Panasonic Toughbook W2 Review

No other laptop out now has that
No other laptop out now has that
No other laptop out now has that

Highs

  • Extremely light
  • excellent battery life
  • stylish design

Lows

  • Poor switch and port placement
  • memory is only upgradeable to 512MB

DT Editors' Rating

Summary

The W2 is one of those rare head turners. No one in the States has probably seen one, and it looks different from everything else on the market. The combo drive loading mechanism is one of a kind, and, provided you don’t end up turning the unit off when you’re trying to show it off, makes for a nice feature demo in a coffee shop. The anime styling borders on fun and tacky, but that’s one of the reasons we liked it. No other laptop out now has that ‘fun’ feeling that the W2 does. While it may not be “business appropriate”, the W2 is an all around great second computer to have if you need the ultimate in portability and performance.

*Edit: We found out after the review that the model we recieved was in fact imported from Japan (model number CF-W2AW1AXP), but carries the identical specs to the US version. There is another model (CF-W2BW3AXP) available with a 1GHz CPU and which is upgradeable to 768MB of memory which is sold in Japan and imported here in the US by some retailers. Please be careful not to confuse the two models.

Introduction

Like the Sony VIAO TR1A, the Panasonic W2 is an ultra-ultra light Intel Centrino based laptop. Weighing only 2.8 lbs, we found ourselves double checking our carrying cases to make sure it hadn’t evaporated, or slipped out between the thread fibers. The screen measures a manageable 12.1″, and comes with 256MB RAM and a 40GB hard drive. At 900HMz, the Pentium-M processor delivers just enough power to keep performance well within the acceptable range. The W2 comes standard with a DVD/CD-RW drive. Unfortunately, it is only available in Japan, but can be imported, complete with an English version of the bundled software, from several companies, such as iCube.

Review

The Panasonic W2 is a close contender to the Sony VAIO TR1A in all categories. It is disturbingly light, paper thin (okay, 1″ thin), and sports an internal combo drive. The styling is excellent at a first approximation, but lacks in a couple categories.

On the positive side, the first thing we noted was the innovative CD loading style. Part of the cover next to the touch pad and below the keyboard pops up, revealing the disc tray. The keyboard has an anime-esque paint job, that we really liked in a cheesy “We understood Akira” way. We also liked the mouse pad, and gave extra design kudos for a circular mouse pad area. The mouse buttons are located on what looks like the frame to the circular mouse pad and have decent sensitivity. While the mouse pad does not function any differently, and is not easier to use, bucking the rectangular mouse pad trend results in a refreshing visual effect.

While the plastic housing is convincing, it feels easy to scratch or crack. Our biggest annoyance was the placement of the eject and power buttons. Both are the same style, size, and located in adjacent sides of the front left corner. Nearly every other attempt to eject the CD resulted in the computer shutting down. Also, the ports appear to just be cut out of the case with no protection to keep pins from bending, which takes away from the overall aesthetics.

There are no ports located across the back. It appears that Panasonic wanted to avoid the back end battery lump, but still keep the unit balanced correctly. Likewise, there are no ports on the front edge of the unit, just your standard indicators, power button, and the lid open latch. Along the left side are the VGA-out, 2 USB 2.0, audio-in, and audio-out port, along with the DVD eject slide button. The right side contains the Ethernet, modem, PC card, and SD media slots. There are no unidentifiable contacts or pins, so it looks like there’s not much chance of a port replicator or docking station in the future, but the bottom casing does has an unidentifiable indentation that might indicate future revisions could have the option.

Performance

Performance-wise, the W2 did well in all tests.  Mobile Mark 2002 scored it at 112, which is not bad, considering it only ships with 256MB RAM.  The Silicon Motion Lynx 3DM video chipset was adequate for most jobs, but with 3DMark2001 score of 1766, don’t expect Half Life 2 to run along at 60fps.  SiSoftware Sandra showed the W2 edging out the TR1A in our CPU benchmarks.

