by Jarrett Bato, California USA
Overview and Introduction
This is a review for the latest iteration of the Apple 12″ iBook (summer 2005 release).
Apple iBook 12-inch (view larger image)
My configuration for the Apple iBook 12″ is the lowest priced one. When purchasing the Apple iBook 12″, the only options available to be changed are the amount of included RAM and the hard drive size. The smallest amount of RAM available is 512MB RAM and the smallest hard drive size available is a 40 GB HD (up from 30 GB). Following are the specs for my Apple iBook:
- 1.33 GHz PowerPC G4 with 512K L2 Cache
- 133 MHz System Bus
- 512 MB RAM
- 40 GB ATA/100 4200 RPM HD
- Slot Load DVD/CD-RW Combo Drive
- 12″ XGA TFT
- ATI Mobility Radeon 9550 32 MB VRAM
- 1 Firewire 400, 2 USB 2.0, 56k Modem, 10/100BASE-T Ethernet
- Wi-Fi 802.11g (Airport Extreme)
- Bluetooth 2.0+EDR Built-in
- Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) included
Reasons for Buying
I am a switcher, and this is my first Mac ever. In fact, the last time I used a Mac was in high school and in a college physics lab. Both times I used a Mac then was simply to use the graphical software that takes information from things like thermometers, mass scales, accelerometers, speedometers and other such fun physics tools. Even at the time they were very old machines, so I really do consider this my first true experience with a Mac ever.
My reasons for buying the iBook were complicated, to say the least. Coming back from my first year of college, I wanted a laptop to take advantage of the wireless internet access abundant on campus. I currently attend UC Berkeley, and there are tons of hotspots around campus, and many more in local coffee shops and bookstores. I really wanted to take advantage of that, but I didn’t want that to be my only reason for buying a laptop. I thought there were other ways of taking advantage of Wi-Fi, such as with modern PDA’s for example. I am accustomed to desktop computing, and my current desktop, a Compaq with a non-64 bit AMD chip, will be cherished for a long time. I have been accustomed to Windows, and have had XP for about 3 years now.
So why the Apple iBook? I have no clear answer, it was a bit of a gut instinct buy. There are many other options out there, better equipped options, even. The increased popularity of the Pentium M is no fluke. It is really a very robust chip and perfectly matched for mobile use, especially when paired to its Sonoma chipset. PCI-express, DDR2, and widescreen/glossy-screen options are available for competitive prices to what Apple is offering. The iBook, though I have purchased the newly updated version, is in some ways still very archaic compared to new PC notebooks. There is still no widescreen, the graphics processor is considered under-equipped, and the processor was recently announced to be obsolete. The announcement of Apple switching to x86 Intel processors might have already signed a death sentence to the machine I am holding in my hands. So why did I buy it?
Well, one reason is that I’ve already seen one beforehand, and am very aware of its sturdy construction. I’ve never owned a laptop before, and I decided that if I ever were to own one, it had better be darn sturdy. In the dorms of Berkeley, there are iPods and iBooks galore. So much so that my vision sometimes transforms to high-definition while dance music fades in, then someone starts dancing with the patented white earphones swinging about and an iPod in hand. Then the music stops, and you realize a bum stole someone’s iPod and he was dancing around listening to Jeff Buckley right smack in the middle of Telegraph. Who knew? Anyway, a lot of people I personally know own an iBook. And coincidentally they all sleep on the top bunks in their dorm rooms. I have witnessed the dropping of an iBook numerous times from someone on their bunk bed who fell asleep watching a streaming Astronomy lecture. This happens repeatedly of course, since they’re lazy and refuse to go to lecture. And after all that, the iBook works like nothing happened. So I am convinced of its sturdiness, in contrast to the PC laptops I have used. The HP and Dell machines are hardly sturdy. I just love how I can hold the iBook from its corner and be confident nothing will break.
Another reason I decided to get an iBook is the software. I had a chance to play around with Tiger beforehand on a friend’s G5, and was impressed with the new Spotlight feature (http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/spotlight/) and how it can really change the way you handle files. Though I was initially scared of the transition to OS X, I was convinced that Spotlight would make the switch much easier. I am careful in the habit of organizing my files when they are downloaded on my Windows desktop. With Spotlight, I could just make smart folders to organize them after they are downloaded.
Bottom line: I wanted to experience OS X, and I wanted a durable notebook.
My buying experience was delightful. All I had to do was go to the Apple online store and click away. The education store was easy to find, and the student discount deal is much appreciated.
The total price came out to under $1,000 dollars, and I chose to get the free iPod, as well. I’m not totally sure if that was too much of a deal though, since it is a rebate, and it doesn’t include the tax amount. So basically, after the rebate I paid for the iBook, its tax, and the iPod’s tax. Kind of stabs my cheap little heart a bit.
