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Apple PowerBook G4 (12-inch review: Apple PowerBook G4 (12-inch

No one can argue that the 12-inch Apple PowerBook G4 isn't attractive; go into an Apple store and just try to resist it. At $1,499, it's priced a touch above some of the PC thin-and-light competition, but you get a competitive set of hardware as well as an absolutely best-in-class software package. Though we think the 12-inch iBook G4 is the better choice for basic users, we think the 12-inch PowerBook offers a better combination of power, features, and battery life for the price than any other Apple laptop.

Stephanie Bruzzese

See full bio
5 min read

No one can argue that the 12-inch Apple PowerBook G4 isn't attractive; go into an Apple store and just try to resist it. At $1,499, it's priced a touch above some of the PC thin-and-light competition, but you get a competitive set of hardware, including a roomy, 80GB hard drive, a single-layer DVD burner, and a DVI connection, as well as an absolutely best-in-class software package. Though we think the 12-inch iBook G4 is the better choice for basic users, we think the 12-inch PowerBook offers a better combination of power, features, and battery life for the price than any other Apple laptop. As such, unless you engage in video editing on the fly or have some other essential reason to haul around a 15- or 17-inch display, we recommend the cheaper, more compact 12-inch model to the larger PowerBooks. (Use the money you'll save to buy an LCD monitor to use with your laptop at home or at work.) For more information on how the 12-inch PowerBook stacks up against other Apple models, check out our "Down the line" feature.

7.3

Apple PowerBook G4 (12-inch

The Good

Excellent design; good productivity performance; solid set of features and connections; great speakers; killer software bundle.

The Bad

Lacks external volume and multimedia controls; middling gaming performance; just average battery life; free phone support lasts just 90 days.

The Bottom Line

Though pricier than the 12-inch iBook G4 and some comparable PC laptops, the 12-inch PowerBook G4's performance, solid set of features and software, and killer design will overjoy intermediate and advanced mobile users.
Apple PowerBook G4

The 12-inch PowerBook G4's rock-solid, aluminum-alloy case is an upscale adaptation of Apple's less expensive, polycarbonate iBook G4. The 12-inch PowerBook G4 is smaller than the 12-inch iBook G4, measuring a modest 10.9 inches wide, 8.6 inches deep, and 1.2 inches thick; at 4.6 pounds, it's on the lighter side of the thin-and-light spectrum. The PowerBook G4's 0.8-pound, three-prong AC adapter has handy fold-out wings that you can neatly wrap the cord around, as well as a two-prong adapter.

Like the iBook G4, the PowerBook G4 has a comfortable keyboard with rounded keys shaped to fit your fingers; our only beef is the grossly undersize arrow keypad. The spacious touch pad's 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 (diagonal), features a standard 1,024x768 native resolution--not optimal for graphics work but adequate for general use; many 12-inch PowerBook G4 owners use an external display at home or work. We like the laptop's speakers, which hide underneath the central screen hinge yet somehow provide rich, multilayered sound. The 12-inch PowerBook G4 lacks the external multimedia controls found on many other laptops--that's the price you pay for a streamlined design. A note of caution to those who live in cold climates: the aluminum-alloy wrist rest can feel downright chilly until your typing hands warm it up.

All of the PowerBook G4's ports sit along its left edge; they're largely similar to what you'll find on the 12-inch iBook G4. For networking, the 12-inch PowerBook provides 56Kbps modem and 10/100 Ethernet ports. Also onboard are connections for headphones, audio line-in (which the iBook lacks), power, two USB 2.0 ports, a mini-DVI port that accommodates adapters for DVI, VGA, S-Video, and composite video connections. Our test unit also had a six-pin, 400Mbps FireWire port. The opposite edge hosts the slot-loading single-layer DVD burner, which we prefer to a breakable optical-drive tray.

Like the iBook G4, the PowerBook G4 lacks a true productivity suite, but it ships with a very strong software package. You get the latest version of the terrific Mac OS X, nicknamed Tiger, plus Apple's excellent iLife '05 software bundle for managing photos (iPhoto), videos (iMovie), and music (iTunes). Also included are more professional-grade apps, including Art Directors Toolkit, OmniOutliner, and QuickBooks for Mac.

Our 12-inch PowerBook G4 test unit sells for $1,499. We think it's a bit high for the uneven mix of high-end and low-end specs: a 1.5GHz PowerPC G4 processor; 512MB of slowish 333MHz memory (upgradable to 1.25GB); an Nvidia GeForce FX Go 5200 graphics chip with 64MB of dedicated VRAM; Airport Extreme 802.11g wireless; a spanking-new Bluetooth 2.0+EDR card; and a big 80GB, 5,400rpm hard drive protected by Apple's Sudden Motion Sensor technology which stops it from spinning when it detects imminent damage. In comparison, the $1,799 Sharp M4000 contains a bit larger screen and slightly faster memory, though it also has a slower hard drive, integrated graphics, and a watered-down software package. On the other hand, the Sony VAIO S470P costs $1,379 and delivers a bigger screen, quicker RAM, and a double-layer DVD burner.

In CNET Labs' tests, the 12-inch PowerBook G4 excelled with productivity tasks. Using iTunes, it converted a music file into MP3 format in the same fast time as the beefier 15-inch version and surpassed the larger model by more than one minute in our Photoshop CS trials. Despite its small size, the 12-iinch PowerBook G4 has the chops for serious graphics work. Neither model did well, however, on our Unreal Tournament 2004 test, and the 12-inch PowerBook G4's 17.5 frames per second won't cut the mustard for serious gaming.

Likewise, the 12-inch PowerBook G4 delivered just average battery life. The system played our test DVD for 3.1 hours--about average for laptops in general, though a little short for the typical thin-and-light. Still, the 12-inch PowerBook G4 beat out its 15-inch and 17-inch counterparts, which lasted a respective 2.9 and 2.7 hours.

Apple offers an industry-standard one-year warranty with the 12-inch PowerBook G4--the typical term included with most home and small-business laptops. But the company provides a short 90-day tech-support policy--the same that comes with some lower-end Dell laptops but far inferior to the standard one-year warranty that HP and most other vendors offer. At least Apple's support Web site features a useful forum section along with the usual FAQ and troubleshooting items. For more detailed information about warranties and service plans, check out Computer Shopper's overview of 37 major computer vendors.




System configurations:
iBook G4 (1.33GHz, 12-inch)
OS X 10.4.2; PowerPC G4 1.33GHz; 512MB PC2700 333MHz DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9550 32MB; Fujitsu MHV2040AT 40GB 4,200rpm
iBook G4 (1.33GHz, 14-inch)
OS X 10.3.8; PowerPC G4 1.33GHz; 256MB PC2100 266MHz DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 32MB; Fujitsu MHT2060AT 60GB 4,200rpm
PowerBook G4 (1.5GHz, 12-inch)
OS X 10.4.2; PowerPC G4 1.5GHz; 512MB PC2700 333MHz DDR SDRAM; Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 64MB; Hitachi Travelstar 5K100 80GB 5,400rpm
PowerBook G4 (1.67GHz, 15-inch)
OS X 10.4.1; PowerPC G4 1.67GHz; 512MB PC2700 333MHz DDR SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 64MB; Fujitsu MHT2080AH 80GB 5,400rpm
PowerBook G4 (1.67GHz, 17-inch)
OS X 10.4.2; PowerPC G4 1.67GHz; 512MB PC4200 333MHz DDR2 SDRAM; ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 128MB; Seagate Momentus 5400.2 120GB 5,400rpm

7.3

Apple PowerBook G4 (12-inch

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Battery 5Support 4
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