inconvenience of finding an outlet may prevent workers from accessing data when they need to, creating a costly amount of downtime.
The Toughbook 34 is the latest in Panasonic Corp.'s line of rugged PCs. It offers excellent user convenience, is built to withstand trauma, and is also extremely compact, weighing only 3.8 pounds, including battery and handle. It comes with integrated wireless capabilities so that users can roam and access data from airports and conferences without the hassle of plugging in or using a separate CDPD (cellular digital packet data) card.
The product's small keyboard, which some may find too cramped for comfort, is its main downfall. In addition, the Toughbook has no built-in CD or tape drives, so workers may be inconvenienced with carrying external drives while traveling. But the Toughbook's strength, convenience, and reasonable price are strong enough to earn it a score of Very Good.
Vendors such as Amrel and Itronix provide similarly priced wireless notebooks with magnesium-alloy casing and sealed-tight design. However, the Panasonic is smaller and lighter and provides a color, anti-glare LCD touchscreen as a standard option, which the others do not. The LCD touchscreen allows the user to touch the screen in lieu of using the small keyboard.
With a magnesium case, sealed spill-resistant LCD touchpad and shock-absorbing polymer gel-mounted hard disk drive, the notebook is tough enough for the clumsiest of users. I put mine through several different shock tests, and the intrepid Toughbook withstood them all. I repeatedly pushed it off a 4-foot-high workbench and tossed it back onto the bench with a bang. I also poured water on the unit, but no matter how violent my abuse, nothing seemed to affect it.
My system came with the standard configuration: Microsoft Windows 95 with Intel Mobile Celeron 300-MHz processor, 64MB SDRAM (synchronous DRAM), a 4.3GB hard drive, 800-pixels-by-600-pixels LCD with touchscreen, Yamaha 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro, Type II PC Card slots, lithium ion battery, a 56Kbps modem plus LAN option, and a three-year limited warranty on parts and labor.
The notebook supports three popular integrated wireless capabilities -- DataTAC, Mobitex, and CDPD -- each of which requires a different modem and network service. I used the included Sierra WirelessExpert and Watcher software to configure my CDPD modem, set up an IP address, and monitor my service connection.
The integrated modem and antenna made real-time communications a cinch and was more convenient and used fewer resources than attaching a separate CDPD card to my notebook. My connection speed was 19Kbps, which is about the fastest wireless connection you can get, and it proved fine for checking e-mail and browsing the Web. But the ability to flexibly access my data on the go was the biggest benefit of this feature.
All in all, the Toughbook 34 is a reliable solution for companies that want to maximize the productivity of their mobile workforce and more than earns its Very Good score. The Toughbook can go far in giving your mobile workers constant uptime while on the road and will eliminate the risk of damaged files and hardware components.
Ana Orubeondo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior analyst for the InfoWorld Test Center.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
Business Case: Companies that want to avoid wasteful downtime caused by damaged notebooks and increase productivity of mobile workers by providing them with wireless access should invest in the Toughbook 34.
Technology Case: The Toughbook 34 is a full-featured and compact device with high-scale wireless capabilities. It comes with a touchscreen display, a gel-packed hard drive, and a magnesium case to safeguard its inner components.
+ Lightweight (3.8 pounds)
+ Integrated wireless capabilities
+ Touchscreen display
+ Endures drops and spills
- Small keyboard
- Detached tape and CD drives
Platform(s): Preloaded with Windows 95; Windows 98 and Windows NT also availablePanasonic Personal Computer Co. Secaucus, N.J.; (800) 662-3537; www.panasonic.com.