Mobile Windows doesn't get much better (or more compact) than this (February 1999)
(by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer)
The world of pen technology is very different from that of mainstream computing. Every now and then we come across a terrific new product, but when we try to track it down no one knows where it came from or if it even exists. Perhaps a distributor received the unit from Japan, or it's part of a pilot program, or it's a rebadged trial balloon. In any case, don't expect the folks at 1-800-CALL-US to know anything about it.
Enter the Panasonic CF-01. When faithful Pen Computing Magazine reader Tom
Stopyra emailed us a description and a picture of the CF-01 we were intrigued and
wanted to know more. We couldn't find a reference to the CF-01 in any of the
dozens of Panasonic sites on the WWW. But then we saw the unit at the ScanTech
show in Chicago and knew we had to introduce it to our readers. It happens to be
a product that may just be the answer to the prayers of project managers with
mobile computing assignments.
What Newton could have been When you first look at the Panasonic CF-01
you're reminded of what a Newton MessagePad might look like today had the powers
that be at Apple not stunted its growth. Yes, this could be a color Newton with a
bright, large screen, cool design, and the kind of fit and finish that seems to
come easy to some of the world's great consumer electronics companies, yet
remains elusive to most.
But the CF-01 is not a PDA. Despite its small
size—just 8.3 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches; as long as and perhaps an inch wider than a
MessagePad—the CF-01 is a full-fledged Windows 95 computer using the by now
almost ubiquitous (in mobile designs anyway) Am5x86 running at 133Mhz. And unlike
Windows CE devices, the CF-01 has a huge internal 1.6 GB hard disk in addition to
its 24 MB of RAM.
Where does this leave Windows CE? In many respects, the CF-01 actually
brings up questions about the future of computing, and of Windows CE in
If you can get a bright 640 x 480 DSTN color screen measuring
7.6 inches diagonally and capable of displaying 65,536 colors, why would you want
to put up with a dim 640 x 320 screen such as found in current CE devices?
If you can run any old Windows program in the world, why would you want to
limit yourself to a couple of severely limited "pocket" apps and the promise of
easy transportability of Win-32 code?
If you can have two PC Card slots, a
serial port with a standard connector, access to a real keyboard, and an
industrial strength docking station, why would you want to limit yourself to one
of those wimpy CE-docks?
And if you can have an honest-to-goodness 1.6GB
hard disk, why limit yourself to a few meg of RAM? Especially since the CF-01's
expected battery life of two or three hours from its Lithium Ion battery pack
isn't all that much worse than the four to six hours industry representatives say
we can expect from the first generation of color CE handheld devices.
There's the cost issue, of course (a well-equipped CF-01 goes for about
xxx versus a few hundred dollars for a CE device), but the point is that size is
not the issue when you decide how much computing power you need in the field.
Well-balanced package There are other mobile systems as powerful, or
more so, than the Panasonic CF-01, but none offer the same compelling combination
of features, performance, and compact packaging.
This is a computer that
can easily double up as a desktop system, thanks to its most impressive expansion
stand. Here again, Panasonic took a lesson from Mitsubishi's AMiTY SP. The
expansion unit is far more than just a port replicator. Instead, it provides
docking for the system unit at one of two convenient angles, and a whole
complement of ports. There is a parallel port, a second serial port, an external
VGA port, PS/2-style keyboard and mouse ports (I hate combined ports!), an
additional PC Card slot, and even an internal 3.5" floppy drive. About the only
thing that's missing is a CD-ROM drive, no big deal—external CD-ROM units with PC
Card interfaces are easy to find these days. About the only drawback here is that
the expansion stand's tilt mechanism is needlessly clumsy.
took Windows 95's notorious sensitivity to unexpected shutdowns into
consideration and included an "Eject PC" icon into the Start menu. If you use
this before removing the CF-01 from its dock, all will be fine at the next
The Panasonic What? That leaves the issue of the name: CF-01.
