Light and easy, Panasonic's newest subnotebook has touch-screen support

Light and easy, Panasonic's newest subnotebook has touch-screen support





Panasonic's CF-M33 subnotebook, at just 2.6 pounds, runs full Windows 95 and office apps.


By Jason Byrne

GCN Staff

A mobile computer can be highly portable only at the cost of performance. The larger the screen, the shorter the battery life and so on. For subnotebooks, the big trade-off is usability.

Small screens, tiny keyboards and quirky pointing devices add up to a tricky user experience. But the big plus, of course, is the ultralight weight.

The GCN Lab recently looked at a subnotebook that, at least in usability, makes few compromises. Panasonic's CF-M33, the smallest member of the rugged ToughBook family, is no cream puff. Its magnesium case protects an 8.4-inch LCD display, and the rest of the computer is encased in Fiberglas-reinforced plastic. As with other computers in the ToughBook line, the hard drive rides in shock-absorbing gel.



The biggest advance over the earlier CF-M31 model is touch-screen support, which greatly improves usability. A keyboard and tracking ball pointer are always nice to have in a notebook this size, but the ability to select an item on screen by touch is a huge improvement.







Box Score ''''''
ToughBook CF-M33

Subnotebook with full notebook
features


Panasonic Personal Computer Co.;
Secaucus, N.J.; tel. 800-662-3537
www.panasonic.com/computer/notebook

Price: $1,732 GSA


+ Ultralight and portable

+ Touch screen improves usability

- Only average performance

- Needs built-in connectivity or CD-ROM drive



Usability ''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''''A

Features and configuration ' 'B

Benchmark performance '' '''C

ZD's Business Winstone 99 ''''' 7.6

About 24 percent worse than a desktop 233-MHz Pentium MMX



The overall grade comprises scores for three things: usability (60 percent), features and configuration (20 percent), and performance (20 percent). The lab used ZD's Winstone 99 Version 1.1. The baseline for 10.0 Winstone units is a desktop 233-MHz Pentium MMX. For benchmark information, go to www.gcn.com/gcnlab/benchmark.



In a way, the CF-M33 combines the best of a notebook with the best of handheld computers such as a Palm from 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., or a Microsoft Windows CE device. The Panasonic unit runs full Windows 95 with notebook power and compatibility but handheld portability.

The only downside is that 800- by 600-pixel resolution on an 8.4-inch screen makes selecting onscreen items or clicking buttons difficult without a stylus. The nonwriting end of a pen might do, but a stylus would be better.

The 266-MHz Pentium MMX processor, not a superfast chip, handles office applications easily. Standard RAM is 32M; the unit accepts as much as 96M. Also standard are a 4G hard drive, an external floppy drive and a port replicator.

Two options that I consider essential are an extra-long-life battery for up to six hours of operation and an external CD-ROM drive. Office software generally is loaded from a CD or the network. The included floppy drive is inadequate.



Panasonic's best choice might be an external floppy and CD-ROM combination, much like the internal combos in larger notebooks. Even a high-capacity floppy replacement, such as the LS-120 SuperDrive from Imation Corp. of Oakdale, Minn., would be better.



In overall usability, the CF-M33 is a gem. Performance is less sparkling. When I ran the Ziff-Davis Business Operation's Winstone 99 and WinBench 99 benchmarks, the results were about average for a notebook with a 266-MHz MMX processor.

When I ran the standard battery under the lab's maximum-drain test, it lasted a little more than an hour and a half. The optional long-life battery reached three hours, 10 minutes. Both batteries are lithium-ion. Considering that there is no CD drive to power and only a smallish LCD, I was surprised the batteries did not last longer.

Where the CF-M33 does shine is in weight: only 2.6 pounds with the standard battery onboard and 3.2 pounds with the long-life battery.

The diminutive CF-M33 is a better computer than any handheld, more portable than most notebooks and as easy to use as a desktop system.

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