Panasonic Toughbook CF-XZ6 review: A lightweight and robust, but expensive, 2-in-1 detachable


Panasonic’s new Toughbook CF-XZ6 is a ‘business rugged’ 2-in-1 detachable laptop that’s designed for tough, but not super-tough, conditions. It’s very much for white-collar rather than blue-collar workers.

Panasonic’s Toughbook/Toughpad range also includes ‘semi rugged’ devices like the Toughbook CF-54 and the detachable Toughpad FZ-Q2, and ‘fully rugged’ laptops such as the 2-in-1 Toughbook CF-33. Both of those lines rely on robust chassis design and plenty of internal and external protection — ports and slots sit behind rubber covers, for example.

These factors help rugged and semi-rugged Toughbooks achieve MIL-STD certification and IP ratings, but the ‘business rugged’ Toughbook CF-XZ6 has neither. Its rugged credentials come in the shape of a magnesium alloy chassis that plays its part in enabling the laptop to withstand a fall from 76cm (2.5 feet, or desk height) and a 100 kilogram-force pressurised vibration test.

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The 12-inch Toughbook CF-XZ6 can handle falls from desk height and withstand considerable pressure, but is not MIL-STD certified or IP rated.


Images: Panasonic

Without the build constraints that full ruggedisation brings, Panasonic has been able to produce a 12-inch laptop that’s relatively small and light. It weighs just 1.18kg (the tablet on its own comes in at 640g), and measures a bag-friendly 288.5mm wide by 223.7mm deep by 22mm thick.

There’s a lot to catch the eye here. The magnesium silver colouring on the keyboard base has a rough-touch finish which is very different to the more usual smooth laptop design. The black finish to the tablet section is similarly textured and has a pleasant stippled look that’s not only distinctive but should also serve to disguise marks and scratches.

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The circular touchpad’s small diameter makes it hard to use for cursor movement.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The rounded front edge of the base is a notable feature, and the base is as thick at the back as it is at the front. The touchpad is distinctively different too, although it’s a design we’ve seen before on Panasonic’s business-rugged models.

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The circular touchpad puts left and right buttons in a thick frame that runs around the outside of the pad. These are ‘clicky’ and responsive. The pad itself is responsive too, and you can make a circular motion around its edge to scroll — clockwise for down, anti-clockwise for up — which is really efficient. But the diameter of the touchpad is just 43mm. That’s nowhere near enough for effective cursor movement around the screen. I abandoned it and just prodded at the touch-screen instead.

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The keyboard uses contiguous keys rather than the ‘island’ style seen in many of today’s laptops.


Image: Panasonic

The keyboard is unusual as there’s no separation between the keys. That’s fine in itself, and the two-tier raised design of individual keys adds some visual distinctiveness. There’s a fair bit of flex in the keyboard, and while it takes advantage of the full width available, the Fn keys and cursor keys are relatively small: if you’re stubby fingered, and/or a heavy handed typist, you may find things a little challenging.

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A sliding latch detaches the base and tablet sections, which are very secure when connected.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The tablet is very easily detached by releasing a sliding catch. Securing it back in place is easily accomplished by pushing the tablet down onto the locking mechanism. Because the tablet sits quite happily in position when the catch is released, its removal can be completed one-handed, and because it’s locked in place automatically, bonding can be achieved one-handed too. The connection is very secure: I was confident lifting the whole unit up by the tablet section without fear that the keyboard would become detached.

When tablet and keyboard are connected rotation is limited to about 130 degrees, which is quite enough for working in standard laptop mode. The tablet itself necessarily houses most of the computing power. It gets quite warm around the cooling vent on its right short edge.

The device is a bit top-heavy in laptop mode: prodding at the screen often caused the base to lift from the desk, and obviously enough the further back the screen is tilted, and the higher up the screen I tapped and swiped, the more this was likely to happen. I also found tapping at the left and right sides of the screen caused the whole laptop to move around on my desk.

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Hinged feet raise the back of the laptop to provide a comfortable typing position.


Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The lack of rubber feet doesn’t help. A pair of small, round protruding anchors on the front of the base seem ineffective, while two hinged feet at the back of the base, which can be used to raise the keyboard angle slightly, might also be expected to provide an anchor when they’re not in use, but again aren’t effective. This is doubly irritating given the frequency with which I opted for screen prods over touchpad use.

The 12-inch QHD (2,160×1,440 pixels, 216ppi) IPS touchscreen is quite reflective, although its top brightness does a good job of mitigating this. There’s an optional Active stylus pen, but no housing for this anywhere on the chassis and no anchor point for a lanyard either.

The Toughbook CF-XZ6 comes in just one off-the-shelf configuration, with other factory options available on request. A 7th generation Intel Core i5-7300U vPro processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 is supported by 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.

There are plenty of connectivity options, most of which are on the base. The tablet only has a single USB-C connector (no Thunderbolt support), and a headset jack as well as housing the on/off switch and a volume rocker. SIM support is optional, and the nano SIM sits in a tray on the tablet. There’s a front-facing 2-megapixel camera and an 8MP camera on the back of the tablet.

The remainder of the connectors are on the base. It’s nice to see an SD card slot here, and those who still use a VGA monitor and wired LAN will be pleased to see connectors for these. There’s also a full-size HDMI connector and three USB 3.0 ports. It’s a much more varied and generous set of connectivity options than is usually available on a laptop these days, but it’s a shame there’s no fingerprint scanner.

There are two 4-cell batteries, one in the tablet and another in the base. Between them Panasonic says they’ll keep the Toughbook CF-XZ6 going for 14 hours. There’s a switch on the base that allows you to stop the base battery charging, which is helpful if the tablet battery is low and you want to prioritise it. However, the on-screen information simply refers to ‘battery 1’ and ‘battery 2’, so it’s up to you to remember which is which. The tablet on its own is rated to last for 6.5 hours.

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There are 4-cell batteries in the tablet and base sections, the latter being hot-swappable.


Image: Panasonic

The battery in the base can be hotswapped, so there’s potential for longer life away from the mains if you purchase a spare and charge it. Oddly, the charger’s round-pin connector is too small for the socket on the base and so it’s provided with an adapter cable. Lose that, and charging is impossible.

Battery life might not make it to the full 14 hours that Panasonic suggests: during testing, I experienced power loss of about ten percent an hour with workloads including a mix of writing, web browsing and some streaming.

Conclusions

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-XZ6 is a compact and lightweight 12-inch detachable laptop with a sturdy build but no MIL-STD certification or IP rating. The connection between tablet and base is well implemented, and the dual battery system, complete with a hot-swappable battery in the base, will appeal to those looking for long life.

However, the circular touchpad is not as usable as it should be, a fingerprint sensor is notably absent, and the tablet runs a little warm at times. This is an expensive ‘business-rugged’ choice, and for the money it ought to get closer to perfection.

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