PowerBook G4 Diary, Day One

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After an endless day waiting for Macworld Lab to finish Speedmark testing, I finally get my hands on the shiny new PowerBook G4 Titanium that's just arrived from Apple. I'm somewhat disturbed that I'm not the first person to break the seal on this new product, but I understand the necessity for the Lab analysts to be the first to touch the pristine new machine. So I console myself with the knowledge that the Lab will repack the unit just as they found it, if for no other reason than to humor me. (I am the boss, after all.)

I get it home, and put it down on the floor. I have things to take care of before I can sit down and really get to work -- eating and the like. And I want to devote my full attention to the PowerBook. I'll also admit I still feel a sense of ceremony whenever I open up a new Mac, and experiencing that same new Mac thrill a buyer experiences is an important part of doing a thorough evaluation (kind of like method acting, only with reviews.)

The anticipation has become almost impossible to bear as I lay the surprisingly light box down on the couch -- will this truly prove to be the PowerBook I've been waiting for all my life?

Needless to say when I return for the formal unpacking, I'm dismayed to find my entire family clustered around the opened box, passing the PowerBook around like a holy icon. Well, I guess this says something about the pure sex appeal of the new portable, and probably reflects what would happen if a real life buyer was dumb enough to leave his or her brand new Titanium PowerBook G4 laying around unattended.

Inside the already-opened box is the typical Apple cardboard cover.

And underneath the cover is the usual assortment of stuff: modular power cord, FireWire cable and documentation pack.

Lift up the docs and you find the flying-saucer shaped power supply. Seems strange to get a power supply that's actually thicker than the PowerBook itself. Time for Apple to apply some of its brilliant miniaturation engineering to the power source.

Lifting out the Styrofoam frame, I at last touch the PowerBook G4! (Yes, I made my family put it back in the box. I really wanted to feel like I was the first person to tread this ground, even if I wasn't.) The tiny portable seems lost amidst all that styrofoam. And, man, is it thin!

But, before I pull the portable out of the box, I decide to check out the documentation package: It contains the usual assortment of goodies -- warranty and AppleCare cards, a rather thin manual, PowerBook install and restore discs, iMovie 2 disc, Apple Hardware Test disc and the obligatory two crystal Apple stickers (Note to self: it would be interesting one day to survey our readers and see what they actually do with those stickers.) There is also an odd addition, a slip of paper directing users to Apple's web site to download iTunes. This seems especially odd as iTunes currently doesn't support third-party external CD-RW drives and the new PowerBook has no bays you can install an internal drive in.

Next, I pull out the power supply so I can set up the workspace for the Titanium PowerBook G4. Just for kicks, I put my PowerBook G3 power supply next to the PowerBook G4 power supply. They are identical, except for the plug.

The Titanium PowerBook G4 power supply sports a much smaller connector. That's because the new portable is so thin, there wasn't enough room to accommodate the old plug. Oh well, there goes my stockpile of interchangeable power bricks!

When I finally extract the PowerBook from the box and set it on my desk, the first thing I notice is how really, really light this PowerBook is. It's more than just the loss of a pound: it's the increased rigidity of the titanium shell that makes it so you can pick this PowerBook up with one hand -- safely. I would find out later how nice this rigidity was for handling when one of my dogs ran between my legs!

Opening the portable ends up being slightly trickier than anticipated: There's a long silver button running just under the center of the lid, and you have to depress it in order to release the magnetic catch. Once it's open, however, I'm greeted by a great gray expanse and what looks to be a tiny keyboard. I have to remind myself that this PowerBook is actually wider than my old machine, making the keyboard look smaller than it actually is.

The keyboard is exactly the same as the one that comes with the PowerBook G3, with one notable exception: It's not spongy. Apple mounted this keyboard on magnets, making it incredibly stiff. The feel is reminiscent of the old Apple Extended Keyboard, probably the best keyboard ever made for a computer. One other note: I really like the new metallic buttons Apple has added all over this machine, especially the power button. Very classy.

Before I get the brain transplant started (transferring working files from my old PowerBook to the new portable), a quick tour around the outside of the Titanium PowerBook G4 seems in order. On the leading edge you've got that front-loading DVD-ROM drive; I'll have to check later and see if using this on an airplane will be any less awkward than having the drive on the right.

Speaking of the right side, it's now a clean strip of sliver unbroken except for a heat vent and the return of the Kensington Security slot. Good thing, too. Judging by the reaction of the people in my house, I expect these portables to be worse than designer sneakers when it comes to attracting would-be thieves.

Moving 'round the back, we have the smaller power port mentioned above and on the opposite side, an Infrared transceiver. Yes, Apple still includes this port -- and a good thing, too, for Palm and cell phone users. Sandwiched in between is the port access door, and above is the crystal Apple logo, which not only glows, but now looks right-side-up to people viewing the portable from behind.

Open the door and you'll find a full compliment of ports: one FireWire port, one 10/100-BASE-T Ethernet port, two USB ports, VGA out port, S-Video out port, and a 56K modem port. No port replicators necessary with this portable, that's for sure!

I arrive at the left side, which offers up a single PC Card slot that looks more like a vent, and a headphone jack. This should improve my ability to get my headphone connected and disconnected on that next couch flight.

I finish off my tour on the bottom, the home of the PowerBook battery.

Those four little dots and metal button are the battery level indicator and switch.

To remove the battery, just slide the gray switch at the top and out it comes. No more accidental battery ejection caused by snagging the PowerBook G3 media bay lever.

So that's it. I'm set-up and settled in for an all-nighter of joyful portable testing. Tune in next time, when I'll detail how the first day of hands-on testing go. But, just because I'm an awful tease, here's a little picture of my old PowerBook and new sitting side-by-side.

Don't miss part two of the PowerBook G4 diary.

Want to discuss the Titanium PowerBook G4 with Andrew Gore? You can do it now, in our "Titanium PowerBook Has Landed" message thread, or anywhere else in our Portable Macs Forum.

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