A Month with a Mac - Part II: The Mobile Experienceby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 24, 2005 12:01 AM EST
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The Premise for Part IIAt the end of the first Mac article, I came to the realization that what attracted me most to OS X was the way everything just worked the way that you'd expect it to. Prior to my OS X experiment, I had done things in reverse. I molded my usage patterns to the way Windows wanted them to work in order to get things done. What I realized with OS X was that not only did I find myself being more productive, but I noticed that one of the biggest strengths of the OS was in its window/task management. Regardless of how cluttered my screen was or how many applications I was running, I never felt bogged down. And where did I find myself bogged down more often than on my desktop? On my laptop, of course. The other big advantage (for Apple) in the laptop world is that laptop gaming is still something that's not too common. Other than using massive 17-pound desktop replacements as gaming machines, most people just don't use their laptops for gaming - which happens to be one of the biggest weaknesses of the Mac platform. So was it time to revisit the idea of using an Apple laptop?
When I originally went through the decision-making process of picking the platform on which to do the first Mac article, I arrived at the dual 2.0GHz Power Mac simply because it was the fastest thing available at the time. I had held Apple's PowerBook G4s before and I'd never been impressed with them simply because they weighed too much. I was used to thin and truly light notebooks. With the lightest PowerBook G4 weighing in at 4.6 lbs, I decided that Apple laptops were hardly my cup of tea.
The more I used the G5 desktop, the more I felt that I didn't need an Apple laptop as well - I was just fine switching between Windows and OS X as I moved between my desktop and my laptop. But then it came time to head to Taiwan for a week, a week where my only computer would be my extremely portable, ultra thin, ultra light 1.7lbs Sony X505/SP. That notebook defines portability. The motherboard in the X505/SP is about the size of a minidisc, and it weighs less than most paper notebooks, not to mention just about any laptop out there. Taking it on a plane isn't an issue - it has only a 2-hour battery life, but at 1.7lbs, you can't really complain. The only issue with the notebook is that it is a bit of a pain to type on the keyboard, and for a writer, that can be a problem.
So, I thought the trip to Taiwan late last year would be the perfect time to see how well one of Apple's PowerBook G4s would work out, from a PC user's perspective. But which one?
Apple makes five different PowerBook G4s: two 12" models, two 15" models and a 17" model. I figured my X505/SP already had the portability side of things down, so there was no point in going for a 12" system. The 17" was just obscenely big and I didn't need a desktop replacement, so I settled on a 15" model. The 1280 x 854 resolution was reasonable, but most importantly, I could get a 1.5GHz G4 instead of the 1.33GHz chip that was the highest offered in the 12" models. I was happy with the performance of the 2.0GHz G5, so I figured I needed the fastest possible G4 to prevent ruining the experience.
The system starts at $1999, but that's for the 1.33GHz G4 with only 256MB of memory. The 1.5GHz model also comes with 512MB of DDR333, a slightly larger 80GB drive and a fiber optic backlit keyboard - but it also bumps the price up to a hefty $2499. Laptops have been dropping in price. However, the more stylistic, feature-filled or thin and light solutions always carry a price premium, so it's not too difficult justifying the price of the PowerBook - assuming it does actually deliver. As always, student discounts do apply - knock about $200 off each notebook if you're a student or educator.
The full specs of the system are as follows:
- PowerPC G4 1.5GHz
- 512MB DDR333 SDRAM (2 x 256MB SO-DIMMs)
- Toshiba 80GB MK8025GAS ATA HDD
- Slot Loading 4x SuperDrive (CD-RW/DVD-R)
- 15.2" Widescreen Display (1280 x 854 native resolution)
- ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 (64MB)
- PC Card/CardBus slot
- Integrated AirPort Extreme Wireless (802.11g)
- integrated 10/100/1000 Ethernet
- Integrated Bluetooth
- FireWire 400 Port
- FireWire 800 Port
- Two USB 2.0 Ports
- Integrated DVI Output (with VGA dongle)
- Integrated S-Video Output
- 5.7 lbs - 13.7" x 9.5" x 1.1"
- OS X Panther (10.3)
One advantage that the PowerBook offers over competing PC notebooks is its size and weight. For example, Sony's K-series notebooks offer a similar 15.4" widescreen display, but weighs in at 8 lbs, which makes the 5.7 lbs of the 15" PowerBook seem like a feather. The same K-series notebooks are also considerably thicker, at 1.6 - 2.2" vs. 1.1" for the PowerBook. The K-series from Sony also carries a larger footprint, at 14.1" x 10.9".
Comparing the PowerBook to similar 15" widescreen Dell solutions reveals similar size and weight advantages. The Inspiron 8600 features a 15.4" widescreen display, yet has a starting weight of 6.9 lbs and is 1.52" thick. The 8600 is also larger at 14.22" x 10.79". The Inspiron 6000 is a bit lighter at 6.65 lbs and is also 1.52" thick. The Latitude D800 starts at 7 lbs and is 1.5" thick. Both the Inspiron 6000 and the Latitude D800 also feature footprints similar to the 8600.
So, although competing PC notebooks are cheaper, nothing with the same monitor size can actually offer lighter weight or smaller dimensions than the 15" PowerBook, which is definitely an advantage for Apple, and it's something that is much needed on the mobile side of things.