Cool As Ice At 4.9 pounds, Apple's new snow-white iBook is trimmer and lighter than the model it replaces, yet it dwarfs other lightweight consumer portables when it comes to features. Chill out with the Mac blanc.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – Apple's original iBook was the computer equivalent of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's album. With its whimsical toilet-seat design, its fruity colors, including orange, blueberry, and lime, and its built-in antenna for wireless networking, it was a daring departure in both style and technology from the boring, boxy portable PCs of the Windows world. Apple later went on its own magical mystery tour, introducing psychedelic color schemes like flower power and blue Dalmatian in its desktop iMac machines.
And now, right on track, Apple is back with a completely redesigned iBook, the portable computer version of The White Album. Once again daring in its design, Apple has given its new consumer portable Macintosh a clean, snowy look that borrows elements from both the wrapped-in-Lucite Apple Cube desktop computer and the popular titanium PowerBook G4, Apple's high-end portable for professionals. For Macintosh users, and even Windows users ready for a change in computing lifestyle, the iBook is worth taking for a spin. It's not perfect, of course, but it's a good value and a fab 4.9-pounder that is as much at home in the kitchen or dorm as it is in the den or home office.
The new iBook has a 500-megahertz G3 processor that is well suited to such common tasks as word processing, e-mail, and Internet cruising, but it lacks the muscle needed for some of the heavyweight applications that Apple touts for it, like sophisticated video and graphics editing. For those chores, the G4-based PowerBook is the better (albeit much more expensive) choice.
There are several iBook models from which to choose, differing only in the drives they offer. The base model, for $1,299, is the least attractive; it comes with a 24X CD-ROM drive and just 64 megabytes of system memory. Considering that 128 MB is the minimum for running Apple's new Mac OS X operating system, it's curious that Apple even offers a machine with 64 MB of memory.
The better choices are the $1,499 iBook with 128 MB of RAM and a DVD-ROM drive or, for $1,599, the model with 128 MB and a CD-RW drive. A DVD-ROM drive "reads" both DVD movie disks and audio CDs, which makes it attractive to people who plan to watch movies or listen to music. The CD-RW drive can't handle movies, but it gives the owner the option of "writing" custom audio CD-R disks that can be played back in most CD players, and it can also be used to make CD-RW backups and to store music and digital photos.
The top-of-the-line iBook, which costs $1,799, comes with 128 MB and has a combo DVD-ROM and CD-RW drive, for the best of both worlds.
For my money, the $1,599 model with the CD-RW drive is the best bargain. For the $200 extra it costs to get the top model with DVD playback capability, one can buy a conventional DVD player that attaches to a TV set. Watching movies on the iBook's 12.1-inch active matrix display screen is not as alluring as it sounds, even though the new iBook screen has better resolution than the same-size screen in the old iBook.
A much better use for the additional $200 would be to upgrade the measly, standard 10GB hard drive to 20 GB, especially for students who want to populate the drive with bootleg MP3 digital music files. And if the iBook is going to be used regularly in places that are equipped for wireless networking, find an extra $100 to add an AirPort card.
The iBook has an impressive array of connection ports on the left side of the machine instead of on the back, which is covered by the overhanging lid when the screen is open. It's a trick Apple used to keep the iBook less than 1.5 inches thick, but having all those wires on the side adds to desk clutter.
Just as the PowerBook G4 set a new standard for professional laptops, the iBook does the same for consumer portables. It would be a better machine if it had a larger screen, bigger hard disk, and faster processor. Even so, for many people happiness is a warm iBook.