Apple showed the 17-inch widescreen–equipped PowerBook G4 ($3,299 direct) this past January, and it has just recently become available in quantities to buyers. Our hands-on testing shows that those who preordered the machine from Apple wont be disappointed. Its jam-packed with enough drool-worthy features to persuade users to ditch their desktops.
First and foremost, of course, is the bright, crisp screen. It measures 17 inches corner to corner, with a resolution of 1,440 by 900 pixels in a 16:10 aspect ratio. Its roomy enough to have two documents open side by side or to have one application in view with its associated tool palettes off to the side. And yes, as Apples TV commercial implies, the wide aspect ratio is perfect for watching movies.
That screen necessitates an extra-wide chassis, of course—but Apples design wizardry has kept the dimensions of the sleek aluminum case as small as possible. So while the new PowerBook is 15.4 inches wide, its still just an inch thick and weighs 6.8 pounds—not bad, considering other big-screen notebooks tip the scales at 9 pounds.
And Apple is positioning the 17-inch PowerBook not so much a tool for road warriors (the more totable 12-inch and 15-inch models are for them), but for creative professionals who visit clients offices. We did find that the large expanse of room in front of the keyboard can feel odd when typing, however, as your hands sit flat in front of the keys rather than hanging over the edge of the notebook.
In addition to the screen, Apple has loaded its portable flagship for bear. Theres Apples AirPort Extreme 802.11g wireless networking built in, which can communicate at up to 54 Mbps with high-speed wireless hubs. The antenna is now at the top of the screen, so reception is better than with previous PowerBooks. A new FireWire 800 port comes with the PowerBook, as well as Bluetooth wireless, so the system can communicate wirelessly with Bluetooth phones and other devices. Oddly, Apple opted for USB 1.1, not the faster USB 2.0.
One practical as well as sexy innovation: Light sensors beneath the left and right speaker grills can automatically detect low-light conditions. In a dark room, the screen automatically dims and the numbers and letters on the keyboard light up. The slot-loading SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-R) is another key feature, although the PowerBooks enlarged speakers still sound tinny and underwhelming to our ears.
On our application tests, the 17-inch PowerBook (with its 1-GHz processor and 512MB of RAM) proved worthy of demanding graphics pros. It needed 3 minutes 19 seconds to encode our three-and-a-half minute DV file to MPEG-2 format. And while that trails the 2:47 time turned in by Apples 1.25-GHz dual-processor Power Mac G4 desktop (naturally), it far outstrips the 5:46 time turned in by a one-year-old 933-Mhz Apple machine. So if youre getting ready to retire an older desktop, know that this new PowerBook will be a big step up in performance.
This software bundle is also attractive to creative professionals. The unit comes with Apples usual software assortment, including iLife (full versions of iDVD, iMovie, iPhoto, and iTunes), Art Directors Toolkit, Mac OS X Mail, and a DVD player. (Safari, Apples Web browser, which is still in beta, is missing.)
The price means this dream machine will remain only a dream for many. But those who can afford it will certainly be pleased.