The 17 PowerBook Is a Full Laptop

by Derrick Story

My favorite place to work at home is on the couch with a laptop connected via an AirPort network. My cat's favorite place to nap is on my lap in that little bit of open space between the computer and my shirt.

Everyone seemed happy until recently when I was lucky enough to get my hands on a 17" G4 PowerBook for testing. I'm loving it, but the cat doesn't seemed impressed. Of course cats don't have deadlines.

By now I'm sure you're familiar with the specs for the 17" -- they're good. The monitor is a 1440 x 900 widescreen TFT, the CPU clocks in at 1.33 GHz, and graphics are powered by the ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 with 64MB of DDR SDRAM. The computer I'm using has been beefed up with 1.5 Gig of RAM.

What's interesting to me, is not so much that the PowerBook feels fast, as much as it feels right. In other words, it does things as you would expect it too. I don't think about performance, and that's the way I like it.

What I do think about are its real improvements over the 15" TiBook I've been using, starting with the hinge that connects the monitor to the body. It is smooth with just the right amount of tension. I know the hinge seems like a silly thing to praise, that is until you have one that you don't like. I don't care much for the hinges in the iBooks, and I'm not ecstatic about the one on the TiBook. But this hinge is sweet, and sturdy.

Then there is the keyboard: solid, responsive, and backlit by using over 200 fiber optics. I can barely wait for evening. This backlit keyboard is my favorite laptop invention in a long time. It's beautiful, futuristic looking, and very useful.

This is also a cooler machine temperature-wise. It's much more comfortable on my lap, and far less noisy than the TiBook because the fan isn't kicking into high gear three times an hour.

I'm also digging the improved speakers with much more realistic stereo separation. This is really noticeable when watching DVDs, with the sound moving around in a 3 dimensional space around the laptop. And speaking of DVDs, the 17" screen is stunning. I pick up details that I didn't notice when watching the same disc on the television monitor. For my latest test I forced myself to watch the second installment of LOTR again... just for research purposes of course.

AirPort performance is improved too. I get an extra bar of reception over the TiBook. And no more turning my computer to funny angles just to maintain an Internet connection.

At nearly 7 pounds, this is more machine to lug around. I also had to break out my bag from this year's WWDC because the 17" wouldn't fit in my existing backpack. But I forget about all of that the minute I pop open the screen.

If you live a text-only life, this PowerBook might not be for you. Also, if you're not in the mood to spend over $3,000 US for a notebook, then you might want to look at another model. But if you have the budget for it, and demand crisp audio, saturated pictures, and big time video performance, the 17" PowerBook is a dream machine. And even when I'm working in text, I can have side by side documents open at full size. Spreadsheets are pretty fun too.

All of this seems lost on the cat however. Not even my lap is big enough for her and the 17". Therefore, I think she prefers the 15" model. Well, that makes one of us...


2003-12-22 03:15:29
PowerBook keyboard
I develop Unix, Java and Cocoa applications on a PowerMac G4 and am considering acquiring a PowerBook. By looking at images of the keyboard on the Apple site, I notice that the four cursor keys occupy as a whole the space of a single key. This seems to be not ergonomic, specially for developers who prefer using the keyboard more than the mouse. Have other developers suffered from this? Of course, one could complement the PowerBook with an Apple wireless keyboard and wireless mouse, but that setup no longer qualifies as a mobile development environment.
2003-12-22 05:02:44
PowerBook keyboard
I type this from the slightly more portable version: the 15" Al-Book. I believe it has the same keyboard. The cursor-keys are small (half the height of a normal key, normal width).

I'm not bothered by this arrangement at all. Since the keys (well, three of them) are on the edge of the keyboard, hitting them half-way will not touch any other key. The up-arrow might be a bit more uncomfortable, but the tactile response is good: well before pressing the key, you feel what you're hitting.

But by all means, try before buying...


2003-12-22 08:43:53
Side Access to Ports
This comment is more for traditional PowerBook users who have been playing a sort of high-tech version of Battleship as they blindly reach around the back of their laptops probing for the correct port opening.

The 17" PB aligns the ports down both sides of the laptop. One particularly smart thing that Apple did here was put one USB (2.0) port each side of the computer instead of bunching them together on the same side.

Small thing, but nice touch.

2003-12-22 11:44:30
PowerBook keyboard
The inverted T arrangement of the keys makes it easy to locate the correct arrow key by touch.
2003-12-22 13:26:59
Can someone explain to me why they didn't put a full sized keyboard on the thing? (i.e. including the numeric keypad) There is loads of room. If you have to type numbers in the programs you use, this would be a HUGE improvement.

To me, the keyboard looks silly with enormous space on either side, and no numeric keypad.

2003-12-22 14:52:35
PowerBook keyboard
Personally, I love this keyboard layout, and find it very ergonomic. I am primarily a web developer, python programmer and live on the command line. I find the position and size of the inverted T cursor cluster much better than the typical cursor cluster setup in which I have to move my right hand much further way from the home keys. I liked this keyboard layout so much that I searched or a USB keyboard with the same layout to use on my desktop systems. Amazingly enough, I found such a unit in the Happy Hacker keyboard. This is a keyboard that is primarily marketed at hard core unix users.

2003-12-23 04:54:35

Basically, cause you'd have the normal alpha keys all shifted to the the left side to make room for the numeric keypad on the right. Would you feel right typing way off-center on the notebook palm rest? It's a matter of aesthetics, but unlike desktop machine with a full-size keyboard, you can't move the keyboard in relation to the screen on a notebook. Your hand would be awkwardly positioned on the left side of the screen most of the time.
2004-01-09 07:09:10
PowerBook keyboard
IBM thinkpads have a similar inverted T layout and I've been using them for years with no problem at all. I don't think you'll ahve any problem with this layout on a powerbook.
2004-02-02 10:40:23
I like the keyboard, what I don't like is all of the room in front of the keyboard. Apple had the most comfortable computer on the market in the Pismo. There hasn't been anything like it since. It was a perfect form-fit for typing. But it didn't have the 'coolness' of the thin TiBooks. Unfortunately, the edges on the powerbooks since the Pismo have been sharp and annoying, cutting into your palm or wrist when typing or using the track-pad. 17" is great for my graphics work, screen wise, but it's really not a very practical laptop. I had to pull all of the padding out of my bag to fit, and put a dimple in the aluminum edge as a result. 15" is still the 'ideal' size for a laptop, IMHO. 17" is cool, but bulky.