Apple 12-inch iBook G4 review: Apple 12-inch iBook G4

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MSRP: $999.00

The Good Low base price; well-designed case; lengthy battery life; hard drive-protection technology; robust software package; Bluetooth 2.0+EDR.

The Bad No external multimedia controls; no audio input; weak speakers; only 90 days of free telephone support.

The Bottom Line Though it's less powerful than the PowerBook, the reasonably priced 12-inch iBook G4 has a well-designed case, long battery life, and great software, which make it a good choice for anyone seeking a solid entry-level laptop.

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7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6
  • Battery 8
  • Support 4

Apple iBook G4

The 12-inch Apple iBook G4 makes up one half of the dynamic iBook duo (the other half is the 14-inch version). Despite its low $999 starting price, this new 12-inch iBook G4 comes with some welcome improvements over the prior generation, including a standard 512MB of memory (expandable to 1.5MB), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), and longer battery life. While the 12-inch iBook G4 isn't as fast as the 12-inch PowerBook G4, its combination of features, software, and design comprise some stiff competition for the best Windows-based thin-and-light laptops.

Though the iBook G4's internal components have received an update, its well-built case remains the same. The sturdy, mostly white, polycarbonate case measures 11.2 inches long, 9.1 inches deep, and 1.4 inches thick; it weighs 4.9 pounds--about average for a thin-and-light. Other laptops with 12-inch displays, such as the $1,199 Dell Inspiron 700m and the Averatec 3715 (which starts at $949), weigh 4.1 pounds. We should note that the Inspiron 700m has a wide-screen display, while the iBook offers a standard-aspect display. The iBook G4's three-prong AC adapter adds another 0.8 pound to the package; a handy two-prong adapter is also included.

We like the iBook G4's keyboard. The white, slightly concave keys are particularly comfortable, though we wish the tiny arrow keys were bigger. We admire the extrawide, one-button touch pad. The two-finger scrolling feature, for scrolling horizontally and vertically, is magical (use it for a few days, and you'll wonder how you ever did without it). The display (which actually measures 12.1 inches diagonally) features a standard 1,024x768 native resolution--detailed enough that you can watch videos without eyestrain. Keep earphones close by, however, because the iBook's two speakers provide middling audio at best. The iBook lacks external multimedia controls often found on PC laptops, such as volume, mute, and track advance--a sacrifice you make for a clean design.

The iBook G4's ports and jacks are a mixed bag; you get some higher-end ports, while some basic ones go missing. Included are ports for 56K modem, 10/100 Ethernet, unpowered four-pin FireWire, headphones, and USB 2.0 (two). You also get a video port that accepts several different adapters for VGA (included), S-Video, and composite-video connections. The power port sits on the right side along with the cool slot-loading DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, which eliminates the need for a flimsy optical-drive tray. Audiophiles take note: Though the laptop's lid has an omnidirectional microphone built in, the iBook lacks an audio-in port, which will flummox you if you're interested in recording audio directly from an external source (Apple sells an audio-in adapter separately). There's also no PC Card slot.

Though the iBook G4 lacks a true productivity suite, it ships with some really strong software. You get the latest version of the terrific Mac OS X, nicknamed Tiger, plus Apple's excellent iLife '05 software bundle. Among other things, the bundle helps with photos (iPhoto), videos (iMovie), and music (iTunes).

The 12-inch iBook G4 we tested costs $999, which is a perfectly reasonable price for its specs: a 1.33GHz PowerPC G4 processor, 512MB of memory (expandable to 1.5GB, marking a drastic improvement over the previous maximum of 640MB), 802.11g AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi, latest-generation Bluetooth 2.0+EDR hardware, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9550 graphics chip with 32MB of dedicated VRAM, and a smallish 40GB hard drive with Apple's new Sudden Motion Sensor technology, which is designed to stop the hard drive from spinning if you drop the system. The price undercuts those of several similarly configured PC thin-and-light laptops, though there are also better deals to be had on the PC side; check out our roundup of five other $1,000 laptops here.

While the new 12-inch iBook G4 delivered improved performance in CNET Labs' tests, it was no match for the more powerful 12-inch PowerBook G4, which uses a faster G4 processor with a faster bus and a faster hard drive. The new iBook G4 managed to convert a music file into MP3 format (using iTunes) nearly twice as fast as its predecessor but still 6 seconds shy of the 15-inch PowerBook G4's winning time. The iBook G4 also finished behind the PowerBook G4 in our Photoshop CS and Unreal Tournament 2004 trials, proving that those who need better graphics and gaming performance should turn to the PowerBook. That said, the iBook G4 is plenty capable of dispensing with any ordinary productivity task, from e-mail to Web surfing.