I had initially found the enjoyment of Mac hardware through my purchase of a second hand B&W G3 (which I considered a discovery type buy), fantastic – but a little slow for my work as a web developer. So in need of a little more power to truly enjoy and appreciate OS X I found a used desktop G4 – brilliant! This meant that the only remaining piece of PC kit I still had in action was a Compaq laptop.
While very good and reasonably fast, it had one major drawback in my new Mac world – it was a PC! Making the transition between the two environments on an almost daily basis was just too much hassle – I needed an Apple laptop!
One thing that had been really useful in owning and using my old PC laptop was that it had shown me exactly what I needed, and didn’t need from a portable computer.
Subsequently the following points were my major considerations for the purchase:
- Battery Life
- Screen size, Resolution and Quality
- Operating Noise
Outcome… an iBook!
Now initially I was only considering the Powerbook range. They are the elite of the Apple notebook range – surely as a tech minded person I would need one! However, just at the time of my intended purchase Apple released a new range of iBooks with a very pleasing feature set and price point. I started thinking carefully about what I needed from the laptop. Maybe the iBook would match my needs, and also my wallet!
- Processing power – a 1.33Ghz G4 chip which is more than enough speed for me.
- Memory – 256MB RAM, not really enough BUT it is compatible with my PC laptops memory which I had upgraded with a 512MB chip – PERFECT!
- Disk Space – a 60GB hard disk good-sized drive for the type of work I do and also double the size of my previous laptop.
- Connectivity – USB2 x 2, VGA adaptor included, 100MB network, Firewire 400 & airport extreme and built in modem, everything I need and more here, wireless is a bonus!
- Screen Resolution – 14inch at 1024×768, this is a big change from my 15inch 1400×1050 which I found too small (for fonts etc) anyway, would have to check this difference out with a test drive at an Apple store though.
- Optical Drive – Slot Loading DVD/CD-RW Drive upgrade from my PC laptop DVD drive and it always annoyed me having a fragile tray loading drive in my previous laptop, so this would be great.
So after a visit to an Apple store to have a play with the iBook (well actually the previous model but at least the same size unit, keyboard, screen and resolution) I was sold. The most amazing part of the outcome of my investigations was the cost. This was my first brand new Apple hardware purchase and it cost me less than half the price my PC equivalent laptop had (I thought it was meant to be the other way around?!).
The attention to detail Apple provided even in the packaging was most impressive. I compared my old Compaq in its brown cardboard box to the white suitcase like carton that unfolds like a story for the iBook. Opening and setting up the laptop was very straightforward, initial charge, transferred my 512MB memory from the PC laptop to the new iBook (boot, Apple Icon, About this Mac, 768 MB DDR SDRAM – brilliant!) and applied all my personal settings with ease.
With my previous laptop purchase there was a mess of CDROMs, license agreements, manuals of various types in various formats etc and all aranged quite loosely in the package. The organisation of my iBook from the tidy packaging of the CDs (four in total; two setup discs, an additional software package and one for the airport extreme), the manuals (which I pleased to find had clear and direct instructions for upgrades – very useful for my memory upgrade) and even the organisation of cables was fantastic. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by all the adaptors, cables, books and discs I’ve become accustomed to with other computer type purchases, everything opened up in a cardboard framed book design, Apple had introduced me to my new laptop in style!
Fast forward a few months
You may be wondering why I have waited so long to write a review about my iBook. The main reason is, naturally I would be excited and impressed by a brand new laptop – it’s shiny, unused and just looking so perfect in the first few days/weeks. I would be using this laptop every day and often would be doing demo’s with it, working on the road etc. I had to wait a few months to have a true idea of how it stacked up in daily use.
So here we are several months later and how do I feel about my iBook? It’s still awesome, maybe even more so than before.
