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Road Testing the PowerBook Ti 667

by Derrick Story

I was sitting in the press section of the keynote ballroom when Steve Jobs introduced the Titanium G4 PowerBook in January 2001 at MacWorld SF. Even from that distance, I could tell that this was a Mac bound for greatness.

Later that day, I remember photographing the TiBook at the Apple booth and wondering to myself, "I wonder how well this notebook performs?"

During the months that followed, I had conversations with developers who commented that the TiBook was as beautiful inside as it was on the out. One of those developers, James Duncan Davidson, wrote about using the TiBook 400 MHz for Java programming. He is now working on the second edition of O'Reilly's Learning Cocoa book. Just recently, we were talking about how these machines are better suited for the mobile lifestyle than earlier PowerBooks. Features like instant sleep and wake-up (thanks to Mac OS X), along with durability, slimness, and reasonable weight, means that you can take them just about anywhere -- work or play.

So when Apple updated this product line and released the 667 MHz Titanium PowerBook G4, I figured that it was time to road test this beauty, to see if it truly lived up to its reputation of a power user's dream machine.

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Even though I'm interested in the computer itself, I was also curious about the process of buying directly from the Apple Store. Many of us have become online creatures who don't necessarily need the security of a brick and mortar store for hardware shopping. But buying a USB hub online is one thing, an expensive computer quite another. Or is it?

So the starting line for this road test is the Apple Store, and the finish line is a fully configured TiBook glowing on my office desk, ready for work.

If you're not interested in online shopping experiences, crushed FedEx deliveries, and gregarious Apple customer care reps, then you might want to jump over to Firing Up the Ti Roadster and get right under the hood. I've also dedicated a full section to the Display, Keyboard, and Track Pad. But if you like a good customer service story, stick around, cause I've got one for you.

Leg one of the test drive: the Apple Store

Comment on this articleTitanium PowerBook owners: do you have anything to add that I missed in my review?
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I liked shopping at the Apple Store. It's well-organized and easy to navigate. You can configure your computer just about any way you want, and they will build it for you according to your spec.

The store also allows you to personalize your account so that you can track the various stages of your order and review your account history. I placed my order for the custom PowerBook on Oct. 17, it was shipped on Nov. 8, and I received it on Nov. 12.

At the time I placed my order, it was taking Apple about three weeks to get the TiBooks out the door instead of their normal two weeks. I wasn't notified about the delays, but read about them at MacNN. Based the turmoil caused in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, I considered this reasonable, but was anxious to see the delivery arrive.

Finally, I received a call that I had been waiting for: "Derrick, I have good news, and I have bad news." The good news was that the TiBook had arrived.

Scoring for leg one of the road test: 8 points out of 10. The Apple Store was a pleasure to shop at, and the order tracking through the production process was helpful. Had I received notice of the delayed shipment, the score would have been higher.

Leg two: a crushing experience

So what was the bad news? Well, one corner of the box had been severely damaged, and FedEx had strapped it back together with copious amounts of packing tape. When I asked how bad the damage was, the response was, "Well, you're going to have to look at it yourself. It doesn't look good to me."

"Oh, swell!" I thought to myself.

I was told, however, that "the FedEx delivery person was very nice and noted the damage. He said to be sure to contact FedEx if the computer was inoperable."

Damaged box This was my first view of the Titanium PowerBook. The corner of the box was severely damaged during shipping.

A few hours later when I saw the box firsthand, my heart sunk. I took a few pictures and then slowly unpacked the contents, hoping that the penetration didn't reach the computer. The end result was that the outer box was wasted, the inner box was severely damaged, and the styrofoam holding the computer was cracked. Whatever hit this box, it packed a real wallop.

I dislodged the Titanium from the styrofoam and inspected the exterior. Fortunately, there were no scratches or marks. I held by breath, opened the lid, and pressed the power button.

The familiar chimes rang out and the screen lit up. So far so good. I proceeded to test the hard drive, optical drive, and other basic functions of the computer. No noticeable problems. My first impression of the Titanium: this is one tough computer.

Scoring for FedEx on how they handled my delivery -- 2 points out of 10. The only reason I gave them any points at all was because the delivery man was nice and made an effort to note the damage in his report. I had chosen the "Second Day Shipping" option because I had heard that the packages are handled better. Thank goodness I didn't choose "Ground."

Leg Three: Apple customer service

As weird as is sounds, I wanted a new box because if I ever sell the computer, having the original box to go with it is a big deal. Plus, I wanted to lodge a complaint against FedEx for their rough treatment of my package. So I did what any red-blooded Mac user would do: I called AppleCare.

Within minutes I was telling my story to the customer service rep. He said that he couldn't get me a new box, but that he did want to add the shipping history to my customer file. He thought that the Apple Store might be able to help and gave me that toll-free number, then offered me a couple of upgrades and pitched the extended AppleCare coverage. I passed on the offers and thanked him for his help. It was a pleasant phone call, and he made a sincere effort to be helpful.

The folks at the Apple Store number were also quite friendly. Again, no box, but they opened a complaint about FedEx where Apple would act on my behalf. I should know more about that outcome within 10 days, and I'll post a TalkBack with the results.

Neither AppleCare nor the Apple Store knew that I was a writer working on a story, so I can assume I received the same amount of attention anyone else would.

On leg three of this road test, Apple customer service scores 8 points out of 10. Had they been able to provide me with a box, the score would have jumped to a perfect 10.

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