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 £1,099, it's priced above most of the PC thin-and-light competition at this size, 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.)
The 12-inch PowerBook G4's rock-solid, aluminium-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 277mm wide, 218mm deep and 30mm thick. At 2.1kg, it's on the lighter side of the thin-and-light spectrum.
Like the iBook G4, the PowerBook G4 has a comfortable keyboard with rounded keys shaped to fit your fingers; our only gripe 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, features a standard 1,024x768-pixel 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 aluminium-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 adaptors 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 £1,099. 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 our 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-inch 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.