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Apple iBook G4

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The iBook, in its current incarnation, is something of a design classic. However 'classic' can mean out of date. Before the roll out of the new model the previous iterations used the venerable G3 chip. This hasn't been a bad thing, for both users and Apple. G3s have low power consumption, making them very laptop friendly, and give a user a reasonably powerful machine with long battery life. In addition the G3 status gave Apple an excellent differentiator between its consumer range and the professional G4 range.

But with the G4 upgrade the iBook, in a way, causes a problem for Apple, since the iBook neatly undermines the PowerBook 12in on price/performance. The iBook isn't as powerful or quite as fully featured as its aluminium clad colleague, but it's still an impressive package. Package is also the operative word when reviewing this machine, as it comes bundled with iLife, the AppleWorks productivity suite, and OS 10.3.

One thing that impresses when you pick the 12in iBook up is the build quality; the polycarbonate body is solid and feels like it can take a hard knock. I had some personal experience with this as, during my review period, the strap on my laptop bag snapped and the bag hit a concrete step at my local Tube stop. The bag isn't well padded but the iBook didn't have a mark on it.

This reflects the original design criteria of the first iBooks, which were designed with the education market in mind. Not only is there an aluminium frame under the white plastic body, but the 30GB hard drive is rubber mounted for greater shock absorption.

When you open up the machine the matt white surface looks neat and tidy, and the revised keyboard looks and feels business like. A friend of mine describes the iBook as a Fisher Price laptop, and it does have the pared-down look of a child's toy. However, ergonomically it works fine, and some detail changes make it look more ‘grown-up’ than previous versions. In terms of the keyboard, I found that touch typists rate it less highly than people who use two or less fingers. Of course this is a subjective impression, but a good typing experience is paramount when considering a notebook purchase.

Being a Mac there is only one button for the touchpad, and to be honest I wish that the company would give in and give two. It’s only a niggle, but it does seem daft having to use the Command key to right click. That said, the pad and button are well placed, with plenty of wrist support space. I've used the keyboard for long periods of time and in various locations; at home on the lap, at work on a desk, on the tube and on a train, and it was more comfortable to use than many other notebooks I’ve looked at.

The 12in TFT screen has a resolution of 1,024 x 768 which isn’t that high by today’s standards. It is however readable in most lighting conditions, including sunlight. The colours are bright and vibrant and the lighting even across the surface.

Although some may find a 12in screen a bit small, I found it good enough to layout fairly complex text documents, which was a pleasant surprise. Of course for serious DTP work you would need to plug the machine into a much larger screen. The 32Mb ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 graphics chipset is a reasonable addition, although it’s a couple of generations behind ATI’s newly released Mobility Radeon 9700.

The G4 iBook also brings the range in line with its PowerBook cousins by replacing the tray loading optical drive used in the G3 models with a slot loading one, situated on the right hand side. This DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive is a good feature that allows easy backup and file transfer, and loosing the tray is a definite practical improvement to the overall ergonomics.

In terms of ports the iBook is well equipped. It has, unlike the G3 models, a pair of USB 2.0 ports instead of the previous USB 1.1. With the backward compatibility factor of the USB 2.0 port with the earlier standard you can, drivers permitting, attach a large array of peripherals to the iBook. The FireWire 400 port also gives access to a good range of peripherals and allows the transfer of digital video from a DV camcorder. However, I personally find the lack of a PC Card slot a real issue. I use CompactFlash Cards for various work applications and the easiest way to transfer data from them is via a PC Card adapter.

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