System Configurations:

Panasonic Toughbook W20

Windows XP Home; 900MHz Intel Pentium M; 256MB SDRAM (DDR) standard, expandable to 512MB ; Intel 855GM integrated video controller max. 64MB (UMA) VRAM; 40GB HDD

Sony VAIO TR1A

Windows XP Home; 900MHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM; Intel 855GM Chipset Integrated Graphics 64MB; 30GB Hard Drive

Gateway 200XL
Windows XP Professional; 1.6GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel Extreme Graphics; Toshiba MK6022GAX 60GB Hard Drive

Use and testing

Battery performance was nothing short of excellent. Estimated battery life according to Panasonic is 7.5 hours. Mobile Mark 2002 reported a 254 minute battery life (~4.2 hours), and our subjective experience would put it closer to 5 hours. The claim of 7.5 hours is entirely possible, when you take into account that we had all power saving features disabled.

The one category in which we saw a significant difference from the TR1A was screen quality. The viewing angles were also not as impressive as with the TR1A, but not bad either. There is signifigant light bleeding from the bottom of the screen which results in uneven illumination for the rest of the screen. The result is images being washed out at the bottom and correctly contrasted about 3/4 of the way up. We’ve included a picture of a solid black background to exaggerate the issue. Remember that the washing-out is not as significant as in the image, since the digital camera will attempt to ‘correct’ the contrast.

The Panasonic W2 screen bleeds from the bottom

Click on this picture for a larger image

Performance-wise, the W2 did well in all tests. Mobile Mark 2002 scored it at 112, which is not bad, considering it only ships with 256MB RAM. The Silicon Motion Lynx 3DM video chipset was adequate for most jobs, but with 3DMark2001 score of 1766, don’t expect Half Life 2 to run along at 60fps. SiSoftware Sandra showed the W2 edging out the TR1A in our CPU benchmarks.

The one big drawback to the W2 is that it is only available in the Land of the Rising Sun. As we mentioned, there are companies that will import the W2 into the US and install English versions of all the software, but you still have to contend with the barely-different-but-just-enough-so-to-be-annoying Japanese keyboard layout. It’s QWERTY, but symbols and punctuation are mixed around a little. In all honesty, there are some nice changes to the keyboard layout, but if you work with more than one computer, it will just confuse you. Included in this review is a snapshot of the keyboard layout. Notice the ‘@’ symbol is promoted to a non-shifted position.

Panasonic W2 Keyboard

Click on this picture for a larger image

Conclusion

The W2 is one of those rare head turners. No one in the States has probably seen one, and it looks different from everything else on the market. The combo drive loading mechanism is one of a kind, and, provided you don’t end up turning the unit off when you’re trying to show it off, makes for a nice feature demo in a coffee shop. The anime styling borders on fun and tacky, but that’s one of the reasons we liked it. No other laptop out now has that ‘fun’ feeling that the W2 does. While it may not be “business appropriate”, the W2 is an all around great second computer to have if you need the ultimate in portability and performance.

The W2 is one of those rare head turners. No one in the States has probably seen one, and it looks different from everything else on the market. The combo drive loading mechanism is one of a kind, and, provided you don’t end up turning the unit off when you’re trying to show it off, makes for a nice feature demo in a coffee shop. The anime styling borders on fun and tacky, but that’s one of the reasons we liked it. No other laptop out now has that ‘fun’ feeling that the W2 does. While it may not be “business appropriate”, the W2 is an all around great second computer to have if you need the ultimate in portability and performance.

*Edit: We found out after the review that the model we recieved was in fact imported from Japan (model number CF-W2AW1AXP), but carries the identical specs to the US version. There is another model (CF-W2BW3AXP) available with a 1GHz CPU and which is upgradeable to 768MB of memory which is sold in Japan and imported here in the US by some retailers. Please be careful not to confuse the two models.