Buying a laptop typically demands certain trade-offs, but with the beautifully designed thin-and-light 15-inch PowerBook G4, there's no need to compromise: it delivers portability, performance and a 15.2-inch display that's great for graphics work, watching DVDs and just about anything else.
Like the 17-inch PowerBook G4, this 15-inch model includes features such as a scrolling trackpad and a Sudden Motion Sensor that protects the hard drive when the laptop is dropped. In addition, the 15-inch PowerBook G4 is among the new fleet of Macs running on Mac OS X Tiger, and it ships with the iLife '05 software suite. Though the excellent software package adds significant value, on a pure hardware basis, the PowerBook G4 comes at a premium: a similarly configured ThinkPad T43, for example, costs £400 less.
The Apple PowerBook's sleek aluminium shell is hard to miss, and the 15-inch model has particularly pleasing dimensions. Measuring just 28mm thick, 348mm wide and 241mm deep, it is similar in size to the Portable One MX and the ThinkPad T43. At a reasonable 2.5kg, the PowerBook G4 is an average weight for a thin-and-light laptop -- slightly heavier than the ThinkPad T43 and 225g heavier than the Portable One MX. Its 180g AC adaptor makes for a total weight that's acceptable for carrying on the occasional trip.
Lift the lid of the 15-inch PowerBook G4, and you'll find the same minimalist design as on its 17-inch sibling: just a power button, a large keyboard framed by stereo speakers, and a sizable trackpad with a single mouse button. Unlike the lower-end iBook, the PowerBook G4 has a silver case and keyboard that do not pick up finger smudges. Though the keys are shallow, they're wide, and we found them comfortable to use for long stretches of typing. We also loved the keyboard backlighting, which automatically adjusted to changes in ambient light levels.
Like on other PowerBook G4s (and now iBooks, too), the generously sized trackpad lets you scroll through long documents and Web pages by dragging two fingers down the pad. The laptop's 15.2-inch TFT wide-screen display is adequately sized for most productivity and entertainment applications, and its vivid 1,280x854-pixel native resolution teamed with the PowerBook's stereo speakers make it a good portable cinema.
With two USB 2.0 ports, the rare combination of FireWire 400 and 800, a PC Card slot that accepts Type I and II PC cards, and support for DVI, VGA, S-video and composite video, the Apple PowerBook G4 can connect to virtually any peripheral, from digital cameras to ProTools hardware. It's equipped with Bluetooth to interface with mobile phones, and you can access the Internet via 802.11g Wi-Fi radio, Gigabit Ethernet or modem. This 15-inch PowerBook G4 also accommodates a neat slot-loading SuperDrive that plays and burns DVDs and CDs. Unlike most Windows laptops, the PowerBook G4 doesn't include a built-in media reader for flash memory cards, though the USB and FireWire ports can usually connect directly to peripherals that use card memory.
The PowerBook G4 now ships with Mac OS X Tiger, highlights of which include the incredibly cool Spotlight search utility and the customisable Dashboard, a collection of handy desktop tools. Our review unit also came bundled with the robust iLife '05 software suite, which includes iPhoto 5.0, iMovie HD, iDVD 5.0, GarageBand 2.0 and iTunes 4.7. The PC equivalent software could easily cost hundreds of pounds more. The software package does not include the new iWork productivity suite, which costs £50 extra and isn't necessary unless you make a lot of high-end newsletters and presentations.
Priced at £1,579 (as of August 2005), this 15-inch PowerBook G4 features a 1.67GHz processor, 512MB of slowish 333MHz DDR SDRAM (with an open memory slot that provides room for expansion up to 2GB), a zippy 80GB, 5,400rpm hard drive and ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics with 64MB video memory and Dual Link DVI functionality for use with a high-resolution monitor such as the Apple Cinema Display.