The higher-end model in Apple's budget-friendly iBook line, the 14-inch iBook G4 offers a few welcome enhancements over its previous iteration -- namely, a slightly faster 1.42GHz PowerPC processor, more standard memory (512MB), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), and a lower £899 price. Though the 14-inch iBook G4 is no slouch and is perfectly adequate for basic use, we often direct serious users toward the souped-up, though more expensive, 12-inch PowerBook G4.
But Steve Jobs changed everything when he promised to transition the entire Apple line to Intel's Core Duo platform sometime in 2006. We like the current 14-inch iBook G4, but if you can afford to bide your time, hold off until the new Intel-powered iBooks arrive. (The considerably more expensive MacBook Pro will be the first Intel Mac laptop out the white door.)
The latest 14-inch iBook G4 features the same solid case design as the previous generation. The 323mm-wide, 259mm-deep, 33mm-thick case consists of a bright white polycarbonate shell with a greyish eggshell-white keyboard and a wrist rest. Weighing 2.7kg, the iBook G4 falls at the heavier end of the thin-and-light spectrum, though it's still fairly portable. By comparison, the Sony VAIO VGN-B1VP (at around £850) also has a 2.7kg base weight, while the Toshiba Tecra A5 (starting at £670) weighs 2.4kg.
Like the 12.1-inch iBook G4, the 14-inch version has a comfortable keyboard, although the arrow keys are very small. We admire the standard-size one-button touch pad; its two-finger feature for scrolling horizontally and vertically is magical (use it for a few days, and you'll wonder how you ever did without it). While the 14-inch screen offers plenty of real estate, we'd prefer to see a higher native resolution than the standard 1,024x768 pixels. We also wish the laptop offered better speakers and a few external controls for manipulating multimedia features such as volume and disc play, which you get on almost all Windows laptops.
Despite the 14-inch iBook G4's larger size, it offers no more ports, slots or jacks than the 12.1-inch version -- you get some higher-end ports, while some basic ones go missing. All of its ports and jacks lie on the left edge. They include four-pin FireWire, 56Kbps modem, 10/100 Ethernet and two USB 2.0 ports, as well as a headphone jack and a video port that accommodates an included VGA adaptor and optional S-Video and composite-video adaptors. Notable absences include an integrated audio input (Apple sells an audio-in adaptor), a PC Card/ExpressCard slot and a flash-media slot. The single-layer DVD burner on the right edge has a slot-loading design that we love -- it's a sturdy alternative to fragile optical-drive trays.
Though the iBook G4 lacks a true productivity suite, it ships with some very strong software. You get the latest version of the terrific Mac OS X, nicknamed Tiger, plus Apple's iLife '05 software bundle. The iLife bundle is a generation behind the one that comes with the new Intel iMacs, but the included apps, such as iTunes, iPhoto and iMovie, still speak to users who plan to use the system for multimedia tasks.
For its £899 price, our 14-inch iBook G4 evaluation system offered a mixed bag of components: a sluggish 1.42GHz PowerPC G4 processor, a decent 512MB of memory (now upgradable to 1.5GB), cutting-edge Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, 802.11g AirPort Extreme wireless, a low-end ATI Mobility Radeon 9550 graphics chip with 32MB of dedicated VRAM, a single-layer DVD burner, and an average-size 60GB hard drive protected by Sudden Motion Sensor technology, which theoretically protects the hard drive from damage if you drop or bump the laptop.
In our tests, the latest 14-inch iBook G4 made a mockery of the older version's performance. It completed our Photoshop CS test in less than half the time of the older model. It also earned faster scores in our iTunes and Unreal Tournament 2004 benchmarks. Not unexpectedly, the 14-inch iBook G4 finished behind the 17-inch PowerBook G4 in every test. Still, Apple says that the new breed of MacBooks will run four to five times faster than the PowerBook G4, so we think it's worthwhile holding off until the iBook line gets that Intel chip.