So with the P7010 out of the competition, it was down to the iBook and S2020. I have to confess that the iBook was a long shot in this exercise because, like it or not, I must deal with primarily Windows-based products in my product review work. Still, the (just) under 5 pound weight and fond memories of my days with my Powerbook Duo 210 and Mac IIci made me take a closer look.
Apple's update of the design last fall to boost the processor speed and make the optional Airport Extreme 11g module standard, while maintaining a $999 entry price point got me right up to the "buy" threshold. So all it took was a $150 holiday-season rebate on Amazon (bringing the price to a very reasonable $850) and I had one on its way. By the way, kudos to Amazon for being one of the few e-tailers to keep restocking charges out of its buying experience!
In my book, Apple is still the best in terms of overall product design, with lots of thoughful design touches packed into the iBook's snow-white shell. Here are my likes:
One-hand open - Pressing on the single lid latch on the front caused the screen / lid to spring up slightly so that you can slip a few fingers under it. The pressure required to lift the lid was such that you could do it without having to hold down the bottom half with your other hand.
For comparison, the P7010 has no latching mechanism and requires a two-hand pry-apart to get open. The S2020 has a single center latch, which requires an awkward head-on push to open. The lid then doesn't really pop open clear of the latch and the still hinge requires a two-hand open.
- Power adapter - Although squarish rather than the usual rectangular brick design, the iBook's adapter is designed for travel. It comes with both a flip-out plug (for US outlets) that allows it to plug right into an outlet. This plug is a removable module that can be replaced with a cord (supplied) in case you need a longer reach.
It also has flip-up "ears" that allow you to wrap the DC power cord around them for storage. This design not only takes up less space in your computer travel bag, but makes quick recharge stops at airport outlets easy. And did I mention the two-color light built into the DC plug that changes to show charge status? Figure 8 gives you an idea of the iBook's adapter stacked up against some of the competition.
Figure 8: iBook, P7010, Inspiron 4100 bricks
(click image to enlarge)
Networking - Although it took a bit of poking around and getting used to Apple's simpler way of doing things, I found that OS X made the iBook right at home on my mainly Windows network and I had no problem finding shares in either direction. And wireless connection was ridiculously simple, though I have to confess my test network was running without encryption.
But there were also some things that I didn't care for:
Screen - I was disappointed at the brightness and clarity of the iBook display. Even when I cranked it all the way up, it didn't match the brightness of the two Fujitsu machines
Speakers - Every notebook I've ever used has crappy (and I'm being kind) speakers and the iBook is no exception. But this isn't really a deciding factor for me
Battery options - Simply put, there aren't any. You can't upgrade the battery to one with more staying power and there is no second-battery option. Update January 23, 2005 I will note, however, that I got at least three hours of web browsing and email via a wireless connection with the battery supplied and the battery indicator said there was still over an hour of power left.
- No PC card slot - Since one of the things I use my notebook for is testing wireless adapter cards, this is a potential show-stopper. But given that I'd have to run a Windows emulator to use any of the cards, which would extract a speed penalty and cause me to understate wireless performance, it ended up not mattering.
In the end, though, I couldn't justify spending almost $900 on a notebook that couldn't be used for one of its two key applications (wireless adapter testing). So sadly, the iBook dropped out of the competition.