PowerBook G4 turns heads

If we could measure the "ooh and ah" factor of Apple Computer Inc.'s new PowerBook G4 notebook, it would earn top honors. Strangers gathered around to admire this sleek, sexy machine when we took it out in public. Our testers didn't want to give it up.

The PowerBook G4's striking appearance owes a lot to its silver titanium case. Sturdy and scratch-resistant, titanium is also lightweight. In addition to the eye-catching case cover, this notebook is shockingly thin. One tester compared it to the aluminum clipboard he carried in high school. Indeed, the PowerBook G4 is only 1 inch thick and weighs just 5.3 pounds (depending on configuration), according to Apple.

The light weight is even more amazing, considering the cinematic 15.2-inch TFT screen. The aspect ratio of the screen is similar to a movie screen: much wider relative to its height than a TV screen or typical PC monitor. The effect is stunning.

After pleasant thoughts of being able to watch movies on airplanes yielded to more practical concerns, we noted that the extra width was helpful when working with multiple windows, and plenty of icons fit on the desktop without feeling cluttered. The 1152x768 resolution provides sharp, clear viewing.

Make no mistake, however, this notebook isn't just for show. The unit sports a 400 MHz G4 processor and 128M of memory (expandable to 1G of SDRAM), which results in speedy performance. The system also features a 10G hard drive, 1M of Level 2 cache, an internal 56K modem, 8M of video memory and an ATI Rage Mobility 128 graphics controller. (The PowerBook G4 is also available with a 500 MHz processor.) Startup was quick, although it seemed slightly slower when the notebook was running off battery power. Rendering movie clips did not cause significant slowdown and neither did leaving open large JPEG files in the background while performing other tasks.

Connecting to the Internet was fast as well. In fact, we did not notice a difference between the PowerBook G4's Internet connection time and that of a Power Mac G4 tower.

The system runs on Mac OS 9 and ships pre-loaded with QuickTime 4 for streaming media, iTunes for digital music and iMovie for making desktop movies. It also includes Microsoft Corp. Internet Explorer, Microsoft Outlook Express, Netscape Communications Corp. Communicator, Palm Inc. Desktop, Smith Micro Software Inc.'s FAXstf for sending and receiving faxes, and 30 days of free Internet service through EarthLink Inc.

Another included software feature is Speakable Items, which enable users to perform tasks with voice commands. The software works, but it's quite sensitive and led to a fair amount of aggravation when we used it. We had to speak the commands slowly, clearly and precisely, and background noise had to be minimal or nonexistent. All Speakable Items functions can be performed using the mouse and quick keys. The PowerBook G4 is wireless-ready. Users can buy an optional AirPort Card for $99 that fits in a slot inside the computer, leaving the PC Card slot free for other uses. The AirPort Card receives signals from either another computer with an AirPort Card installed or an AirPort Base Station ($299), a device that plugs into an Internet port. The range is 150 feet for typical indoor use, with a data rate of up to 11 megabits/sec at a frequency of 2.4 GHz.

The system features a range of ports, giving the notebook a lot of functionality. These include a FireWire port, 10/100Base-T Ethernet port, two USB ports, a VGA port, an S-Video out port (compatible with NTSC and PAL) and a port for the internal modem.

We loved the slot-loading DVD-ROM drive that inhales disks with a quiet whoosh and ejects them at the push of a keyboard button. Other hardware features include a Type II PC Card slot, infrared window, headphone jack, built-in microphone and slot for connecting a security cable.

A roomy wrist rest area makes typing easy, and five programmable function keys add convenience. The touch pad is sensitive and pleasant to use. The PowerBook G4 also features a screwdriver-operated lock to prevent easy access to internal components and memory, which are located beneath the keyboard. The configuration of the PowerBook G4 we tested retails for $2,599, a reasonable price for this package.

REPORT CARD

PowerBook G4

Score: A

Apple Computer Inc.
(408) 996-1010
www.applecomputer.com

Price: $2,599

Remarks: Apple has delivered a sleek and powerful winner with its new PowerBook G4.

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