The Panasonic Toughbook R7 isn’t a notebook you can purchase at Best Buy. It’s a Japanese model imported to the US and it’s pretty unique in that it’s even more portable than an ultra-portable like the Apple MacBook Air. It has a claimed 8 hour battery life, weighs just 2lbs. and is ruggedized to handle the demands of briefcase and backpack life. It even comes in 11 different colors. Though it’s obviously a niche product, it’s great for folks who spend long stretches away from a wall socket and need something small, light and rugged to tote around.
Features and Design
The R7 is a sub-notebook, and as such it’s designed solely to offer amazing battery life while still being useable for day-to-day tasks, unlike a handheld PC or similar. It comes in 11 different colors and numerous configurations are available.
Despite its teeny, tiny footprint the R7 is actually packing a decent amount of power for a notebook of this size. It’s a Centrino notebook, so it has an Intel chipset, CPU and wireless. The processor is an Intel Core 2 Duo processor at 1.2GHz, and it’s the low-voltage type that sips battery juice. It comes with 1GB of RAM, 80211.G wireless and a 160GB hard drive.
Small, Yet Rugged
It might seem like an oxymoron, but just because a notebook is small doesn’t mean it can’t handle the rigors of daily life. Though Panasonic doesn’t make any guarantees regarding the R7’s ability to withstand specific punishment, it does claim that an R7 in its test lab was able to withstand 110lbs. and an 11.8” drop. The hard drive is also shock-mounted to help prevent a head crash in case the notebook is dropped.
Who says a Toughbook can’t be cute? The R7’s offered in several different colors.
As a mega-portable notebook, the R7 does sacrifice some expandability to the gods of portability. The biggest drawback is that it lacks an optical drive, which is common for notebooks of this size. However, it does offer two USB ports, VGA-out, Gigabit Ethernet and it has an expansion slot.
The model that was sent to us for review is just one of many different configurations available. Not only can you get more hard drive space, but you can also get an R7 with a bigger hard drive, a slightly faster CPU and Vista Business instead of XP Pro (though we wouldn’t recommend it unless you upgraded to 2GB of RAM.
Use and Testing
We’ve sampled a lot of notebooks in our time, but we’ve never felt a notebook this small and light. Even the Apple MacBook Air feels porky compared to the Toughbook. Despite its light weight, it still feels very durable, as if you could toss it into your backpack without any worries.
We booted it up and were surprised to see it reach the Windows XP desktop in a scant 0:35 seconds, which is probably the fastest we’ve ever seen a system boot. We actually got a little teary-eyed reminiscing on how fast XP runs on low-end hardware compared to Vista.
Once booted into Windows, we liked that it was a totally clean installation of the OS. There was no bloatware installed at all. The only pre-installed programs were Skype and some Panasonic utilities that allow for tweaking settings related to battery life.
As we stated before, Panasonic claims 8 hours of battery life on the R7, so naturally we expected it to be a bit less in the “real world.” Interestingly, Dynamism (the importer) recognizes this truism on its website where it states, “The 8 hour standard battery life is remarkable (even when reduced to a real world 4-5 hours of use).” Sure enough, we tested it by surfing the Net and listening to music, and squeezed 5 hours and 17 minutes out of the R7 with screen brightness set to the middle setting. Despite not being the claimed eight hours, this is still very good battery life.
For standard office tasks the R7 was always fast and responsive. XP runs like the dickens on 1GB of RAM and a decent processor, and we never experienced any slowdowns or problems at all. The 10.4” LCD actually seems rather spacious given how small the notebook is, and its 1024×768 native resolution seemed adequate. The display is a bit old school though, in that it has a 4:3 aspect ratio and a matte covering to reduce glare.
The only thing that bothered us when using it for general tasks was the keyboard is really small. A lot of the keys are much smaller than normal, which is to be expected, but it makes touch-typing difficult. Though it’d be fine for jotting down notes in a meeting we wouldn’t want to write a thesis on it. We also imagine it probably gets easier to use with practice. We should also note that there are a few keys with Japanese characters on them, but none of the standard keys are missing.
The keyboard is quite small, but all the major keys are present. There’s even a few Japanese keys.
We did not perform any torture tests on the R7 because Panasonic doesn’t guarantee anything in regards to what it can withstand. According to the R7 website, “The R7 withstood 50kg (110 pounds) of weight, as well as a 30cm (11.8 inch) drop, in Panasonic’s lab tests. While this is not a guarantee that it will withstand that in the future (and it is not guaranteed to do so), it’s an impressive feat for a chassis this size.” If something says it’s “water proof” we’ll pour water on it, and if it says it can withstand a fall from 10 inches, we’d do that as well. But since there are no guarantees this time around, we abstained from testing Panasonic’s claims. We can tell you that our personal “feel” for the notebook is that its combination of low weight and rigid structure make it seem impervious to damage. We felt like we could literally throw it around and nothing bad would happen – it’s that light.
The Toughbook R7 is certainly a unique notebook in that it combines two characteristics one doesn’t normally see together – portability and ruggedness. We really like how light and portable it is, and its five-plus hours of battery life are great. This is the kind of notebook you could carry with you all day and never need to plug in. The keyboard is a bit too small for our tastes, but we suppose that sort of goes with the territory on a notebook this small. The price tag is a bit steep too, but once again these sub-notebooks are always expensive. It’s a niche product for sure, but a pretty cool one in our opinion. Plus there’s the extra geek cred of having Japanese characters on your keyboard, which is a great ice breaker on the bus or train.
• Supremely portable
• Excellent battery life
• 11 color options
• Keyboard is tiny