The Orlando Sentinel begs the question with its article “is the iBook too good for its own good?”, to which I must respond “uh… no, chief”. A few obvious comparisons are made between the iBook and its big brother, the PowerBook; things like screen size, keyboard (keyboard?), durability, and processor power are weighed against cost; the journalist makes his points and his counterpoints, then basically says “why fork out for a PowerBook when an iBook is just as good?”
I’m not going to start raving on about wanting the more expensive trinket purely because it’s more expensive (though that is clearly a factor, in some peoples’ cases) or because it’s covered in metal, but I will defend the PowerBook and my claim that the iBook can’t and won’t cannibalize PowerBook sales. In my case, I decided almost two months ago that I would buy a 12" PowerBook instead of a 14" iBook and I still believe it to be the right choice. Admittedly, comparing the cheapest PowerBook to the most expensive iBook isn’t the most scientific way to look at things; but I’m doing this as a consumer, not a tech reviewer. Those were my options, I made my choice. Lets move on.
- The 12" Combo–drive PowerBook, the cheapest (and smallest) PowerBook on offer, runs a 1GHz G4 processor. 1GHz is a nice number, G4 is a nice initialism, and ‘1GHz G4’ is coincidentally the same configuration as the ‘high–end’ 14" iBook. Well, almost the same configuration: the PowerBook has double the L2 cache. Advantage, PowerBook.
- Screen size
- There’s not much to argue when you’re looking at one machine with a 12" screen and another with a 14" screen; an extra two inches is the kind of thing that you can’t help but notice. This one goes to the iBook.
- Video card
- A 32Mb NVIDIA GeForce FX Go 5200 in one, and a 32Mb ATI Mobility Radeon 9200 in the other; meaningless and confusion–inducing model numbers? Or something more sinister? Well, both. Despite its larger screen, the 14" iBook’s display maxes out at a screen resolution of 1024 × 768 pixels. The 12" PowerBook does the same, making the actual, useful, available screen space identical in both computers; but the PowerBook’s video card has screen spanning. Screen. Spanning. Has a nice ring to it. Want more desktop space? Just hook up a second monitor. By comparison, the iBook’s video output is limited to screen mirroring. Not quite as useful.
- Both systems are Airport Extreme capable, which takes the fun out of pitting them against each other like rabid dogs, but then there is the matter of Bluetooth. Much as I demand normal, functioning genitalia in a sexual partner, I demand Bluetooth in a portable device; the memories of manually syncing my address books and calendars are not ones that I cherish. PowerBooks sport Bluetooth out of the box. For iBooks, it’s a $50 extra.
- Hard disk
- The iBook tops the PowerBook for the second time with a cool 20Gb extra space at 60Gb… 20Gb that can be added to the PowerBook for $50. This is where the cost of Bluetooth is balanced out.
- Both systems come bundled with Mac OS X 10.3 and iLife ‘04; the PowerBook grabs a few sweeteners like QuickBooks, OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner and GraphicConverter; and the iBook takes Quicken, World Book, Tony Hawk and Deimos Rising. I’ll tell you right now that since I already have World Book and Deimos Rising (bundled with my Mac when I bought it) that they’re nothing special. OmniGraffle, OmniOutliner and GraphicConverter may actually see some use though. People have gone so far as to tell me they rock.
- Optical drive
- Both sport Combo drives. Huzzah. SuperDrive can be had on the PowerBook for an additional $200, but that’s $200 I’d sooner put towards an Airport Extreme base station. Call me crazy. The iBook doesn’t have a SuperDrive option.
- Let’s face it: no matter what you buy, it’s a fact of life that you will add more RAM. If not now, then later. Both systems arrive with 256Mb of DDR266 SDRAM, and both systems allow for expansion, but it is the degree of expansion that sets them apart. The iBook’s RAM is soldered onto the logic board, offering one slot for expansion. Feh. The PowerBook’s RAM is just shoved into one of its two slots, meaning you can ditch that 256Mb at any time and load as much RAM as will fit. This, I like.
- and finally…
- The PowerBook is smaller and lighter, in addition to being generally cooler.
Given the above list, you might expect the PowerBook to be significantly costlier than the iBook. But if you take ‘significantly’ and swap it for ‘$100’, then you’d be right. One hundred dollars. One hundred dollars buys you all of the above, and we have a journalist saying that “it’s going to be harder to persuade buyers to spring for a machine that can cost nearly twice as much”. Sure, it’s twice as much if you’re comparing the 14" iBook with the 17" PowerBook, but if you can say “the iBook is now so close to the more expensive, high–end PowerBook” with a straight face when you’re talking about those two models, you’re bordering on insane. Don’t get me started on a comparison chart on those two portables, we’ll be here all night.