I’ve had several
Apple portables over the years, but the
Titanium PowerBook G4 — or TiPB, for brevity’s sake — is Apple’s crowning achievement (so far) in the laptop market.
I’ve been using my new portable (one of the 500 MHz models) for about three weeks as I write this, and, except for one very irritating flaw, I am impressed. The design is fantastic; an inch thin, the TiPB weights 5.3 pounds. That’s not ultra-light, and many people still want Apple to produce a subnotebook. But the weight of the new PowerBook is very reasonable when you consider that you get a titanium shell, DVD drive, and ports for FireWire (but just one, not two as in G3 PowerBooks), USB (two), 10/100BaseT Ethernet, IrDA infrared, VGA and S-Video. The TiPB is slender enough that you’ll have no trouble slipping it into a backpack. Stuffing mine into a Kensington Saddlebag left plenty of room left for folders, magazines, and a digital camera.
Apple says the titanium shell was vital in slimming down the PowerBook. Titanium can be manufactured at .4 millimeters, which is five times thinner than the plastic Apple previously used, and 2.5 times thinner than magnesium — the favored metal of the laptop industry.
The TiPB’s 15.2-inch screen diagonal screen, which is half again as wide as it is high, is gorgeous It sports a native widescreen resolution of 1152 x 768 pixels, and snaps to other lower resolutions without incident. It’s great for watching DVD movies, something I do frequently on business trips. The size of the screen makes the TiPB’s size a bit unusual. Its width-to-height ratio is 3:2, compared to the more common 4:3. Unfortunately, some movies, applications and many games don’t know what to make of this ratio. The result are black bars almost an inch thick on the screen.
But overall, Web page designers, artists, videographers, and photographers will love the screen. Run a software package such as Adobe Photoshop, and the result is much like working with two monitors. The TiPB’s dimensions are also wonderful for frequent flyers like myself, because it’s easier to open on a tray when the seat in front is reclined.
Apple claims that the TiPB is up to “30 percent faster than the fastest Windows laptop.” I can’t verify that (as, of course, I don’t use Wintel systems), but Apple’s baby is as fast as its desktop counterparts and noticeably zippier than its G3 predecessor. I’ve test-driven iMovie, iTunes, Photoshop, and Final Cut Pro on the TiPB and have been impressed with the results.
However, be aware that the G4 processor puts out a lot of heat, and the bottom of the case can get quite hot. Be careful about plopping it down into your lap or — “Great Balls of Fire,” as Jerry Lee Lewis sang — you may be in for a rude surprise. For this reason, I highly recommend a RoadTools Podium CoolPad — a US $29.95 portable platform — as a must-have TiPB accessory.
If you need to run the occasional Windows application, Virtual PC 4 from Connectix runs reasonably well on the TiPB, easily matching the speed of the emulation program on my 500MHz desktop G4.
Though I’m not a hardcore gamer like my son, he found the TiPB to provide a reasonable balance between power, price, and portability. It comes equipped with ATI’s RAGE 128 Mobility chip, configured with 8MB of SDRAM video memory on a 2x AGP interface (the same configuration as previous Apple portables). PowerBooks generally render 3D graphics in games slower than their desktop counterparts, resulting in lower frame rates — but as laptops go, the TiPB is a pretty sweet game system.
The keyboard takes a bit of getting used to. It tends to flex a bit, especially when keys in the middle are struck. Also, I had hoped that Apple would include illuminated keys on this baby. That would be a very convenient feature for working on planes and taking notes during meetings when the lights are dimmed.
The TiPB sports a single Type I/Type II PC Card and a CardBus slot with an eject button. There’s also a headphone jack, but the audio input jack has been removed. Apple’s reasoning is that people who need this will simply add audio inputs via the USB port.
The TiPB’s battery life doesn’t live up to Apple claims of five hours. I could squeeze out about four while doing my usual chores (word processing, e-mailing, surfing the Web), but your average DVD movie will put the kibosh on the battery. You can use the Energy Saver software to whittle 100MHz off of the processor speed, which will add a few extra minutes of battery life.
Now for my beef with the TiPB. It’s got a power problem. If you tote it at a slight angle, the portable may suddenly shut off and often reset the system date to January 1, 1904. The culprit isn’t a power circuitry problem, but battery contact failure. The TiPB’s battery contacts have been changed from the PowerBook G3 design and weren’t meant to continue working when the PowerBook is at an angle.
However, not all the laptops suffer from this problem. If, like me, you’re one of the unlucky ones, you’ll have to have your TiPB serviced. Meanwhile, a clever Mac user has
found a workaround and posted it online. It’s a good temporary fix. Eventually, you’ll want to send it in to Apple for a permanent fix. I did (though I don’t know exactly what the tech support did to resolve the glitch) and Apple had it back to me in amazing time. I shipped my TiPB to them on a Thursday and had it back by Monday.
You may want to splurge for some extra memory. The TiPB comes with 128MB of RAM, which will be enough for many users, but for those who work in digital media or who plan on installing Mac OS X, a minimum of 256MB of RAM is much more practical.
The PowerBook G4 incorporates a 100MHz system bus; 30GB of storage space; up to 1GB of installable RAM; and support for AirPort wireless networking. It comes in both 400MHz and 500MHz flavors.
While the TiPB is almost perfect for my needs, it would be nice if Apple offered one with a DVD/CD-RW combo drive. And some people may miss the expandability of past PowerBooks — the drive bay is history as of the TiPB. Aside from memory, not much about the PowerBook is upgradeable.
But those are minor quibbles. Except for that battery contact problem, this is one incredibly good-looking and high performing machine. If you’re dealing with digital media and are on the road a lot, the TiPB is definitely worth checking out.