Hands-on with the 17-inch PowerBook

As soon as Apple releases new hardware, Macworld is on the case posting its first look, benchmarks and full reviews, letting the readers know the ins and outs of the desktop or notebook systems. Sometimes, we like to follow those up with a hands-on look at one of the systems to give you a feel for how we like it after an extended period of time.

There is certainly a lot to like about Apple’s PowerBook line. With models spanning 12- to 17-inch screen sizes, the PowerBook offers users varying degrees of processing power and real-estate. I tend to be a real-estate hog and opted for the 17-inch PowerBook, instead of the more travel friendly 15-inch or 12-inch models.

With a 1440 x 900 resolution, the 17-inch gives me all of the on-screen room that I need to run variety of applications I do in the run of a day. If I was just using e-mail and a word processor, a smaller, lighter model would be sufficient, but when you add in Logic, Photoshop, Illustrator, Guitar Rig and others, the extra power of the larger PowerBook certainly comes in handy.

The Scrolling Trackpad

Apple didn’t just increase the processor speed to make the PowerBook a more attractive purchase during the last round of updates. Two new technologies are also available — the scrolling TrackPad and the Sudden Motion Sensor.

At my desktop G5 machine, I use a four-button scroll-wheel mouse and up until now I’ve missed not having the scrolling function on my notebook. It’s easy enough to connect a mouse to the PowerBook, but it’s not always as easy to find a place to put it when you’re on a plane or in a car.

I honestly didn’t expect the scrolling TrackPad to work — it sounds good on paper, but in reality how often do these things actually work? I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it worked every time. I had to remind myself for the first little while to use it, but as soon as two fingers touched the keypad, I was scrolling. This feature can be controlled or turned off in the system preferences if you don’t wish to use it.

Dropping the PowerBook

The other new technology included in the PowerBook is Sudden Motion Sensor, which is designed to help protect the PowerBook’s internal hard drive. Built into the motherboard this technology senses if the notebook has been dropped, parks the disk drive’s heads and locks them before the PowerBook hits the floor.

Sounds interesting, but does it actually work?

The only way I could think of to test the technology is to do what any laptop user dreads — I dropped my PowerBook. I put on a QuickTime movie of my favorite guitarist Zakk Wylde doing a warm-up session, held the machine about chest high and dropped it.

The QuickTime movie stopped itself for a few seconds and then continued to play as if nothing happened. It took the video a few seconds to catch up to the sound, but if that’s the worst thing that happens from dropping my PowerBook, I’m all for it.

RAM and other features

The PowerBook comes with 512MB RAM, which is probably sufficient for most tasks, but I find it lacking for the amount and kinds of applications I have open. If you are doing more than simple word processing or e-mail, I would definitely recommend a RAM upgrade to at least 1GB.

Apple’s new backlight keyboard technology, which the company says is up to 10 times brighter than previous models, works like a charm. You’ll find this more and more useful when you travel, especially if you take the red-eye and try to get some work done.

The Bottom Line

While consumers are not so patiently waiting for a PowerBook G5, Apple is continuing to innovate and put useful updates in its PowerBook line. Technologies like the motion sensor and something all of us can benefit from at one time or another. With a larger hard drive, built-in Airport Extreme and Bluetooth, the high-end models should definitely come standard with more RAM to help the pros that no doubt buy this system get their work done without doing an immediate upgrade.

This story, "Hands-on with the 17-inch PowerBook" was originally published by PCWorld.

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