Build and Design
My first impressions from the packaging was awe at how clean and organized it was. They supplied a phone cable, some kind of video cable, the charger and its extension cord. The iBook was wrapped neatly and blindingly white. I guess I was a little used to my friend’s slightly-used off-white hue on his iBook. I fingered the documents supplied like I was about to read them, and then just tossed them aside. Who am I kidding, right? So I turned the iBook on, and to my surprise it had a full charge. Cool.
I really like the iBook’s plastic case. It feels like I can really toss it around like it was a textbook. I like being able to hold on to its edge without hearing creaks. My dad owns a slightly old Toshiba 15″ screen notebook and I have to hold it square underneath its body to carry it around it’s so heavy. I can’t even cradle it like it under my arm like it was a book. With the iBook I can do that and maybe even be comfortable carrying it around the streets in Oakland. Who needs pepper spray when you have an iBook? A mugger has a gun? No problem. Deflect the bullet with your laptop and then use it to sock him right in the mouth. (Don’t blame me if you actually get killed trying this.)
Holding the iBook in one hand is fairly easy (view larger image)
And just as a frame of reference for how big that hand is you see in the picture holding the iBook! (view larger image)
I really feel like I can tote this notebook around without caring for it too much. I don’t even think I’ll ever buy a case for this. I’ll just toss it into my backpack with the rest of the goodies I carry in there.
Though I must say, even though I have seen and touched 12″ iBooks before, I wish they were thinner and lighter. The iBook feels solid, but that may be also due to its mass. When in my backpack, it does add noticeable weight, and a few textbooks in there will certainly make my trip to campus unpleasant. I really hate heavy backpacks.
Considering the premium you have to pay for ultraportables, however, I’d say the iBook is very portable for the price. And if I have to sacrifice sturdiness for lightness, I would gladly keep the iBook.
Apple iBook 12-inch front view (view larger image)
Apple iBook 12-inch front view open (view larger image)
Apple iBook 12-inch back view (view larger image)
View of the iBook lid when open (view larger image)
The screen is very disappointing when compared to the new screens coming out today. All these glossy screens are very attractive, and in fact my roommate does have a new Compaq laptop with one of the glossy screen finishes. They are beautiful, and the colors are very vibrant compared to my iBook’s screen. But the shiny quality of the screen does get annoying after a while, while I am comfortable staring into the iBook’s screen for long periods of time. The resolution is low on paper, but it seems to work fine in real life. (I’ll get to this later.) The viewing angle is very small, so watching a movie with friends on the iBook would be impossible.
Apple iBook screen next to Compaq 17-inch CRT monitor (with belly wallpaper) for comparison of screen (view larger image)
Bringing the iBook to the great outdoors is similarly difficult. I need to sit in the shade since sunlight easily washes away the screen. At full brightness the screen is still very unreadable in bright sunlight. So you can put away your visions of prancing in outdoor fields with your iBook, because you really can’t see its screen out there.
The screen housing is robust like the rest of the machine. There is no flex whatsoever and I have no dead pixels. The screen doesn’t wobble, and it stays put when you open it. Though, when you close the screen, there is a small gap between the screen and the body that kind of annoys me every now and then. More so when I carry it. It might be because the rest of the body is so flawless that this gap seems out of place.
The Apple logo on the back of the screen is very cool. These design touches are loud and subdued at the same time, and I love it. It’s very classy.
The speakers are nothing special. Bass is non-existent. I see myself using them only when showing a friend (maybe 3 at the most) a song, or a short video. For movies or listening to music, I have to use my headphones, or maybe plug in some speakers.
Processor and Performance
I have maybe the last iBook to have a G4 PowerPC processor in its enclosure. As my first experience with G4’s I have to say they are very snappy. Startup does take a while, longer than my year old desktop with XP Pro, but reviving from sleep, and doing menial things like browsing and switching to and from minor applications like Mail, iCal, iTunes, and the Dashboard is very fast. I don’t even notice its speed until I switch over to my desktop and try doing the same thing. OS X and the processor are very good at multi-tasking. With the time saved that I didn’t spend waiting, I finish my task on the computer and then sit there wondering what else I should do. Then I go and read a book. You see, my new laptop actually got me to read a book.
The included memory might be a big factor in improving performance. I have 512 MB stock. I did notice that my friend’s iBook, bought when Apple only gave 256 MB stock, was at times sluggish when I was fooling around with it. Some Mac Heads say that 512 MB is mandatory with Tiger. Well, I couldn’t say that for sure, but I can say that 512MB works awesome for what I do daily, and Tiger works like a streamlined submarine with it.
