Apple's hardware tends toward the cutting edge of industrial-design chic, with sleek, clean lines that make a Mac look as if it were carved out of a solid block of metal. Sometimes that style costs extra, sometimes it doesn't.
Apple's laptops exhibit that trend nicely. Most of them, especially its larger PowerBooks, sell at a premium over similarly equipped Windows portables, and if you need DVD-burning capability, a PC Card slot or a larger screen in a Mac laptop, you'll have to pay that extra price. (If you want a laptop weighing less than 4 pounds, you'll have to shop elsewhere, as Apple has no entry in the ultralight market.) If, on the other hand, you just need an everyday machine that won't weigh heavily on your shoulder, the entry-level iBook, at $999, stands out as a great deal. Even with the power adapter, you'll be hauling around only 5.3 pounds of computer. It lasted for 31/4 hours of DVD playback and ran for just under 61/2 hours with all its power-saving options activated.
The iBook's sleek, white case houses a sharp, clear 12-inch screen, easier to read than many larger displays. Its keyboard feels right, and the expansion ports line up in a row on the left side. The only quirk was the slot-loading CD/DVD drive; ejecting a disc can be tricky if the laptop isn't flat.
As of this past Tuesday, the iBook finally includes 512 megabytes of memory, not the paltry 256 MB once standard. This update also throws in Bluetooth wireless to link such peripherals as cell phones, which isn't an option on most laptops. More useful to many is an enhanced touchpad that lets you scroll through large documents and Web pages by dragging two fingers across it. The iBook also includes a sensor that shuts the hard drive down if the system senses sudden movement.
Apple's sleek, secure Mac OS X can take some practice for Windows users, who may think its uncluttered menus look a little barren. But features such as Spotlight searching and Dashboard widgets obviate the need for the add-ons and add to the refined feeling.
Apple's iLife set of multimedia programs, suitable for both novices and experienced digital auteurs, is far better than the junk on most Windows machines. The rest of Apple's software bundle, however, is merely serviceable: Quicken 2005 and Apple's aging AppleWorks productivity suite.
Apple's technical support is knowledgeable and patient -- but you must be patient, too. Set aside 12 to 15 minutes to wait for a representative, and your questions should be accurately and politely answered. -- Michael Tedeschi
Tested hardware: Apple iBook G4, $999
4.9 pounds (5.3 pounds with power adapter), 12-inch LCD (1,024 by 768 pixels), 1.33 GHz PowerPC G4, 512 MB memory, 32 MB graphics memory, 37.3 GB hard drive, CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive, Ethernet, WiFi, modem, FireWire port, two USB 2.0 ports, Bluetooth.
One-year warranty. 90 days of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. phone tech support; $49 per-issue fee afterward.