Sleek and chic, the iBook grows up

Carrying an Apple iBook is a bit like holding a baby: People stop to admire it. The new model’s white-on-white case and its diminutive size (slightly larger than a piece of typing paper and only 1.35 inches thick) make this portable hard to resist. Unlike the earlier, candy-coloured iBooks, however, this baby is packed with business-class hardware.

The US$1,799 shipping model that I looked at comes with a 500-MHz PowerPC G3 CPU and with both Mac OS X and 9.1 installed (it starts up in the latter by default). Its 128MB of RAM are plenty to run general productivity apps, such as Microsoft Office, in OS 9.1; if you allocate enough virtual memory to graphics-intensive apps such as Photoshop Elements or iMovie, it can handle those, too. It just meets the required amount of memory to run OS X, however.

The 10GB hard drive won’t store many movie files – you’ll have to burn them to CD with the included combination DVD and CD-RW drive, or hook up an external drive via the IEEE 1394 port or either of two USB ports. The 12.1-inch screen is quite viewable, especially at 1024 by 768 pixels (although its letters have softer edges than I like). DVD movies play smoothly, but the sound from the two small speakers is tiny and weak.

The iBook comes with a few graceful touches, such as the battery-life indicator on the back of the case. But I found some other details annoying, especially the fragile-feeling keyboard – which lifts off to let you insert an optional wireless card or extra RAM. In addition, the lid’s hinge seems both stiff and insubstantial, and the screen jiggles when you touch it.

Despite these drawbacks, Apple’s iBook offers powerful components, portability, and a price well under US$2,000 – all in a case that turns heads.