All my daily applications run really well, the connectivity aspects of the laptop are very simple. With the upgraded memory (which was a must for myself as I like to have several apps running at a time) I very rarely have any issues with slowdown. Sometimes if I’m working with large files there can be slight delays and I do realise one of the compromises in choosing the iBook over the Powerbook was the slower rpm hard drives (4200 v.s. 5400rpm). The iBook does also has an ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 which sports 32MB of RAM, which I always knew was not going to make it a games machine by any stretch. However for my work and general personal computing needs this is fine.
The iLife suite of applications already installed and setup on the iBook are just great to work with. As per the usual Apple approach, they just work, no hassles or special requirements. iPhoto and iTunes are probably my applications of choice where I have covered other software needs with additional purchases of third party products. However to have so much functionality included in the box with a computer is a real treat. Too often I hear people judging Apple gear as excessively expensive without factoring in the value of included software – I didn’t get anywhere near the same functionality out of the box with my PC laptop.
I have been really impressed with the Airport Extreme (credit also to its implementation in OS X of course too). The VGA output when using an external monitor (using the supplied adaptor) is very important to me and I’ve been really pleased with it’s performance. I have loads of USB devices (digital camera, printer, scanner, USB backup drive, Apple Pro Keyboard and mouse) so having the USB2 ports is important. There is a Firewire 400 port available too. I have some good speakers which I use when setup at my desk so the audio out port is always in action (the sound quality from iBooks built in speakers is passable for general sounds, but like most notebooks it’s not ideal for music or DVD movies etc. It is an audio aspect that presents my first disappointment with my iBook, the lack of audio input (ignoring the built in mic). I often like to record music in to my computer from mini-disc and would have liked a simple 3.5mm input as standard on the iBook. However I appreciate that Apple have reserved that for the flagship Powerbook series and given there are several USB options such as the iMic (which I intend to buy soon) this is not a permanent nor overly expensive omission. The little extras with the design, illuminated power plug (green for charged, orange for charging) are really good, no aspects of the plugs or jacks feel flimsy or fragile.
Reliability, Aesthetics & Battery Life
It’s tricky to determine the reliability of computer hardware given that it will always be very dependent on the operating system and software it is running. So with this in mind, the iBook running Mac OS X 10.3 has been a perfect combination. I’ve had very few lockups in months of daily operation – and the times I have struck problems (mostly software related), a simple reboot has always been enough to be back on track. The ambient noise of the iBook is almost silence, yes the fan does fire into action sometimes, but it’s generally only for a minute or so while some CPU intensive action is underway. The appearance of the iBook is fantastic; attention to detail seems to have been the consideration for every little aspect of design (even the internals as I found out when upgrading the memory!). Battery life is stated as being ‘up to 6hrs’. I have never had 6 hours action, more like 4 to 4.5 but this is good particularly compared to the 2 to 2.5 I got from my power hungry PC notebook. Another comment I should make in this area is in regard to heat generated from the iBook. The area to the left of the touchpad (above the hard disk I believe) does get very hot after running for a while however never so hot that I’ve found it uncomfortable to use (i.e. resting hands in that area while typing).
Approximately 4 months use and I’m still as impressed with this laptop as I was the day it arrived – perhaps even more so because of it’s consistency and reliability. The value for money really stands out for me. I know this iBook is not the fastest, nor most impressive in the Mac laptop range, but for my personal computing and work needs (web development, image editing etc) it handles everything I ask of it with ease. There are a couple of things about the package I was a little unsure about from the included 256MB RAM which I considered a little light though easily upgradeable (expandable to 1.25GB maximum with one available slot) and the screen expansion modes of the iBook vs. Powerbook were limiting (although I risked the screen spanning firmware hack for iBooks and have been very pleased with the result). As I also mentioned, the lack of sound input (other than the internal mic) is a shame, although again a simple cost effective solution is available using a USB device. So with all these issues easily covered I am feeling very pleased with my ‘still’ shiny white G4 iBook!
- Price and Value for money
- Included software and Airport Extreme built in
- Battery Life and robust build quality
- Great design
- Lack of input audio input jack
- Limitations of monitor output options (without risky firmware adjustments)
- Base memory configuration of 256MB a little light