A Mac in the Middle

The 15-inch Apple PowerBook's size and new features make for one sweet deal.

For those who found the ultraportable 12-inch Apple PowerBook too small and the 17-inch too large, chances are the new Apple PowerBook G4 15-Inch ($1,999 or $2,599 direct, depending on configuration) will feel just right. Serious road-warriors had the ultraportable, desk-bound creative-types were covered by the larger notebook, and now the new laptop makes the perfect choice for business professionals, nicely rounding out Apples lineup.

At 5.6 pounds and 1.1 inches thick, the new PowerBook (which has an actual screen size of 15.2 inches) is never a burden in a backpack. We tested the 1.25-GHz, 80GB hard drive version, which comes with 512MB of SDRAM and a slot-loading SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-R drive) and found it a pleasure to use. Theres also a 1 GHz, 60GB model thats outfitted with 256MB of SDRAM and a slot-loading CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive.

Clad in aluminum, the 15-inch PowerBook looks a bit different than Apples last midsize model, which had a titanium shell. The 1.25-GHz model—but not the 1-GHz—features light sensors that slowly illuminate the keyboard and dim the screen when ambient light grows darker, a well-received usability improvement that debuted with Apples 17-inch PowerBook.

We got 3 to 3.5 hours of battery life when performing undemanding tasks such as word processing and Web surfing, but you can expect about only 1.5 hours for editing or watching video. Thats not great, but its on a par with Apples other notebooks. A problem with the titanium PowerBooks—restricted wireless distances—was supposed to be resolved with better antennas, but we found this laptops range short and its reception spotty on a local network.

The PowerBooks two configurations include an ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 graphics subsystem; a PC Card slot; and a full complement of ports—dual USB 2.0, single FireWire 400 and 800, Gigabit Ethernet, TV-out, DVI, audio-in, and headphone. Both configurations come with Bluetooth networking built in, but only the higher-end configuration comes with the AirPort Extreme card for Wi-Fi. The card is $99, otherwise.

The included software makes the PowerBook even more of a bargain. Youll find Apples standard business bundle, which contains the iLife suite (iDVD, iMovie, iPhoto, and iTunes), Apple Mail, the Safari browser, Art Directors Toolkit, QuickBooks for Mac New User Edition, and more. Whether we were using these or other programs, we found the PowerBook quick and responsive. The 15-inch PowerBook is a solid entry in Apples premiere notebook line and one many people will think hits the sweet spot.