Apple Downsizes PowerBook G4s Size but Not Its Features

The 12-inch PowerBook G4 is the smallest PowerBook ever, and its range of capabilities makes it a compelling mobile system.

In a bid to shift a greater share of its computer sales to portables, Apple Computer Inc. extended its PowerBook product line further into the low and high ends of the notebook space, with the introduction of 12-inch and 17-inch models at Macworld Expo last month.

eWeek Labs has been testing the $1,799, 12-inch PowerBook G4—or the "Yao Ming PowerBook," as those of us whove been watching Apples ads have taken to calling it—and weve found it to be an attractive, well-appointed system that merits consideration by those in the market for a thin, light notebook.

The model we tested shipped with an 867MHz PowerPC G4 processor and 256MB of double-data-rate RAM, a configuration that delivered performance that, although snappy, didnt seem strikingly faster than Apples less-costly iBook portables. This could be because the 12-inch PowerBook lacks the 1MB Level 3 cache of its 15-inch and 17-inch PowerBook brethren.

The 12-inch PowerBook features a 12.1-inch thin-film transistor XGA display with a maximum resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels. We found the display quality was adequate—again, rather similar to that of Apples iBook.

The most-heralded virtue of the new PowerBook, though, is its small size. The unit measures 10.9 by 8.6 by 1.18 inches and weighs 4.6 pounds—larger and heavier than a typical ultralight notebook but rather svelte considering that it carries a built-in, slot-loading DVD/CD-R combo drive. For $200 more, a version of this notebook is available that ships with Apples DVD-writing Superdrive.

This device is more compact than any PowerBook Apple has offered, but wed be interested to see what further girth and heft savings Apple could achieve by ditching the optical drive. However, an included optical drive is perhaps more vital for the PowerBook than for comparable PC notebooks because Apples notebook lacks any PCMCIA slots—a major omission, as we see it, because these slots are so useful for memory cards, peripherals, etc.

The expansion ports that the 12-inch PowerBook does possess are lined up on the left side of the unit. The notebook ships with an integrated 10/100M-bps NIC and a 56K-bps modem, two USB ports, one FireWire 400 port, and jacks for headphones and for audio line-in. A single port, teamed with an included adapter, provides VGA, S-Video or Composite video-out.

The 12-inch PowerBook lacks an IrDA port, but it ships with Bluetooth built in. The Bluetooth software that ships with the notebook seems set up primarily for file exchange and for forming links to Bluetooth-enabled phones. For instance, we couldnt immediately set up a link between the PowerBook and a Bluetooth mouse.

The unit carries a mini-PCI slot to accommodate Apples Airport Extreme 802.11g-based wireless LAN card. The card does not ship with this model, but its priced fairly low, at $99.

Apples diminutive notebook is powered by a removable lithium-ion battery, which, in tests, delivered about 3 hours of life between charges. This isnt bad at all, but falls short of Apples 5-hour claim, even though we tested the unit in low-power mode, in which its display is dimmed and its processor slows to 533MHz.

The 12-inch PowerBooks keyboard is large enough for extended use, and the feel and action of its keys were very good in tests. The keyboard lacks a button for forward delete, though. Also, this unit tends to get hot, particularly on its left side.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at