The 'Book Page

Hands On the iBook

October 21, 1999 - Dan Knight - Tip Jar

We got our first (and, so far, only) iBook at work last week. I barely had the chance to set it up before it was whisked away for the weekend. But I did have a little time to play with the iBook and show it off.

Response from coworkers was very mixed regarding the blueberry and ice color scheme. Some thought it was great; others thought it looked like a toy.

The iBook was never intended to be a business computer. Too bad, because it certainly has the right features, if not the right colors.

I've been using portable Macs since the Mac Portable, which came out ten years ago. The portable had a great keyboard, a large trackball (it was the first "laptop" with a trackball), and decent speed, but it was large, heavy, and the screen wasn't backlit.

Still, for Mac users, it meant no longer having to buy a DOS laptop as a field computer.

Then came the PowerBooks, with their smaller trackballs, followed by trackpads. Each one was a big or small improvement over previous models.

The iBook certainly continues that tradition. It has the best keyboard of any recent portable Mac, and that included the most costly PowerBook G3. The feel, the feedback, the typing experience is great.

So is the texture and feel of the wrist rest, a cool plastic with an almost soft texture that feels just right. This is also the first time Apple (or anyone?) has used a trackpad that isn't recessed below the work surface. Instead, it's flush with the case - and, like the keyboard, its feels great and works very nicely.

In fact, I'd have to say the iBook provides the best tactile experience I've ever had with a portable computer. Everything about it feels right, from the soft curves and metal reinforced handle to the grippy plastic casing and the trackpad button.

If it came in graphite, Apple would lose a lot of PowerBook sales.

The screen is positively luminescent. I'd say it's at least a match for the one in the PowerBook G3, except for the smaller size. It's certainly great for anyone not spoiled by a 17" or larger screen. In many respects, it is an iMac to go.

Niggling Little Complaints

The iBook isn't perfect. I'll give Apple the smaller screen as a necessary way to keep the price down. I'll let them get away with it being bigger than the already large PowerBook G3 because I know it's designed to take even more abuse.

But what irritates me, as well as people using the Lombard G3, is the F1-F12 keys - they aren't F1-F12 unless you hold down the "fn" key.

Granted, it's nice to be able to adjust the brightness and sound without pushing the "fn" key, but for those who use QuicKeys to program F1-F12, it's a real nuisance to have to push the "fn" key and the F-whatever key.

What was Apple thinking? Users are far more likely to use those keys to program common functions (undo, cut, copy, and paste are the tradition F1-F4 on Apple keyboards) than they are to adjust brightness or volume. Why not have those functions require the "fn" key instead?

UPDATE: You can change this behavior in the Keyboard control panel. Click on the Function Keys... button (Options on the PowerBook G3), then check "Use F1 through F12 as Function Keys. . . ." To change brightness or volume, you must now use the "fn" key. I think this is preferable, especially since we use QuicKeys and have become accustomed to programming the function keys in QuicKeys.

Conclusion

Okay, I got that out of my system. Other than the now-standard tiny arrow keys and the USB port being on the wrong side for mice with short cables, I'd have to rate the iBook one of the two nicest portable computers I've ever used - and only because the PowerBook G3 "Lombard" has an even nicer screen and the white Apple glows in the dark.

Since image is subordinate to function, I could live with the colorful iBook.

Ten years of building portable Macs, and Apple is still making each one better than the last.

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