APRIL 21, 2003
Apple 17-Inch PowerBook G4
1 GHz notebook computer
by David Nagel
Page 2 of 5

The big picture
This massive size is there, of course, to accommodate this PowerBook's big, bad 17-inch screen. Let's not forget that most desktop systems ship with a 17-inch CRT monitor. But the screen on the 17-inch PowerBook, being LCD, is roughly the equivalent in viewable area of an 18- or 19-inch CRT display. This thing has room to spare! But its size isn't all it has going for it. At 1,440 x 900 pixels, the image is sharp. What's more, this is easily the finest display to make its way onto a PowerBook to date. Frankly, I've been unimpressed the the quality of PowerBook screens in the past. This one, though, is bright and clear and has a far wider vertical viewing angle than the ones found on previous models. I don't know exactly what that viewing angle is, but I do know that when I stand up, the image doesn't disappear from the screen.[an error occurred while processing this directive]Functionally, the screen has been improved in a significant and usually overlooked area: the hinge. This is significant if you, like me, have seen your notebook's bezel pop out owing to poor hinge design. I actually had an old PowerBook whose video display was constantly becoming disconnected simply because some corporate moron way back decided he or she could save the company a penny a unit by using small hinges that applied pressure to the lower half of the bezel every time the lid was opened. Ridiculous! Notebooks are used in circumstances where daintiness is not a desired trait of equipment.

Now, while the Titanium PowerBooks were certainly constructed more sturdily than the older models I'm talking about, they still gave me an uneasy feeling. The hinges were plastic-coated and had seams right where there should be no seams. But the new 17-inch model is different. It's adopted one large hinge, along the lines of what you see in the iBook's design. With this design, I don't sense any frailty whatsoever in the lid of this PowerBook, and I can rest easy knowing a $3,300 investment isn't going to snap in half on me just because I opened it a little too fast.

Keyboards, external interfaces, drives
Also on the list of functional changes is a new keyboard. Unlike the older keyboard setup, the new one is not removable, so you can't access internal components while the computer is sitting upright. (This was a feature I appreciated about the Titanium PowerBooks.) However, there's a reason for this: The 17-inch PowerBook's keyboard has a sensor to measure ambient light, and it uses this to turn on a backlight on the keyboard during low-light conditions. The keys themselves don't light up this way; the light actually filters through clear inlaid letters on the keys for a very nice effect.

Now, it's not all good with regards to the keyboard. I personally have had trouble with Apple keyboards since the advent of USB. For some reason, the action on the keyboards--especially PowerBook keyboards--just doesn't work well with my typing style. And so even when I turn key repeat completely off, I still wind up typing things like, "Wwhhyy iiss tthhiiss hhaappeenniinngg ttoo mmee??" When I mellow out and set my wrists on the wrist rest, this problem isn't pronounced. So much for my speedy two-finger method though. I think I'll have to learn to type for real one of these days.

On a related topic, I also continue not to be enamored with track pads and single-button clickers. First off, there is no productivity without the second button, especially in a trackpad situation, where it's too inconvenient to reach up and hit the Control key just to access a contextual menu. And then there's the trackpad itself. As trackpads go, it's a good one, but I've always preferred a trackball. Granted, I could pack a big, fat Kensington TurboMouse Pro (by far the best trackball available), but I'd like to see a built-in trackball as an option. At the very least a scroll wheel would be a great addition. (I wouldn't complain either if Apple could strike a deal with Wacom to install a pressure-sensitive tablet as an option to the trackpad!)

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