Leg five: display, keyboard, and track pad
If there's one aspect of the Titanium PowerBook G4 that separates it from every other laptop on the market, it's the screen. I cannot say enough good things about this 1152 x 768 display, especially now that it's powered by the ATI Mobility RADEON with 16MB of DDR RAM video memory.
The edge-to-edge brightness is outstanding. The colors are rich. The sharpness is excellent. When I put this notebook next to the G3 Pismo, I notice that the Pismo's whites aren't nearly as clean, nor are the colors as rich.
The extra real estate on the TiBook is a big deal. It's like moving from a crowded restaurant counter to your own table. There's room to operate, and it takes about 15 minutes to become totally spoiled. Plus, watching movies in letterbox mode on the 1152-pixel-wide screen is truly enjoyable.
If you are picky about the rendering of type and graphics, and you need extra screen real estate on your laptop, then the 667 TiBook is in a class by itself.
The keyboard has also been vastly improved. Before typing the first time on the TiBook, my favorite keyboard had been the IBM ThinkPad 600X's. And I would go so far as to say that I strongly disliked the bronze keyboard on the Pismo -- it felt way too flimsy, like sitting on a bed with lousy box springs.
Apple has certainly changed all of that with the keyboard on the TiBook. It is solid and a joy to type on. Onlookers have asked me if it was comfortable to use, because it has been moved so close to the screen. The answer is a resounding yes. I love typing on this machine.
The track pad, however, is another matter. The tracking area is much larger than the Pismo's, and there's no gap between the pad and the clicker. If you accidently put two fingers on the track pad at the same time, the mouse pointer careens wildly across the screen. Usually, the culprit is your thumb creeping forward as you track with your index finger until it accidently touches the pad at the same time.
The Pismo has a raised clicker and space between it and the track pad.
The TiBook's clicker is nearly flush to the case, with no space between it and the track pad.
When this first happened to me, and the mouse pointer went into an spastic fit, I thought to myself, "Damn those FedEx guys! They broke my track pad during shipment."
After a little nosing around on the Web, I discovered that I wasn't the only one who felt like he had two left thumbs. One interesting thread on the subject was on a MacSlash posting titled, TiBook Track pad Blues. My favorite comment on the thread: "You'll get used to it." :)
To the right of the track pad, on the front of the computer, is the slot-loading optical drive. I love it and never want any other type of drive on a laptop ever again.
Small things make a big difference. The headphone jack is now on the side of the laptop instead of on the back panel. Does this make iTunes life easier? You bet it does.
And since it's now easier to insert and eject CDs and DVDs (BTW: the F12 key is a handy eject button that saves you from the hassle of dragging the CD down to the dock to discard it), why not make it easier to use the headphones, too? Well, the designers moved the headphone jack from the back of the laptop to the left side. It is now much more accessible. Thank you!
The other ports are still in the back as before, but now they're behind a stylish drop-down metal door. Since we're back there, I should also mention that the power adapter plug for the TiBook is smaller than those for the G3s, so your collection of old brick adapters won't be of service here.
The last thing I want to mention, and many who have inspected the TiBook have commented on this, too, is the excellent machine work that is very apparent from every angle. The power button, hinges, and screws all scream quality.
The "open" latch is handsome, but takes some getting used to. Simply push it in and let the lid pop up a half inch or so. The PowerBook will awaken and then you can lift the lid up all the way to viewing position. I recommend that you either use two hands to raise the lid, or lift it from the center using only one hand.
The bottom line for usability: this is a very user-friendly machine. The display is the best I've ever used, the keyboard is solid and responsive, and the slot-loading optical drive is a true convenience.
Scoring for leg five of the Ti road test -- 9 points out of 10. I'm still getting used to the track pad, or it would have been a perfect 10.
Bringing it home
I spend a lot of time every day working at the computer, and I've discovered that I'm enjoying my work more than ever while using the TiBook. It's solid, portable, beautiful, and performs with quiet strength. It's virtually silent (except when the fan kicks in for short periods of time every now and then) and the display is very easy on my eyes.
I was also impressed with the way Apple has handled the entire buying experience, from their excellent Web site all the way through the interactions I had with customer service reps. This is a philosophy that Saturn has pioneered -- it's not just the product that customers respond to; it's the total experience.
Even though I dinged Apple a point because the delivery took longer than two weeks, I'm fully aware that parts shipping is a mess in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. My impression is that their delivery track record has been good during the last year, and that they will rebound from the disruptions in commerce just like everyone else.
My overall rating for the Titanium experience is 8+ points out of 10. Apple is proving that they are worthy competitors in a tough computer market. They are focusing on every stage of the customer experience -- from designing functional, beautiful products to their delivery.
During his MacWorld keynote address, Steve Jobs said that the Titanium PowerBook combined sex with power. After having used it for a while, I want to add that part of the allure results from having Mac OS X rendering the graphics, keeping the performance stable, and sleeping and waking with the speed of a PDA. In my opinion, it's Apple's new operating system that has elevated the TiBook from a good computer to a great one.
Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.
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