by Louie Tran, California USA
Being a diehard PC user for over 15 years, I had never considered switching to an Apple Mac or EVER using an Apple product. In fact I avoided using Quicktime as much as possible because I always thought anything made by them was a joke. I mean, my gosh, why won’t Apple just give in and add a second mouse button? Besides, Macs are mainly for graphic designers, moviemakers, musicians or ignorant consumers who need a computer with training wheels, right? It turns out that I was the one who was ignorant and completely clueless in using the Mac OS until I recently acquired this new iBook G4 12-inch to satisfy my Mac curiousity and have enjoyed using it everyday since.
Review Unit Apple iBook 12″ Screen Specs
- 1.25 G4 Processor
- 256MB RAM (Upgraded to 512MB)
- Radeon 9200 32MB DDR
- VGA output adapter
- 30GB Hard drive
- DVD/CDRW Combo drive
- Built in WiFi 802.11b
- 12″ screen.
The First Few Hours With My iBook
After removing the laptop from its extravagant packaging, I was introduced to the first Mac computer I have ever owned since the Apple IIe. The laptop is very well constructed made by polycarbonate plastic (the same stuff made from bullet proof glass) so you know it’s tough and the simply white design adds a lot of class to it. In comparison to many laptops out in the market in terms of physical structure, the iBook feels very solid unlike the cheap, dull plastic feel of Dell or HP notebooks.
The iBook comes with a decent software package with the Mac OS X at its core which includes AppleWorks (similar to Microsoft Works with the word processor, spreadsheet, etc), a suite of production software such as Garage Band, iDVD, iPhoto, iMovie, and more. There’s also World Book 2004 and a few full version games installed as well which is a nice addition but a lot of people such as myself will end up deleting to free up the limited 30GB hard drive space. Unfortunately there’s no full version of Microsift Office or even the full version of Quicktime.
The first thing that I did while it was recharging was connect the iBook to my router. I got online just fine and was installing the Mac Updates and surfing the web at the same time without any problems. Safari is a much better browser overall compared to Internet Explorer. There is a built in popup blocker so it makes web surfing more enjoyable. The iBook does come with Internet Explorer 5.0 but it’s really buggy so I don’t recommend using it unless you really want to.
In setting up the actual LAN, my three PCs found the iBook on the network and my iBook found the three PCs. I did run into a small problem while trying to print off my HP PSC 1350 that was connected to one of my PCs on the network, but there is a work around using a free program called Samba (it’s a long and complicated process but you can find it using Google). The built in wireless adapter also found my Linksys wireless router just fine, as well as all of my neighbors’ wireless conections.
After that I wanted to test the video playback of my new iBook. Since Quicktime is the default player rather than Windows’ Media Player, it ran MPEGs and AVIs just fine. However it is extremely annoying that the free version of Quicktime does not play video files in full screen like Media Player will allow you to do. However, since I don’t really view Quicktime files that much anyway, I did a search on Versiontracker and downloaded Video Lan which plays all file formats including DivX and XviD in fullscreen and best of all, it’s free. DVDs ran without a hitch as I expected and it had no problems reading my burned DVDs. The built in stereo speakers sound OK, but I suggest getting headphones for a better audio experience. Just to warn you audiophiles out there, the speakers on the iBook have no bass at all.
And finally I wanted to see if it could burn DVDs using my TDK external burner (has both USB 2.0 and Firewire connections). Did some research in how to make “backups” of movie DVDs online and it is very similar to the method that I use on PC. The three programs that you need are Mac the Ripper (free), DVD2ONE X (shareware), and Roxio Popcorn (commercial). Basically what you do is use Mac the Ripper to rip the movie off the DVD, then use DVD2ONE X to compress the movie, and then use Roxio Popcorn to actually burn the movie. The whole process takes about 40 minutes to do, but it was a successful experiment and it was quite satisfying giving my Mac some dirty new abilities.
Testing Out It’s Usefulness
The iBook is definitely a good choice for students because of its tough construction, style, weight and most importantly the battery life. With the brightness turned all the way up, running iTunes, and writing this review at a Starbucks, the iBook will last over four hours and has turned quite a few heads because of the look of the notebook. I am confident in doing important reports or any type of work on my iBook because the OSX is extremely stable and the probability of crashing or getting a virus is very unlikely even though there is a slight probability of that ever happening. Also it is well enough built to be tossed into a backpack with a bunch of textbooks.