Panasonic's notebooks of all sorts have long been saddled with the anonymous
sounding CF moniker (remember the CF-21 pen convertible?). So while other
notebooks carry noble, descriptive designations like "ThinkPad" or "PowerBook,"
and even CE devices have names such as "MobilePro" or "Mobile Companion," for
Panasonic it's all CF. In the case of the review unit it's "CF-01XSDAPM" to be
Superb performer Whatever the name, this is one impressive unit. The AMD
586/133 processor has enough power to run Windows 95 smartly. The 1.6MB hard disk
offers all the space and convenience of your average notebook. The DSTN screen is
bright and its ability to display 16-bit color puts it miles ahead of 256 color
screens for many graphics applications. Remember, of course, that DSTN color
screens are hard to read outdoors and not readable in direct sunlight. The
touch-sensitive digitizer is responsive and works well. Icons for
brightness/contrast, sound, left and right mouseclicks, and hibernation and
suspend are silk-screened to the left of the screen. The unit's overall design is
both attractive and functional, and every detail shows Panasonic's production
competence and experience. Though the CF-01's basic shape is that of a simple
rectangular box rather than an ergonomically shaped unit designed to fit into the
palm of your hand, it's actually quite handy and easy to hold. A sturdy rubber
handstrap helps you hold on to the computer, but it's one of the weaker aspects
of the CF-01.
vNo need to compromise Everything else works just like on any other Windows
95 computer. All the familiar programs and functions are there, plus—since this
is a pen-enabled computer—Microsoft's Pen Services 2.0. There is a handwriting
trainer, a writing palette, and the oft-maligned and incomplete Microsoft
onscreen keyboard. The stylus, by the way, looks not unlike that of a CE device,
but its body is made of metal. It recedes into a compartment at the lower right
of the unit. The polished 77 page manual is informative, covers all the basics,
and even has cut-out reference guides for pen gestures and touch panel keys.
Though there is no CD-ROM drive, the large hard disk allowed Panasonic to store
almost every part of Windows 95 that you'll ever need right on the disk. Very
Who needs the Panasonic CF-01? Who should look at the Panasonic CF-01?
Those who need a truly mobile, ultra-compact computer that still offers the full
power of Windows 95. Those who appreciate the largest and brightest color screen
that fits into such a small computer, but don't need ruggedness or direct
sunlight readability. Those who appreciate great design and the production fit
and finish a large company such as Panasonic can offer. And those who intend to
use their mobile computer on the desktop for extended periods of time.
Until Windows CE devices mature and Microsoft decides which way CE will
go, it's hard to beat the overall power and functionality of a compact Windows 95
computer, especially one as terrific as the Panasonic CF-01.
please realize that Panasonic isn't out to conquer the desktop or the consumer
market with the CF-01. This is clearly a vertical market computer, geared towards
areas such as healthcare, distribution, warehousing, or government applications.
The ideal customer is a Fortune 1000 company seeking the kind of support and
expertise a global giant such as Matsushita/Panasonic can provide. While
consumers generally think of Panasonic as a company that makes audio equipment
and electronics appliances, Matsushita actually has a large presence in vertical
computing application markets. There are indications that the CF-01 will soon be
joined by additional, and perhaps ruggedized, products geared towards the
increasingly lucrative mobile vertical market. If the CF-01 is an indication,
Panasonic has a real chance to be a contender. -
—Conrad H. Blickenstorfer -
Conrad H. Blickenstorfer
||AMD Am5X86/133MHz MMX
||7.6" DSTN VGA Color LCD
||8.3 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
||2.2 lbs (base unit including battery pack)
||Serial, 2 Type II P Card, IR, PS/2, extension
||Expansion stand with floppy, parallel, serial, mouse, VGA
||US$2,879 (dock $585
||Panasonic PC Company, Two Panasonic Way, Secaucus, NJ 07094, www.panasonic.com