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First look: G4 PowerBook evolves

Apple's latest notebook boosts its appeal with enhancements

Apple has released an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, revamp of its PowerBook notebook line. Improvements include slightly faster processors, hard drives, graphics chips and optical drives.

We tested the 1.67GHz 15.2-inch wide-screen PowerBook with 8x DVD+RW burner and found it fast, light and a joy to use, but no particular enhancement was actually outstanding.

In our hands-on tests, the machine seemed noticeably faster than previous versions. Apple has made 512MB of DDR RAM standard (up from 256MB), and it has increased the hard-drive speed to 5400rpm (up from 4200rpm). The unit can support up to 2GB of RAM; and since the standard allotment uses only one of the two memory slots, you can add more juice later without swapping out the memory you already have.

Our unit came with an 80GB Ultra ATA-100 drive, which Apple says is more shock-resistant than the drives in previous models. That's due to the new Sudden Motion Sensor, which stops the hard drive and protects the data in the event of a sudden plunge.

To test the technology I dropped our test unit about 2 feet (into the hands of a nervous co-worker) while a QuickTime movie was playing off the hard drive. The movie paused during the fall but resumed shortly thereafter. Had I let our test unit kiss the carpeted floor about 2 feet farther down, Apple says that I would have been able to recover the data off of the drive even if the rest of the machine hadn't fared so well.

A new feature called Trackpad Scrolling lets you horizontally pan and vertically scroll through documents and Web pages. It requires exactly two fingers (one or three won't work, really) and a light touch. However, your two fingers don't need to move together--nor do they need to be two fingers on the same hand.

Trackpad Scrolling takes a little getting used to, and is less sensitive than I would like, although you can make use of the whole touchpad rather than just zones on the sides as with other notebooks.

A few minor enhancements: Apple says the illuminated keyboard is up to ten times brighter than that of the last 15in model, but in my experience the room still needs to be pretty dark for the backlight to be noticeable. In a completely dark room, I found typing on the white-lit keys an eerie, yet totally productive, experience.
At £1579, the unit is quite pricey. For the money, you get most of the bells and whistles found in notebooks this size, including FireWire 800. And it is lighter than most Windows-based 15in models.

The battery life still isn't great. Apple claims up to 4.5 hours on one charge in an energy-saving mode; with AirPort 802.11g turned on, the company quotes 3.25 hours. In my tests, with AirPort 802.11g and Bluetooth turned on, I averaged just over 2.5 hours. Plus, for some reason, Apple continues to leave off a media card reader – a vexing omission for digital camera buffs.

None of these flaws are significant, though. If you're looking to upgrade or switch to a PowerBook, you'll be happy with this beautiful, smooth-running machine.

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