PowerBook G4: Good Things in a Small Package

By Bill Howard  |  Posted 2003-02-12 Print this article Print

Not only is the PowerBook G4 the smallest PowerBook ever according to Apple, it's one of the most wirelessly capable as well, sporting integrated Bluetooth and optional AirPort Extreme, Apple's flavor of 802.11g

Road warriors whose needs center on images, music, and video should pay close attention to the $2,098 (list) Apple PowerBook G4 12-Inch, the smallest PowerBook yet. This PowerBook has no significant drawbacks despite its small size, and its multimedia capabilities are just about the best you can expect from a small notebook.

Inside the 1.2-by-10.9-by-8.6-inch (HWD) anodized aluminum case, Apple has fitted a slot-loading DVD-R/CD-RW SuperDrive, a full-size keyboard, a 12.1-inch, 1,024-by-768 display, an 867-MHz PowerPC processor, an nVidia GeForce4 420 Go graphics processor, and a 40GB hard drive. All this comes in a 4.6-pound package (5.1 pounds road weight with transformer).

Bluetooth wireless connectivity is standard, and our test unit came with optional 54-Mbps wireless Ethernet that is aimed at compliance with the upcoming 802.11g specification. All I/O jacks are along the left side: modem, Ethernet, one FireWire, two USB, proprietary video-out, headphone, and microphone.

You dont get a PC Card slot or a dedicated SD card slot (both handy for off-loading photos or filling up your MP3 player), or USB 2.0 (Apple users prefer FireWire, the company says). To drive an external display, you must attach either a monitor dongle or a TV (composite and S-Video) dongle. Thats an annoying drawback if you plan to use the system as a presentation machine.

The system has three integrated speakers. In a rare burst of honesty for a notebook maker, Apple says the third speaker boosts the midrange; other makers flirt with the laws of acoustics and claim their tiny third speakers are subwoofers.

Fit and finish are first-rate. Apples design delights the senses. Most appealing is the nearly seamless case and clean underside, unmarred by the serial number-voltage/world approvals and Windows-inside stickers that afflict PC notebooks. Some design elements bump up the cost, though.

One cost-adder is the cute yet too-clever-by-half 0.5-pound transformer that comes with pop-out hooks for coiling the 6-foot cord (useful); a power tip that glows yellow when charging, then green (intuitive and unlikely to be confused with other lights on your notebook); and a complex, proprietary 6-foot extender cord that requires you to remove, then carefully set aside the transformers wall-plug prongs when you connect the extension. This is clearly overkill, since a $3 extension cord would work just as well, but it wouldnt have Apples beautiful glossy white coloration. If youre proud to own an Apple, youll love the backlit logo on the back of the lid; some will note you just paid two grand and change to do free advertising.

In use, the PowerBook delivers the goods. The keyboard feels great. The included, mostly well-integrated iLife multimedia applications continue to be a step ahead of their PC competitors. Sure, Windows XP downloads and views photos automatically, but only iPhoto variably resizes your thumbnails. iMovie has a new feature colloquially called the Ken Burns effect, named after the PBS documentarist who created "movies" by panning around and zooming in on still images of the Civil War.

iDVD creates DVDs easily. (The middling video score on our multimedia ratings reflects the systems 40GB drive and 12-inch display rather than any shortcoming with iMovie.) Microsoft Office is included, but only a trial version. As expected, the PowerBook reads data effortlessly from USB memory keys and PC-created CDs.

Speed comparisons are difficult with Macs because they dont run our usual suite of benchmark tests, but we believe youll find performance to be more than adequate. On Photoshop tests, the PowerBook outran a desktop 733-MHz Power Mac G4 (which includes Apples L3 cache, a feature that is not in the portable). Running informal battery tests with the system at nearly full power, we got 2 hours 55 minutes from the 0.7-pound lithium ion battery pack.

If your life is all play—movies, music, videos—or if your work involves the things others only play at, the Apple G4 12-Inch is as good as it gets in less than 5 pounds. And for mainstream e-mail, Web browsing, or word processing, youll find the G4 as capable as any Windows notebook.

Bill Howard

Bill Howard is the editor of TechnoRide.com, the car site for tech fans, and writes a column on car technology for PC Magazine each issue. He is also a contributing editor of PC Magazine.

Bill's articles on PCs, notebooks, and printers have been cited five times in the annual Computer Press Association Awards. He was named as one of the industry's ten most influential journalists from 1997 to 2000 by Marketing Computers and is a frequent commentator on TV news and business shows as well as at industry conventions. He also wrote the PC Magazine Guide to Notebook & Laptop Computers. He was an executive editor and senior editor of PC Magazine from 1985-2001 and wrote PC Magazine's On Technology column through 2005

Previously, Howard spent a decade as a newspaper editor and writer with the Newhouse and Gannett newspapers in Springfield, Massachusetts, and Rochester, New York. He also writes a monthly column for Roundel, a car magazine for BMW enthusiasts.


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