The notebook is also a true multitasker thanks to the excellent memory management of OSX. You can open up many applications at once and have them running in the background and it won’t slow down the computer at all, or at least noticeably. Memory is assigned to whatever is being used at the moment, not just whatever is opened. For instance, I have about nine websites open right now along with iTunes, two PhotoShop projects, AIM, Microsoft Word and I can seamlessly switch between programs without any slowdowns at all. The only slowdown that I notice is when starting the applications but that was remedied when I upgraded the memory to 512MB. While operating for long periods of use, the iBook does not heat up us as much as other laptops including my Toshiba M200 Tablet PC. I also noticed that the hard drive is extremely quiet even when running intense applications.
Using the OSX is such an incredible experience after coming from Windows XP because it is so easy to customize and organize. Customizing the dock and desktop is pretty easy and self explanatory so I won’t go into detail on that. Even installing and uninstalling programs is very easy to do because all you do is drag and drop to install or simply delete the program to uninstall. Installing programs in this fashion makes more use out of an external hard drive because you can just run whatever program right off of it and the OS doesn’t freak out like Windows does when you have the hard drive disconnected and it sees that it’s missing. Plus there is no registry to mess with and missing or corrupted DLL files that will call for a reformat.
Should I Switch?
Hardcore PC users won’t even bother considering switching to a Mac mainly because of the dreaded single mouse button and limited software library. As much as I am liking my iBook right now, I will openly say that Apple is being both stubborn and stupid for not including a second mouse button. A second mouse button would make navigating the OS and operating the computer 10 times easier and I am 100% certain that it would improve the experience of the ever so beautiful Mac OS X as well as gaming. Apple’s excuse and hardcore Mac users’ reason for it not being here is simply because “We don’t need it”, but I DO NEED IT and I’m sure if they just added a simple thing like that, it will help improve PC users’ decision in purchasing a Mac. Of course, you can “pseudo right click” by pressing Ctrl+Click but it actually gets really frustrating. You can actually use a two-button USB mouse and get the right click effect but this is slightly adversive to the portability of a laptop. Another gripe that I have with the laptop is that that it comes standard with only a 30GB hard drive with 19GB available out of the box. Sure you can special order it to have 60GB but it costs more and Apple should have at least made 40GB the standard.
If you are purchasing a Mac just to play games, don’t. Any Centrino, P4 or Athlon based processor is a much better choice for portable gaming. It’s not to say that Macs can’t play games, but games for the PC are usually released first on the PC before they are ported on a Mac. In fact Warcraft III ran on the iBook as well as it did on my Toshiba M200 Tablet PC (1.5Ghz Centrino, 512MB RAM, GeForce FX5200). There is also a much wider selection of software on the PC than there is on a Mac so what reason would anybody have in wanting to make the switch? The answer to that can be debated all day and I don’t want to stray too far from this review so I’ll just say that it depends on the personality of the person and what they intended to do with the hardware and software. In my opinion, this is an excellent laptop if the main purpose of your purchase is for work or school and entertainment is secondary. Otherwise get a Windows based laptop if the main purpose of your purchase is for entertainment and work is secondary. Again, this brings us down to the question… “Should I switch?” In my honest opinion… NO. Don’t switch completely unless you are comfortable abandoning the software that will never show up on a Mac. Personally, there are just some things that I would rather do on my Mac than on my PC and visa versa. The iBook is a great compliment to your Windows XP PC and it is a must buy for Mac users who are looking for a laptop.
Overall the iBook G4 12″ is an excellent value for a notebook under $1000 with a great software package and outstanding multitasking capabilities. The slot loading DVD/CDRW drive is a nice touch and Mac OS X is just beautiful. However 30GB of hard drive space may run out a lot quicker than expected. Also die hard PC users may have some difficulty adjusting to the OS X’s annoyances (as if Windows XP doesn’t have a set of its own problems) and be steered away by a limited software library. For the PC user looking for a high quality notebook at a low price, the iBook is a good choice to take the work you do on the PC on the go as it is compatible with all the Microsoft Office software (except Access).
Overall Rating: 8/10
Other Useful Links:
Another NotebookReview.Com review of the iBook G4
Videolan.org – Best video player for the Mac… EVER! Plays DivX and XviD
Mac Forums – Great place for the Mac related discussion
Mac Addict – Excellent Mac Magazine
Mac World – Another Excellent Magazine
Version Tracker – best place to download Mac shareware/freeware. Same place where I found Mac the Ripper and DVD2OneX!
Pricing and Availability