Panasonic Launches Toughbook U1 Handheld Rugged Mini In Style

The Toughbook CF-U1 is Panasonic's most powerful handheld Toughbook ever made, sporting a fully-rugged case capable of withstanding heat, cold, rain and dust in addition to a processor powerful enough to run a complete Windows operating system. With Intel's Atom processor inside, the U1 is able to run all the back-end applications users would run on a full-size machine on Windows XP or Windows Vista, giving mobile workers a full set of tools to work with on the road.

Analysts and media gathered on June 25 at the Grand Havana Room in New York City to get a first look at the Toughbook U1 and hear Panasonic's plans for the product.

At Everything Channel's XChange Government Integrator conference in May, Panasonic had a mock-up wooden version of the Toughbook U1, much to this reporter's dismay.

However, at its launch event, pre-production hand-assembled U1s were on hand. Here, the product's small form factor is clear, while the full Windows OS desktop can be seen. The U1 has a full QWERTY keyboard and a touch-screen.

Sheila O'Neil, Panasonic Computer Solutions Company vice president of channel sales, demonstrates how the U1 works at Panasonic's launch event. The device has a stylus with storage slots on both the right and left sides for right- and left-handed users.

The U1 can be configured with a digital camera, which Sheila O'Neil, vice president of channel sales for Panasonic, uses to take a picture of Mike Erwin, director of vendor management for distributor Ingram Micro.

Panasonic Computer Solutions Company President Rance M. Poehler showed off the company's first Toughbook computer, telling the history of rugged notebooks to the crowd at the launch event. "The Toughbook 25 changed the industry forever," he said. He then brought out the company's first semi-rugged notebook before showing off the U1, which he dropped from 6 feet onto the carpeted ground to show its durability. The U1 is rated to survive drops of four feet on concrete, so he figured six on carpet was do-able.

Intel's Gary Willihnganz, marketing director of the ultra mobility group, showed off Intel's up and coming Atom processor, which maintains a high level of performance while reducing energy consumption compared to processors of equal speed.

E. John Baumgartner, chief of staff of the CTO's office of oil giant BP, told analysts how the company had been testing the product to see if it meets their needs in the field. At the end of his talk, he took audience questions. He urged the audience to "just buy our gas." One attendee quipped back, "Lower the price!" "Fair point," Baumgartner said as he exited.

Ed Kaufman, vice president of sales for Integron Wireless Solutions, Rochester, N.Y., said he thinks the U1 will be of great value to his customers. "I think it fits into a gap that we couldn't address before between the full OS products and the mobile rugged products where we've seen a lot of applications scaled down," he said. "This will help us address that market." He said field service customers, warehouses and customers that use bar-coding applications will be a good fit.

Panasonic is throwing its support behind ISVs like Sybase that are creating applications that will run on the U1. The device, which ships in late August, is expected to start at $2,499.