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MacWorld Expo is Decadent & Depraved (part 1): The year of the laptop

By SoupIsGood Food, (soup@macedition.com), January 8, 2003

The aluminium 17″ PowerBook is not for true Road Warriors. It is too big, it’s battery life woefully short. But the 12" PowerBook is simply stunning as a true desktop replacement that fits in the small spot in your heart reserved for the late, lamented PowerBook 2400. You can also pack a sandwich in there with the room left over.

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The BigBook, as I have now just dubbed it, is a great solution for those who want to lug around a desktop system without actually having to lug around a desktop system. Which is to say, they won’t be flipping it open on the plane, or in Starbucks to show off to the brainy chicks, or use it to browse rotten.com from the couch. They will be big, meaty power-users: graphics and multi-media pros who want to work on the same stuff at home and in the office, sales goons who want to use Keynote to knock the socks off the rubes at trade shows and marketing meetings, musicians and theatrical engineers who want some serious kit with them on the road, film crews who want to edit and beam live from in front of the court house with a station-wagon full of stuff rather than a moving truck’s worth.

It’s a small segment, admittedly, but the margins are through the roof at $3200, so Apple’s going to make a nickel or two off this brute. It’s the computing equivalent of the new Caddy V16: pure power and luxury for the fat-walleted, but a bitch to find parking for.

The MiniMiBook, as I have now just dubbed it, is far more interesting. It’s tiny, and tiny is sexy. It’s three whole pounds heavier than the smallest PC on the market (in Japan), but it has a better battery life, and a superdrive, and an 800mhz G4. And compared to sub-notebooks marketed in the US, it’s bleeding edge. Most of the peecee sub-notebooks are run on Mobile Pentium III chips, which are woefully underpowered unplugged and on the battery, or Transmeta Crusoes, which are just woefuly underpowered, period. Bluetooth and FireWire 800 and optional Airport Extreme (802.11g to the rest of the universe) are value-adds nobody, but nobody else in the market has, Japan or stateside.

So, fully configured, it’s got an incredibly long battery life, full-size keyboard, superdrive, advanced wireless capabilities, desktop-grade processing power, next generation graphics chip, and comes in at less than $2100 with the airport card. It seems to have it all going on…

Yeah, I said seems. It’s missing a few key features that its bigger siblings share. This is because it appears that Apple plucked the iBook parts bin for a lot of what goes into the BittyBook, as I have now just (re)dubbed it. This means limited I/O options: you only get a 10/100 ethernet port instead of a gigabit socket, you can’t hook up an Apple Studio Display, because it only has a VGA-out like the iBook, it’s limited to 640MB RAM, and worst of all, it has no PCMCIA slot.

That last omission is a killer, as there are more PCMCIA options for hard core audio freaks than USB or FireWire ones. There are a ton of specialty cards for data acquisition that would go great with a sub-notebook, but for the lack of someplace to stick ’em.

Then there’s the CDMA2000 cards… Sprint offers all-you-can-eat wireless broadband at $100/month, and the coverage, especially in the northeast, is phenomenal. Always-on broadband internet, wherever you go! While the only PCMCIA CDMA2000 cards on the market are currently Windows/PocketPC only, Sierra Wireless is generous with its tech data and the Linux freaks have already rolled their own device driver. As soon as I gain competence with Objective C and Apple’s device driver developer kit, I’ll endeavor to write one for Jagwire, but I suspect someone out there in Apple-land will have beaten me to the punch. By a year or three.

But it will be in vain, for while I want CDMA2000, without a PCMCIA card, I cannot have it on the road with the jewel-like little BabyBook, as I have just dubbed it, again. And I want, more than anything, a tiny sub-notebook I can drag everywhere, that I can use to download multimedia and graphics files from “certain” sites catering to “enthusiasts” while sitting on my couch. My leather couch. Naked. Except for the boots. Ahem. I want a mondo-powered notebook for development work wherever I may roam, the G4 and 7200RPM disk more than a match for even the steepest Java and Python needs. I want this thing for Photoshop gym-crackery in my home studio, and for slogging through writing chores while at the bar, getting blitzed. In short, I want the IddleWiddleBookieKins, as I have just dubbed it.

Sorry. I’ll stop my dubbing right now.

As a general purpose desktop replacement for the poweruser and avowed road warrior, there is none better on the market in terms of size, price, performance and feature set than the 12″ PowerBook. Apple has struck a perfect balance, only soured by the omission of a PCMCIA slot and DVI out. Ah, well, there’s always the next rev.

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