IBook G4 — First impressions

Wednesday, November 10, 4:30 p.m. I’m currently in the process of setting up my new computer: a 14-inch Apple iBook. When this machine first came out, I said to myself, who’d ever be stupid enough to buy one of those? Sure, it’s got a bigger screen, but it’s the exact same resolution as the 12-incher! Why pay more for a bigger, heavier computer that doesn’t give you more screen real estate? That was before I saw a 12-incher in person: they’re tiny! So tiny that their miniscule pixels even strain my still relatively healthy, 37-year-young eyes. Suddenly the 14-incher wasn’t looking so bad: the same number of pixels, but bigger.

But what about weight? The 14-inch iBook weighs in at a backpack-dragging 5.9 pounds, an extra pound over its 12-inch cousin. The 15-inch titanium PowerBook I’d be replacing was a relatively demure 5.3. But given the fact that the PowerBooks were now up to 5.7 pounds, again, the 14-incher seemed to measure up relatively well. I’d been testing my wife’s 15-inch Powerbook for about the previous week, the extra weight wasn’t bothering me, and now that the iBooks were nearly as fast as the PowerBooks — 1.33 GHz versus 1.5 GHz (both of those seem astronomically fast next to my 400 MHz TiBook) — there didn’t seem to be much reason to drop almost an extra grand on the PowerBook.

The final nail on the coffin for my trusty PowerBook was the fact that I could now order an iBook with an 80-gig hard drive. I had upgraded my PowerBook from its original 10-gig to a new 40-gig drive, and so a mere 60-gig drive didn’t seem like much of an upgrade. In order for it to truly feel like an upgrade, you’ve got to at least double your capacity, and now I could do just that. (There was also the small matter of my Airport card dying in my old PowerBook. Nothing like not being able to check your e-mail to motivate you to get a new computer!)

The first thing I notice as I’m setting up the iBook is that it is very bad at estimating how long it would take to transfer my files from my dying Titanium PowerBook. I had read about this amazing feature and was excited to see it in action: all new Macs now give you the option to automatically transfer all your files from your old computer. In fact, not only does it transfer your files, it transfers your applications, your settings, your preferences, even your desktop background images. So, when I connected my old computer with a firewire cable, I was a little surprised to see the computer tell me it was going to take nine hours to transfer my files. Did this mean that for the first nine hours my brand-new computer was going to be out of commission? Surely it doesn’t take that long to transfer a mere 20 gigs of data. Fortunately, after fifteen minutes, the estimate has now been revised downward to about four hours. This is the kind of error I might be able to live with. To be sure I can live with it, I think I’ll make a trip down to the local wine store to stock up on provisions.

6:00 p.m. Back from the wine store, and boy, this computer doesn’t have much of a sense of timing: by the time I had uncorked my first bottle, the computer was ready to go.

There is nothing more surreal than firing up your “new” computer for the first time, and having everything work exactly the same as the old one. My bookmarks, my e-mail accounts, my desktop, everything was arranged exactly as before. It’s like moving into a new house and finding all your furniture set up the way you had it in your old place, down to the color of the paint on the walls, even though the rooms are all shaped slightly differently. This is going to require more wine.

Thursday, November 11, 6:10 a.m. My, how time flies when you’re drinking wine. Oh, well.

Even though this is a new computer, there are some things that will take some getting used to. With slightly less screen area to work with, everything feels a little cramped. I’m used to spreading out when using Mail, but now I have to scale down the windows to make everything fit on screen. In Word, the formatting palette encroaches a bit on my documents — again, something I can fix with just a bit of window resizing. I haven’t tried the big boys yet — Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Photoshop — but I imagine working with those apps will feel downright stifling.

But here, composing this post in Safari, I’ve got plenty of room for what I need to do. I’ve never been one of those people who stretches his browser window to fill the entire width of the screen, and even on the iBook, I’m most comfortable with the window covering only about 80 percent of the screen. When I bought my PowerBook, almost four years ago, I was certain I’d never want a smaller screen than my giant 1152 X 768 display. Now I’m relatively content to clip 110 pixels from its width in order to save a thousand bucks. This probably goes with the territory of my new career as a writer, not a book producer.

It’s 7: 30 now. I’d better get going on my morning run, or I’ll never do it.

8:09 a.m., back from my morning run and now I see that Yasser Arafat has died. How sad. But that discussion will have to wait until tomorrow — I’ve got a new computer to play with. (and looking at the calendar, tomorrow is … Satire Friday. So sorry, Yasser, but it has been a slow news week — I think you’re going to be it, buddy.)

Any good Mac user knows the first thing you do with a new laptop (after testing it out on your most demanding video game) is calibrate the battery. This is done by fully charging the battery, then working unplugged until the computer automatically puts itself to sleep, just before it completely runs out of juice. So far, I’m not merely impressed, I’m amazed. I’ve been giving it a good solid workout for an hour and twenty minutes now, and my battery bar is still indicating I have a 77 percent charge, for a pre-calibration estimate of 3 hours and 37 minutes of life remaining. Some thumbnail calculations suggest I might even be able to do a bit better than that — perhaps close to five and a half hours of total battery life. I’m running a timer on the computer, and I’ll post an update with the final battery total when we get there.

Before I wrap up this post, I wanted to say a few words about ergonomics. I loved the keyboard on my old TiBook. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I’ve put up with its quirks for so long. The keys just had a wonderful feel to them: solid enough to make you feel as if you’re accomplishing something, but forgiving enough to make typing feel effortless. I was not so impressed with my wife’s monstrous new AlBook. The keys feel harsh and metallic, not nearly forgiving enough. The mouse button was elevated too far above the trackpad, and there were too many sharp edges to snag your wrist on. The iBook, by comparison, is a dream. The keys are a little mushy compared to the TiBook, but they’re definitely something I could get used to: much more forgiving than the AlBook. The trackpad is the best I’ve ever used, wonderfully responsive, with a button that offers just the right resistance. All the edges are slightly rounded compared to the TiBook. The only serious ergonomic issue is the computer’s thickness: I can definitely feel the extra quarter-inch elevation above the table top, and it doesn’t feel good. On the other hand, this computer is quiet, much quieter than my TiBook, and quieter even than the AlBook. Most of the time, I can barely hear the 80-gig hard drive spinning, and the ambient noise the thing generates is practically nil. In addition, the microphone is place up at eye level, next to the monitor, and away from the noise of the computer. It might be the first usable built-in mike. Later today, I’ll fire up Skype on this baby and let you know how it performs.

All in all, I think I’ll learn to love this machine. But now I think I need some coffee. And some Advil: the wine gods are not as forgiving as the computer gods.

Update 12:25 p.m. The total battery life ended up being 4.5 hours. I think this is because I started doing some more intensive work in Dreamweaver/Fireworks. Yes, definitely a little cramped, but there’s still plenty of room to get things done.

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One Response to IBook G4 — First impressions

  1. lyle says:

    Sometime in Feb/Mar I’ll be making an iBook purchase as well and I’ve had serious doubts about whether a 12″ would be enough. My local reseller has a 14″ on display and I find that it’s not that dissimilar screenwise from my 15″ iMac but…. The 12″ is smaller and I’m looking for portability, the battery life is supposed to be somewhat better and that will be a big issue for me.

    Your review has given me food for thought and until I can make the 4 hour trip to the nearest Apple Store to compare the two, I’ll keep an open mind.


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