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Creative flair

Merlin John gets a little too attached to Apple's new MacBook

There's a temptation to go over the top when describing Apple's recent products. The bottom line with this MacBook (pictured) was that there was only one downside to the review - handing it back.

It arrived after I had been using a basic iBook to experience working with Apple-only applications and to sort out my diary and contacts, essential tools for any journalist (and teachers too, I guess). It had been a good experience. Within minutes of starting up the MacBook, it was connected wirelessly to my .Mac online account, synched with my personal and professional appointments and addresses and even browser bookmarks, and was now "mine" - personalisation at a stroke. An even better experience. Factor in an iPod and the Apple equation can deliver your contacts, diary, music, video and photos to your inside pocket.

While it looks rather like the iBook with its tough, cool white case, it is thinner, lighter and much faster. The keyboard is a step forward, too, the keys sitting discretely, unlike a traditional keyboard, and with less travel. The 13-inch glossy widescreen is a great improvement on earlier Macs, brighter and clearer.

Sitting above the screen is a tiny, built-in iSight webcam that is better than any standalones I have used, and which provides instant video-conferencing when used with the built-in iChat software. The webcam also has it's "own" program, PhotoBooth, complete with special effects.

While not essential, it's fun and will certainly find a place in classrooms.

Then there's Front Row. You just point the little remote control at the MacBook, press the Menu button and you can enjoy and share your music, photos, videos and DVDs. Or even find media files on nearby wireless-enabled computers and enjoy them too. And the text in the menus is large enough to be viewed from a distance. It's powerful enough on a personal level, but when used with a projector it's terrific for sharing.

And there's nothing like it on PCs (like Comic Life, the innovative program for turning your photos and graphics into quality comics and cartoons - wonderful for storytelling).

As a personal purchase, the MacBook is a tremendous temptation. Where else could you get so much creative capability out of the box without the need to buy more software (trial versions of iWork 06 and Office 2004 are included; both worked flawlessly). And it keeps on going - battery life was at least three hours. The magnetic clip-on terminal for the charger has to be a safer option for classroom users, too.

Is there a wish list? Of course. The speakers could do with just a little more volume (although most users would have add-on active speakers). Some users will miss the modem port - which has gone the way of the floppy drive - and will require a pound;35 USB alternative to connect to a telephone, but they are increasingly a minority as wireless and network access expands.

The MacBook is probably the best designed and implemented laptop available at its price point, along with a free, ready-to-use creative software suite that has no rival. But there are still plenty of IT people out there who will obstruct its purchase. They would benefit from an enforced visit to the Isle of Man department of education to check out how two technicians support 3,900 Mac client computers (desktop and laptop) as well as 115 servers, 40 networks, 300 wireless access points (Apple base stations) - and on their return explain why they cannot provide such efficiency and value for money (see Online May 5). But that's another storyI


Apple widescreen laptop with iLife 06 creative software suite, glossy 13.3-inch screen, Intel Core Duo processor (1.83GHz) 500Mb memory (review model 1Gb), 60Gb hard disc, Combo disc drive (DVD-Rom, CD-RW), integral wifi, bluetooth and ethernet (no modem but USB adaptor available at pound;35), two USB ports, one FireWire, connector for external display screen, one headphones socket, one optical audio inout, infrared remote control (for media playbacksharing via simple Front Row interface) and battery charger with magnetic clip-on connector for trip-free connection.

Price: pound;749 inc VAT (education price pound;643.90) (MacBook with 2GHz processor, 512 Mb memory and 60Gb hard disc pound;773.15; Black MacBook with 2GHz, 512Mb and 80Gb hard disc pound;884.78) Available from Apple education dealers Imagesroutingpage.html

Fitness for purpose *****

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