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Hanging around Japan’s tech crowd I noticed that a large number of people using Panasonic notebooks. Panasonic’s Let’s Note business notebooks are renowned for their light weight and long battery life. They are also makers of the Toughbook series of super strong mobile PCs, but the Let’s Note series are also designed to be strong and durable. (The CF-F8 is actually marketed under the Toughbook brand outside Japan). Add to that a good selection of sizes from super-small 10.4″ up to 14.1″ and it’s not surprising Panasonic machines are the choice for many people who depend on a reliable portable computer for their livelihood. As the graph below shows, Panasonic looks carefully at what people want from a notebook. Having nailed most of the other top priorities, they felt there was still room for improvement in the area of portability. This led to the birth of the CF-F8 sporting all the Let’s Note’s regular strengths with the addition of an inbuilt carrying handle.

(Chart roughly translated from Japanese by Mobile in Japan)
CF-F8 (Japanese site)
Toughbook F-8 (US Site)
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This innovative move certainly made an impact when I put the CF-F8 to test in my mobile life style. Whether working on train or moving from office to meeting, I found I could grab a little extra time knowing that I didn’t have to worry so much about packing up before moving on. The handle is well made and offers ample finger space even for the largest hands. It’s didn’t come as any surprise to find that at 1630g the CF-F8 is actually the world’s lightest 14.1″ screen laptop. The 2.2.6Ghz Core Duo processor supplies computing power and there’s little missing – wifi, DVD multi-drive, WXGA+ display etc. – in terms of all the other features you’d expect from a top end laptop. Panasonic do have some Tablet PCs in their line-up and it would though be nice to see a touch screen option for the CF-F8.

The CF-F8 (I was using a device designed for the Japanese market) comes with a software add-on to help make the most of the already good battery life, and there is also an ‘Eco’ mode for lower power operation. I hope that Panasonic continue to push the boundaries for battery life. A laptop that can be used for a full day without carrying the power cord is a mobile worker’s dream. But speaking of the power cord, the CF-F8 also came with a power adapter that was well designed for portability.

Panasonic is clearly targeting the business market and the look and feel are a little conservative. For those who like a bit of variety, color variations are available in Japan (Japanese) but I’d like see Panasonic expand the series with some designs that are a little more flashy and edgy.

It’s good to see Panasonic innovating step-by-step based on real users’ needs and I look forward to future advances. I wonder myself about whether a laptop with a removable shoulder strap wouldn’t go down well. After all a handle still requires the use of one hand. When moving around an office with papers and cup of coffee, a “look – no-hands” laptop could certainly be useful. I’ll also be interested to see whether we’ll see the handle added to any of their smaller models.

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