Apple Archive

Heavily Used 12" PowerBook on Last Legs, but What Next?

- 2006.04.13

Since I've been here in Montreal, I've heard an array of compliments . . . on my PowerBook, of all things. Ranging from "that's so tiny!" to "oh - it's a Macintosh, very cool looking, how do you like it?.

It seems everyone has something to say about the 12" PowerBook.

However, there has been much speculation that Apple will not replace the 12" PowerBook with an Intel equivalent, but instead release a 13" widescreen model to do that job. While the 12" PowerBook is a great machine, it suffers from a high price and few features. In fact, the price was dropped from $1,799 to $1,599 shortly after it's initial release.

I bought mine when it was first released, paying full price, with an 867 MHz G4 processor, 256 MB of RAM, and a 40 GB hard drive. I chose to add the optional AirPort card as well, as we had 802.11 wireless networks at home and school.

This machine, along with the 17" PowerBook, were Apple's first laptops with Bluetooth as a standard feature, something I've found extremely helpful when trying to sync data with my mobile phones. It's so much easier than using a USB cable.

At the time, I was replacing my 15" 400 MHz titanium PowerBook G4, which was not only feeling sluggish but also had an annoying line in the screen.

I wanted something smaller. I'd considered the 12" iBook but found that its lack of a G4 processor (this was 2003, before the iBook went G4) was a serious drawback for me. The 12" PowerBook G4 had what I wanted - a fast G4 processor and DVD/CD-RW combo drive all in a small package - perfect for bringing to school to take notes on.

I'd anticipated that I would keep it for roughly 1-2 years. Since my laptops get daily use, they tend to deal with a fair amount of abuse as well. Three years on, it does show its age - there are a couple white spots in the screen (which are fortunately hard to notice), a few scratches here and there, and a dent in the corner of the battery from when it felt out of my backpack (since then I've bought a sleeve for it).

Despite the heavy use, it remains functional. While not exactly speedy, with upgraded (640 MB) RAM, it's certainly acceptable for most of what I use it for.

The 12" PowerBook's target consumer seemed to be the professional on the go - sort of a machine for people not wanting to be seen using an iBook, in a way. That being said, I've found that a lot of students have been buying them, and many have become confused over the iBook and PowerBook lines - especially since they currently both have G4 processors.

I wonder if this intended to serve a function similar to the Mercedes B-class - to get people into the PowerBook name. The theory goes that if a person who's never driven a Mercedes before buys a B-class, perhaps next they'll buy a C-class, E-class, and so on. If a student who's never used a Mac before buys a 12" PowerBook, maybe they'll buy a 15" next, or a 17" after that and become a loyal customer. The theory sounds nice, but more recent research has shown that people are a lot less brand-loyal than people at one time thought.

Then there are of course the people who have a strict budget to stick to, in this case, under $2,000. A 15" MacBook Pro starts at roughly $2,000 and will end up costing more once you upgrade the RAM. The only option under $2,000 other than an iBook is the 12" PowerBook.

When the iBook's were G3s, this made a lot of sense. However, now that the iBooks and PowerBooks use the same processors, there's really not much incentive for anyone to choose a 12" PowerBook over a 12" iBook. Unless, of course, they like the metal casing and have a bit more money to spend.

This leaves me with the question of 'what to buy next.

I'd like something with a larger screen than 12", regardless of whether Apple decides to continue making a 12" PowerBook-type machine or not. I find that it's not so much difficulty reading things but a lack of space to put things on the desktop that contribute to my desire for a larger screen.

For instance, on my 19" desktop LCD, I can have a Word document and several IM windows side by side. On my PowerBook, I can't. Depending on what the 13" widescreen iBooks are like, I may end up having to go back to a 15".

I do like the MacBook Pro, but it doesn't give me the "I need this - now!" feeling that both the 15" titanium and my current 12" PowerBook did when they came out.

There's also the fact that my software won't be Intel binaries - Word will take forever to launch (I hear about 14 bounces in the dock vs. 4 on my G5), and Photoshop - I don't even want to think about that.

Regardless, I'm not ready to purchase anything yet. I'll be checking back in to see what's available at the end of the summer (and to see how my PowerBook's functioning then as well). I do have a feeling that the 12" PowerBook, once discontinued, will become an "instant hit" on the used market - the G4 chip, small size, and attractive looks make it a very nice laptop.

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