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Tech 101 | Mac Focus

PowerBook G4 Is a Versatile Companion

March 01, 2001|JIM HEID | jim@jimheid.com

Two things are scarce when you're flying with Apple's new PowerBook G4: space on your tray table and privacy. As I type this in coach class, there's only an inch of room on either side of the 13 1/2-inch-wide PowerBook. If a cup of coffee ever arrives here in row 21, I'll have to slide the PowerBook partway off the tray to make room for it. As for privacy, let's just say that an inch-thick, titanium-cased computer with a 15.2-inch screen attracts attention--especially here in sardine class, where the huge screen is readable from adjacent seats.

Last week, I reported my initial impressions of the $3,500, 500-megahertz PowerBook G4. But an office is no place to test a portable computer, whose size and weight affect its convenience, whose design affects its capabilities and whose performance on the road can affect your job.

So I took to the air. Now, several days into my trip, I can say that the PowerBook G4 is an eminently roadworthy, exceptionally versatile portable computer. I grabbed video from a miniDV-format camcorder and edited it at 30,000 feet. I connected the PowerBook to a 12-foot projection screen and delivered presentations to a crowd of 500. I ran audio and Web-design software. I watched DVD movies and played MP3 tracks. And I surfed the Web, swapped e-mail and wrote this column.

The PowerBook G4 isn't light or small--it's light for its size and small for its capabilities. A fellow airline passenger was using a 2 1/2-pound Sony Vaio, and his tray table still had room for breakfast. But his screen was a keyhole compared with the PowerBook's, and his briefcase probably was packed with an external CD drive and other devices that are built into the PowerBook.

Meanwhile, my briefcase was bulging from the PowerBook's power adapter, which has the same oversized yo-yo design as that of Apple's iBooks and previous PowerBooks. It's big--about 4.5 inches in diameter. Frequent fliers should ditch Apple's adapter in favor of the forthcoming MadsonLine (http://www.madsonline.com) Micro-Adapter, which is about the size of a credit card and will be available this spring.

Speaking of power, I got across the country on a single battery charge--and I was installing software and performing other tasks that kept the hard drive spinning for much of the flight.

At my conference, I fell victim to the PowerBook G4's lack of an expansion bay, which in previous PowerBooks could accommodate additional storage devices. I had a Zip disk containing a file I needed to copy to the G4. The conference organizers had a PowerBook Zip drive module, but because the G4 couldn't accommodate it, I had to e-mail the file to myself using a different computer and then download it to the G4. Thinness has its price.

Much has been written about the heat generated by the PowerBook's G4 processor, but my review unit seemed to run cooler than my year-old PowerBook G3. That's in part because of an internal fan, which comes on now and then when you're working in a warm room. The fan is louder than I'd like, sounding similar to an operating CD-ROM drive.

After several days of being shuttled in and out of my briefcase, my PowerBook's titanium case showed some scratches and scuffs. Buyers determined to preserve their machines' pristine state may want to invest in a padded case.

My review unit's modem was finicky, often refusing to connect. The problem may have been a loose modem card, because my woes vanished when I removed the keyboard (that's also how you install expansion memory) and pressed down on the modem card to reseat it.

The PowerBook G4 is a sublime computer, and mobile professionals will find few challenges it can't meet. Will it attract Windows users? Perhaps, but the challenge Apple faces on that front was illustrated by a brief exchange I had with a fellow airline passenger. As he admired the G4, I told him it was Apple's newest PowerBook. He paused for a moment and asked, "Does Dell sell those?"

*

Jim Heid is a contributing editor of Macworld magazine.

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