I’ve got this huge black notebook that I bring to meetings when I feel the Titanium Powerbook is not appropriate. 11×14 sketch book. I usually get long stares when I plop it on the table and the occasionally, “That’s a big notebook”.
Glibly, I reply, “I’ve got big thoughts.”
The 17″ Powerbook is vast like my sketch book. I’m currently sitting on my couch typing in side a full BBEdit window along a full Terminal window and my iChat buddy list and there is room to spare. There is nothing but space on this machine..
To understand how I evaluated the Powerbook, you first must understand there are two basic use cases I ask of notebook: at work and at the couch. “At work” basically means it must integrate with my desk environments (home and work) and travel well to and from meetings. I don’t travel a ton so, the ability to exist on an airplane just doesn’t matter that much for me. “At the couch” means I can use the notebook in the variety of positions I end up in on the couch. Sitting normally, feet up on the armrest, pretzel style, on the floor, who cares… it better work.
Out of box experience
Before I even opened the Powerbook, I sat it next to my current TiBook. I was shocked to see, first hand, that it actually really is as thin as it’s predecessor. Unlike the TiBook the edges are curved — this gives this illusion of depth, but folks — it’s still terribly thin. Amazingly, it’s even more solid than the TiBook. I don’t know what’s going on inside the box to reenforce the 17″, but whatever has been done gives the machine the feel of a rigid piece of steel.
The hinge that the screen rests on is, I’m told, similar to the newer iBook as it folds out and back opposed to the regular flat hinge found on the Tibook. Aesthetically, I’m a fan of the hinge, but in my first couch sessions, I ran into some issues. (See: “The first hour on the couch”)
The keyboard and the track pad are just a work of art. They’ve applied a paper-like texture to both.. your fingers are going to be in heaven. The keyboard ties the whole machine together by no longer being a distracting black… the keys are the same silver as the rest of the machine and that gives the 17″ even more class.
Finally, the color of the 17″ is akin to the lighter of the two grays on the TiBook with a very subtle dark gray outline which, now that I look at it, is similar to the dark gray of the TiBook. Clever.
The first hour of real work
For the first hour of work, I decided to do some web research on a future article. This involved a bunch of surfing on Safari and a bunch of BBEditing while listening to some retro 80s music on iTunes.
As I said above, it’s an ample amount of visual space. There was much less window management once I settled into my work. Perhaps the first disappointment was in regular usage, I noticed no significant improvement from the 1Ghz chip. I’m sure if I sat down and did some benchmarking, I’d see a 10-20% increase in speed, but, apparently that’s not enough to notice with regular usage. Sigh.
One small contradiction to my speed malaise was that my wireless connection did feel spunkier. I did some ad-hoc wandering around the house to see if the positioning of the Airport antennas was giving me better signal, but a random sampling of spots at work showed pretty much the same signal strength. Odd.
In terms of fitting in with my desktop environment, the only two noticeable differences are the large footprint of the machine which means you need a bit more space, and the power cord being on the side of the machine. I’m assuming the move for the cord was to make room for the new hinge… Personally, I like the power cord on the back. It feels cleaner, but I’m guessing that folks who dig the hinge are not going to mind.
The first hour on the couch
The first hour on the couch was spent writing this article. Again, the desktop had space a’plenty for this BBEdit window as well as my notes from the past two days of usage. The first thing I noticed was, again, how solid this notebook is. The keyboard feel is significantly different than the TiBook. The impression your fingers will have is that there’s a sheet of metal under the keys… again, I have no idea how they fit so much strength is such a thin enclosure.
For normal sitting around, the form factor of the 17″ works. I’ve got a sea of pixels staring at me and I just have no complaints… until I started getting squirrelly. At one point, I spun around to bring my legs up, a move I often do with the TiBook, so it felt natural… until the flat panel came flying down. What happened? Remember the hinge on the 17″ comes out and down. This means the bottom of the screen, when fully open, is flat with the base of the computer. The action of my knees lifting up to swing around PUSHED the monitor closed. Combined the increased weight of the larger screen, this has given me the impression the 17″ monitor is more flimsy which I don’t think is necessarily true. It’s just designed differently and I believe I need to get used to it.
Other miscellaneous observations:
– Much has been made of the backlit keyboard and auto-dimming of the monitor. While it’s a cool thing to show friends, so far, it’s one of those use it and forget type of features. Right now, the keyboard is lighted up, but that doesn’t really help me because I never look at the keyboard anyway.
– The 17″ is heavier than the TiBook, but this is not a factor for me as I’m not dragging this thing to Shanghai and back.
– After an hour of usage on the couch, I got that familiar sweaty lap from the notebook’s batteries… again, I don’t think this something easily addressed by notebook design.
– Bluetooth capability is sitting there in my menu bar taunting me, but I have no Bluetooth devices with which to exploit it.
– I don’t normally use the speakers on my notebooks, but the 17″ has huge grills to both sides of the keyboard and this somehow compels me to listen to more music and, in a brief comparison with the TiBook, it does sound much better.
– Airport Extreme is also sitting unused on my laptop. I’ve got a regular Airport base station and it already is way to fast for my DSL set-up.
– There are more ports than I know what to do with this sucker. I look forward to further exploits with Firewire 800 and a second monitor.
The take away
The 17″ Powerbook is a luxury item, plain and simple. I can’t think of a legitimate scenario where you could use the word “need” and the 17″ in the same sentence. You don’t need this fine piece of hardware, you want it.
Is there reason to want it? Sure is. The list of luxuries the 17″ sports boggles the mind. Cutting edge design wrapped around bleeding edge technology.
Has the 17″ replaced my big fat black sketch book? You bet it has. What the notebook has is tremendous under the arm appeal. With the 17″ tucked under your arm, running between meetings, you’ll feel you’ve got all your big thoughts in a safe, sexy place.