I don’t intend to play many games with the laptop, but I did play the games the iBook came with. The graphics looked fairly choppy with the Pterodactyl game, and same with the Marble game. These games don’t look very graphics intensive either, so I think it’s safe to say this is not a game machine. Though, for the little things like animations within Tiger, it’s great. It does make the Aqua interface look better in my opinion, at least compared to the last iBook with a different graphics card and the older version OS X.
For benchmarks, I used both the Mac version of Super Pi (found in the same website you get SuperPi for Windows) and XBench, a benchmark program used by an earlier PowerBook reviewer on this site.
I got an average of 3 minutes and 21.26 seconds from three tries using Super Pi to calculate pi to 2,097,152 places. My fastest time was 3 minutes and 19.58 seconds.
For Xbench 1.2, I got a score of 36.17. A forum I found says that a score of 100 is given to a 2.0 GHz G5 as a baseline. Xbench gave me a very detailed readout of the scores each of part of my iBook had. For example my CPU had a score of 51.61, while my Hard Disk had a score of 27.58. I also tried Xbench on a different power setting. The score above was from the “Performance” setting, and I got about 10 points lower for the “Battery Saving” setting.
XBench results (view larger image)
I still feel sad about my slow time in Super Pi compared to other machines, but I have no idea how to feel about my Xbench score. Does my score mean that my iBook has 36.17% the performance power of a 2.0 GHz G5? Is that good or bad? I have no idea.
On a side note, the Xbench readout said under System info that the iBook’s model is really a “PowerBook6,7” which makes me feel somewhat special. I have a PowerBook in disguise.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard is a delight to type on and is very comfortable. The keys are spaced well, and it took me nothing to adjust from my full sized desktop keyboard. There is no flex, and the keys push down with a satisfying click. The only problem is that the keys are very white, and I’m afraid they are going to get dirty very soon. The palm rest is very white too. One thing to note is that while charging, the part under your left palm gets hot. Not too uncomfortably, but still hot. When off the charger that same place does get warm, but overall the heat coming off this laptop is minimal, and impressive since I don’t hear any fans, just the hard drive spinning up.
Keyboard and touchpad (view larger image)
Compared to the PowerBook, the keyboard is not quite as good though. On a PowerBook the keyboard has a slippery feel that is not found on iBook keyboard that just makes me want to type real fast on the PowerBook. The keys also feel thicker on the PowerBook, while the iBook’s keys feel like they are made of much thinner material in comparison. But what matters to me is the spacing, and Apple did not skimp here with the iBook. All the keys are sized the way they should be, so I’m happy.
The touchpad is great. It is sized awkwardly, like it was for a widescreen laptop, but it works well. The two-finger scrolling is amazing! The added features of the Sudden Movement Sensor for the Hard Drive and Two Finger Scrolling for the Touchpad seemed very minor to me, and when those features came out as an update for the PowerBooks a little while ago, I laughed thinking, “How can those minor things really be considered an update?” But I was dead wrong. Two finger scrolling on laptops now seem like a necessity to me. My dad’s laptop uses the edges of the touchpad (The right and bottom side to be specific) and running your finger on those edges would act like scroll bars. It was really inaccurate though, because I would frequently scroll when I didn’t want to or vice-versa. The iBook’s scrolling is flawless in comparison.
The touchpad works the best with the Safari web browser, and it makes the low resolution of the screen bearable since you can scroll so easily. (Firefox doesn’t scroll too well because using two-fingers to pan around makes the browser go forward or back a page, right for forward, left for back. There must be some way I could fix that, but for now, I’ll stick with Safari.) I also like how the touchpad seamlessly senses when you are using two fingers and when you are using one. The cursor stops completely when you’re using two fingers on the pad, which shows how accurate the sensors are. And everything is scrollable using two fingers. Web pages, drop down options, pdfs, everything. Though there was one drop down list on a webpage that didn’t scroll, but then again that was using Firefox, and the scrolling was kinda messed up there anyway.
Input and Output Ports
All the ports are on one side of the iBook. There is a 56k line plug, an Ethernet plug, a Firewire 400 plug, two USB 2.0’s and another plug that looks to fit that one video cable I found in the packaging. Lastly there is a Headphone plug. I like how the ports are all on one side, and arranged so nicely as well (It looks like they arranged them in order of biggest port to littlest, how cute.) My dad’s Toshiba laptop is unorganized in comparison, with ports and buttons in every side and corner. The iBook’s design here is again commendable.
I think there are enough ports to be productive, since every gadget out there nowadays use USB or Firewire. There is no memory card slot, so I guess if I needed one I can just get an adapter that uses USB. So far my only gadget is a USB memory key, so I have no use for any more inputs.
