The 'Book Page

The Ultimate iBook Review, Part 2

Michael Munger
2001.08.03

At the start of this second part of our review, we would like to go back to the casing we discussed in the first part. We want to add that the white exterior is very easy to damage, especially with scratches. You have to carry the iBook in a sleeve if you put it in a bag or backpack where its casing could take some abuse, otherwise the nice shiny white coated computer will lose a part of its sparkle.

Screen

There is a lot to be said about the new iBook's screen. Size is much of an issue because Apple had to compromise for reasons of price and space. Many users think that 12.1" is too small for a new portable's screen, but as we believe that Apple targets education and low-end computer buying consumers, 12.1" is the right choice. As we said in Part I, it makes the iBook small enough to fit in a backpack. It also makes the unit less expensive than a notebook equipped with a 13" or 14" display. In our opinion, Apple made the right decision because of its target market for the iBook.


AppleWorks, which we mentioned in the first part of this review, ships with every new iBook. We found it to be a decent, fast, and intuitive productivity software suite.
The screen is gorgeous. It is much brighter than we expected. When we did a side by side comparison between the Titanium PowerBook and this iBook, the latter won easily in terms of brightness, sharpness, and contrast. The quality of the LCD display looks much better. When we looked at both displays from the side, the iBook's screen allowed us to see more clearly than the Titanium PowerBook's. Therefore, in terms of quality per square inch, we believe that the iBook is a clear winner, while the size of the Titanium PowerBook's screen is decisively superior because of the extra 3".

The level of brightness found on the iBook did have its shortcomings. We found that with some desktop pictures, the contrast was so high that the pictures we wanted to use were unusable as desktop backgrounds, while they looked just fine with our desktop computer's CRT monitor. Having seen the same pictures with desktop LCD monitors, we believe that more work could be done regarding the contrast issue. Still, we believe that the iBook screen's brightness makes it stand out.

The 1024 x 768 resolution that Apple has squeezed in has been the object of much talk. Many have said that their eyes would have a difficult time reading type (fonts) on a 12" screen at such a resolution. When we set the iBook up, our first move was to switch to 1024 x 768 to find out what it would look like. In our opinion, it looks just fine. It makes everything much smaller than at 800x600, but we found 12-point fonts easy to read.

Even small system fonts did not look as tiny as we expected. On the other hand, we know that we have rather young and excellent sight, so we cannot judge for people who may have a harder time distinguishing text than we do. Still, we felt that the 1024 x 768 resolution coupled with a 12" screen is a good compromise between display space and readability.

As for acceleration, we found graphics to be rather decent. Of course, game playing was not as zippy as on our G4 desktop setup, but we can understand the difference in terms of resources between a RAGE Mobility card and a Radeon board. Avid gamers should not look at the iBook as a gaming system. For everyday productivity, however, graphics are fast enough for normal use.

We sometimes noticed delays between the moment when we clicked the mouse and the moment when menus pulled down or buttons were pressed. We asked around and found out that our Energy Saver settings could be responsible for this, since hard disk drive has to spin up before responding.

Keyboard

The iBook ships with a full-size notebook keyboard. The 78 keys on our Canadian French model - US models have 77 keys - have served us well. The tactile feedback felt just right for our fingers to keep typing without feeling stuck in the keyboard. Of course, the portable's keys are a bit smaller than those of a desktop model, but having used nothing but desktop machines before, we were surprised at how quickly we adapted to the size and got comfortable with it. In fact, using a desktop's extended keyboard felt huge in comparison. The keyboard itself passed the test by our standards.

Autonomy

Apple says that the iBook's battery will last up to 5 hours. This did not prove to be true. Since we purchased our unit, we were able to get up to 4 hours of productive use from a fully charged battery when we set the Energy Saver control panel's preferences to save as much energy as possible. We wonder how Apple could squeeze 5 hours of use from this battery since we could not even approach 4-1/2 hours.

Multimedia

The first aspect of multimedia that we wish to discuss is audio, and it starts with a complaint. Although we do not expect miracles from a couple of tiny notebook speakers, we were still disappointed. We could not hear every sound that was supposed to be played. When starting up the iBook, we sometimes heard the startup chimes, but sometimes we did not. During everyday use, we did not always hear alert sounds and sounds related to instant messaging. Apply this to all spontaneous sounds, and you have relatively poor audio.

Playing music was another story. It seems that the speakers never quit when the sound is continuous, but as we stated above, ordinary computer sounds were not always heard. We did not expect the iBook's speakers to behave like a pair of SoundSticks or Monsoons, but we felt that they should have delivered each sound that the system tried to emit.

In terms of audio, we were better served when we hooked up our Sony headphones to the audio jack. When we did, we missed none of the sounds that the iBook emitted, and we definitely enjoyed listening to music with iTunes. Everything sounded clear with the headphones hooked up, and iTunes, which ships with the computer, is definitely a home run in terms of usability.


iTunes is a very nice application to handle music.

QuickTime videos were especially nice to play. The screen's quality has made video images look almost as good as on a desktop setup's monitor.

We will networking in the third part of our review instead of this second part. Stay tuned.

The Ultimate iBook Review

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. He writes iBasicsfor Low End Mac, On the Flip Side for The Mac Observer, and cofounded MacSoldiersin 1998.

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