The last ever PowerBook G4 review

PowerBook G4Having owned my PowerBook for just over a year now and with the new MacBook Pro coming in to slowly phase out the PowerBook, I thought it would be great to write the last ever review on the PowerBook G4.

The Apple range of products has always demonstrated the ultimate in quintessential design. They are classed as masterpieces by the art community, the ultimate cool gadget by music listeners, and the most powerful and easy to use in the technology corner.

I’m not here to shout out about how good Apple is. I’m just here to give the facts on one group of their products. The now discontinued PowerBook. Having purchased a PowerBook in February 2005 I was immediately switched on to just how every aspect of this laptop is engineered to the most outstanding quality I have ever seen in any product I have experienced using before.

Price tag aside, I will give you the low down on why I think Apple is the winner of this industry.

Whenever I talk technology to those interested whether it is colleagues, friends, family I always make them think of two classes. To make it easier to understand I use the example of cars. On the one end of the spectrum which I strongly believe Apple belong to are Bentley. You pay more for a Bentley because they’re more than a quality manufacturer, they have history, they sell a concept and they hold a low market share because they are for those who demand the best luxuries that life has to offer.

I believe Apple has successfully cemented this notion that theirs us and then theirs the rest of them. The man hours spent in engineering alone is enough to make you admire things like ambient light sensors hidden under the speaker grille or fiber optic backlighting behind the keyboards.

Starting of with the chassis, the shell is made of an aircraft grade anodized aluminium; a really strong and light material yet beautiful to touch and resistant to scratches and stains.

One of the accomplishments with the PowerBook is the size. At just over 1-inch thick for the 15 and 12-inch model and at 1-inch thick for the 17-inch model, these dimensions make it one of the slimmest full featured laptops available anywhere.

When you open it up, you see the widescreen display with a thin bezel. When the display is completely open it rests far away from the keyboard allowing for an optimum keyboard to screen distance ratio. This makes the product feel extensive and to hand when in use but compact when closed. Never has a laptop been designed with such elegance!

I think you get the idea behind the overall design. It’s not just a fad or hype. It’s for real. There is a legacy behind Apple and that is the apparent simplicity of the solution belies the complexity of the problem.

Fiber optic backlit keyboard anyone? I don’t see many manufacturers incorporating this feature in to their laptops. Is it because it’s too costly or is it because they just don’t know how to? It’s one of the small features of the PowerBook and yet it’s so brilliantly handy. How many times have you been in a dim or no-light room and needed access to the keyboard? Granted it’s not a feature I use every single day. But you only need it once for it to become a noticeable feature? Pure genius I think and a nice touch. It’s simply another case of Apple thinking about the user and designing the features that the use needs. They certainly catered for all the different possibilities.

Battery running low? Not a problem you can switch the battery without having to power down the whole system or even run the hibernate feature that Windows users need. Simply put it in to Sleep mode (Mac equivalent to Standby) and swap the batteries out and open up the display. Boom. Your system just gained another 5 hours of life and you didn’t lose a single file. Yet another example of the engineers thinking about a scenario a user would be in.

When the engineers at Apple set out to design the new PowerBook with their pencils and crayons at hand there was definitely a tendency for them to be evolutionary but what one of the great things about the PowerBook was that it was so revolutionary. The hard part was figuring out how to fit everything in there. When you look at it now, it seems so simple and so obvious and yet again, as usual, the simplest most efficient solution has been the most elusive.

Performance issues I hear? Not a problem. The PowerBook G4 running at 1.5GHz has better performance and more features than a Mac mini does. So why not run it as a desktop system as well? This is something I’ve just started to do. The PowerBook includes the ATi Radeon 9700 graphics chip which can drive a 30-inch Cinema Display at massive resolutions. I’m not quite that extreme yet so I stick with the 19-inch LG LCD display through the DVI connection.

This allows me to show everything that the integrated 15-inch widescreen display shows, plus more. All I need to do is to attach my Apple Pro Keyboard and Mouse up to it. Close the display and boom you got a fully functioning and feature packed desktop computer. It runs whisper quiet and from my experience as far as I’m concerned it’s a god send when you just want to be working in a quiet environment and bonus points for not having to move, transfer or synchronize any data.

Connectivity is in some ways better than the new MacBook Pro. It has a dedicated S-Video port, FireWire 400 and FireWire 800. The new Macs don’t have FireWire 800 or an S-Video port although the latter can be adapted through a cable on the DVI port.

There are so many more reasons why the PowerBook G4 dominates the laptop industry. Its closest competitors aren’t even close to getting a laptop of this performance, size, quality and durability and this is old-school now!

Without doubt, the MacBook Pro and future revisions will take over the performance crown and this will yet again widen the performance gap whilst the closest competitor catches up with the previous generation.

That covers the final ever review of the PowerBook G4. It’s still true to today that Apple is able to continue to create exciting, fun and innovative new products and inspire passion, creativity and ideas in its users.

They keep pushing forward, thinking the impossible and then creating it. Theirs nothing you can ask of that they haven’t already put in to this product and theirs even things that you wouldn’t think of that they’ve put in already!

These are the reasons why I will be spending the rest of my PowerBook years a happy one without a single regret.

Long live the PowerBook.

2006-02-24 Onwah Tsang

2 comments - why not add yours

  • Greg says:

    I agree! My work has allowed me to use a 15″ 667Mhz PB (which was just so good) and now a 17″ 1.5GHz PB which at times feels unwieldy, but is a joyous machine to use. I still think a 15″ PB is the perfect out and about size laptop. But then the 12″ PB just looks so bloody neat…
    And even though the PB line has been around a while now, the look and finish of the PB still draws much comment from those stuck with Dell, Acer etc.
    It replaces 4 desktop computers (2 PC’s) and has spurred me to wireless the rest of the Macs in our humble abode.

    Posted on 24th February 2006
  • oni says:

    Thanks for reading and the comment Greg! It’s good to see another happy PowerBook owner.

    Is there such a thing as an unhappy PowerBook owner?

    I think the PowerBook line will continue to go on for a long time on places like eBay. I doubt this product will ever disappear for good.

    Posted on 24th February 2006

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