Wireless reception works well. Though I have some difficulties setting up my own wireless router to detect my iBook, I managed to get someone else’s open wireless connection in a spot of my house! It seems to work comparably to other “g” wireless cards, and I like how it detects so many networks. My dad’s windows card only detects our router, while Airport managed to detect 4 other networks throughout my house.
What’s great about this new iBook is that now it has built in Bluetooth with no extra charge. Unfortunately, I have a total of zero Bluetooth gadgets, so I don’t know how well it works. It’s nice that I have it, though.
Battery life is impressive. I was able to get more than 3 and a half hours with Airport and Bluetooth on before I got a warning that my battery was low on power. I was only browsing the internet, writing email, and listening to music, the regular. The screen was on half brightness, too. With Bluetooth and Airport off, and the power setting set to “Battery saving” the laptop was able to stay on all day. I actually timed this with a timer widget, and reviving from sleep with a full charge, airport off, Bluetooth off, and the screen on half brightness, the battery lasted for 8 hours and 11 minutes. I browsed, used iCal, and Mail on and off all day. The iBook was also set on “Battery Save” mode. The laptop was on sleep a significant time, so I didn’t use the laptop for 8 hours straight. I figured this would be a good representation of how I will use it in school.
This is why I bought the iBook. To experience OS X Tiger. And that I did.
The Setup was quick and visually very stunning. I needed to connect to the internet to setup, but the wireless antenna wasn’t picking up a signal. I was in my room, and the router was two rooms away, so I just hardwired my internet connection via an Ethernet cord. There was a rotating cube turning around as the steps to setting up progressed, and I thought that was very classy. Setup was done before I knew it and I was free to explore my new laptop.
What I like about Apple is that the included software really works well. It’s a joy to use Mail and iCal, especially when they work together to organize your life. Safari is a great browser, I wonder why I even went and downloaded Firefox. I don’t have to go around websites looking for a perfect program for what I want to do when Apple includes it with OS X. It’s weird because it took me a while to get my desktop PC loaded with all the software I like and use daily, when Apple had all those in my iBook as soon as I turned it on. OS X sure is spoiling me.
To reiterate, multi-tasking is great on OS X. It took me a while to realize little things like how the programs I opened still remained open when I closed the window, or how OS X installed and uninstalled applications, but as soon as I figured that out, it was smooth sailing. It seems most of Apple’s software is very user friendly, and the transition was easier than I thought. OS X’s way of handling files still makes me feel weird though. I sometimes doubt it and ask, “Is it really installed? Is it really deleted?” etc. I guess I’ll just have to learn to shake off those Windows habits when on the iBook.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to use support. The Apple Online Store is very user friendly, and just because I’m in college doesn’t mean I’m smart, so I’m glad the website wasn’t confusing. They even sent me a total of three emails to tell me that the order went through. One when they shipped my iBook, another when they charged my card, and one more to send me my official receipt. The site says they ship in 1-3 business days, but I ordered through the site on a Friday, and they shipped on Saturday, and the package came through FedEx on Tuesday. I was expecting it to come Thursday, so the shipping was quick. Overall, a very good buying experience, and am likely to do it again since it was so simple and hassle-free.
My complaints lie only in my getting used to the OS, which was expected. The one mouse button does take getting used to, but actually works well in a laptop since you only use your thumb to click. (Your index and middle fingers are too busy scrolling…) In a handheld mouse, there are dedicated fingers to the left and right click, so that’s why two-button mice work well there. (The G5 owners I know use 2 button mice.) CTRL-click sounded awful to me, but actually worked well, since OS X seems to want users to use the keyboard, with Expose and the many keyboard shortcuts.
Apple knows how to make an OS. All the safeguards and precautions I habitually worry about in Windows are only met with confusion when getting your feet wet in OS X. Then Steve Jobs floats in the room in his astral form and gives you a massage while saying, “Let go, just let the Tiger do its thing.” Soon enough, you have the next year organized to the minute with iCal, your inbox is sorted in a matter of seconds with Spotlight, while your RSS-capable Safari just told you that some homeboy’s hittin’ up yo’ baby’s momma. And all of this seems perfectly normal until you hop back on Windows and say, “What the (explicative)” It’s that good.
I think the iBook is the perfect machine for someone who wants to be mobile, but can’t afford new ultra portables. But for a PC user like me, OS X does take time to get used to, but it’s worth it and fun, too. Additionally, with OS X it’s hard not to get organized with user-friendly and visually attractive applications like iCal, Mail, and the ever-useful Dashboard. And organization is always a welcomed asset to lazy college students like me.
All I have to say now is that I’m glad I bought the iBook. It’s an awesome value both in hardware and software.
- Solid Feeling Case
- Great Keyboard
- Awesome Two Finger scrolling
- Multi-tasking fiend
- Useful Productivity Applications Built-in
- Long Battery Life
And if you’ve read my entire review, thank you.