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To compare Panasonic’s CF-31 to your personal laptop would be a little like comparing a Hyundai Santa Fe to a Humvee. Rubber gaskets seal all ports. Metal and hardened plastics give it a tank-like suppleness. It weighs close to 9 lbs., and it’s absolutely solid—tougher even than the CF-30. This thing can be dropped, spilled upon and vigorously shaken and still do the important work you require of it. After all, cops in the field often deal in extremes.
But the CF-31 is a practical animal too. Since Panasonic began pioneering the ruggedized laptop business nearly 20 years ago, it’s continually improved each model, and the CF-31 is no different. Not only that, but docking between models and support infrastructure for recent CF models are the same, so you can get a better computer without necessarily starting from square one or rendering obsolete your older computers. In times like these, it’s assuring to purchase a computer with such a pedigree.
The CF-31 is a clear improvement over the CF-30. Not only does it meet the MIL-STD-810F standard—this standard runs the product through a litany of tests, including high and low temperatures, salt fog, fungus, dust and humidity—it also meets IP-65 for ingress protection. It seems to run cooler than the CF-30 did too.
Probably the most obvious advance for performance over the CF-30 is the processor. The unit I tested featured the Intel Core i5 (the i3 and i7 are the other options). This low-voltage chip is lightning fast, which means faster graphics, faster loading of reports and videos, more time to do your job and a longer battery life.
Twin batteries are hot-swappable. So you can replace a weak battery in the middle of operation without skipping a beat. I was able to get an impressive 10-plus hours of testing time on a single charge. But with hot-swapping, you can theoretically run the laptop forever on battery power, as long as you have a fresh battery at the ready.
Due to its size and weight, the CF-31 isn’t a laptop I’d want to carry everywhere with me if I could avoid it. But the handle and an external carrying strap make it convenient to carry when you need it on the go. If you know the CF-30, it’s similar in size and weight.
Opening up the CF-31, the first thing I noticed was the sharp, bright image of the screen. If the CF-30 was good in bright lights and in the dark, this model is great. Comparing it to my personal laptop, it’s obvious what a fine job the folks at Panasonic have done in improving visibility. Even in the afternoon sun, the screen shines through. It works great in darkness. Images are sharp and clear, supported by an Intel graphics card.
The touch screen is great for police work. It allows for signatures on electronic tickets and can
intuitively be used to explode images on the screen or scroll through pages. The screen swivels and can be laid flat, out-facing, like a tablet. This is helpful when sharing information with a colleague or citizen.
The keyboard is standard full-size, with flat keys and large-font, backlit labels. It types nicely—not too differently from a good civilian laptop. The keyboard might seem like a detail, but after logging thousands of hours on a keyboard in the field, good spacing and positive response are critical to accuracy. Theoretically, any report you complete might end up in court—inadvertent typos included.
The CF-31 features a shock-mounted, removable solid-state hard drive (160 and 250 GB). It has plenty of ports and drives, so if your department uses thumb drives or SD cards or DVDs, you’re covered. Same thing goes for audio-visual ports: It features Firewire, VGA and HDMI.
Bottom line: This thing is built like a tank. Panasonic has made the CF line faster, tougher, longer lasting and less expensive. Keep it docked in your cruiser and take it with you when you need it: This thing can take the elements that make quick work of lesser machines.
• Tough & fast
• Long battery life
• Great display in field conditions
• Wireless & Bluetooth enabled
Approx. street price: $3000