Tom, my 13-year-old son, who is fiercely loyal to his six-month-old indigo iBook, takes one look at Apple's latest shot at a notebook for the education market and is utterly phased. "That's an iBook? Where's its handle ?" There is no handle. No voluptuous curves and no indigo or tangerine bits. This new iBook is all white - a minimalist plastic tablet so understated in design terms as to be almost invisible.
Then he notices the spookily pulsating white light on the machine's slender front panel. The iBook is sleeping. This, he admits, is distinctly "cool". (If you like this sort of thing, check the underbelly for the four green state-of-battery LEDs, then place the iBook in a darkened room and marvel at the luminous apple. ) Still missing the clamshell look, he opens it up and inhales: "That's better - it smells like an iBook".
So, at least Apple has got the aroma right. After a few minutes of use, it's clear that Apple has got many things right in this new package.
Above all, it's smaller than its predecessor and most of the Windows competition. It's roughly A4-sized, a mere 2.3cm deep and an easy fit in any schoolbag. At 2.2kg (including battery), it's nearly a kilogram lighter than the old iBook.
Fire it up and you become aware of what, for me, was its biggest attraction - the screen. I can cite the specs - 12.1-inch flatscreen (TFT) with 1024 x 768 pixels resolution - but these don't convey the detail offered to the head-on user.
Move a couple of inches to the right or left and you lose it. But just for once I could see the point of the (optional) DVD drive. With decent headphones, the audio is up to the job as well.
The preloaded iTunes software will be adored by the sort of fans who stay up all night making compilation CDs for their friends. You can take audio from almost any source and build infinite playlists. A CD-RW burner is another option, instead of or in addition to the DVD drive.
Another big plus is connectivity. Two USB ports will be appreciated by anyone wanting to use extras, such as printer or scanner. There are also two video-out ports (VGA for desktop monitors, RGB composite for a television) and the Firewire port for external drives, video cameras and so on. Like its predecessor, it is eady for a wireless network card and has an Ethernet network port. You can even use it through a television.
Commendable, but here are two caveats. First, how long before these ports, which are open to the elements, get clogged with biscuit crumbs, chewing gum and half-eaten fruit (although Apple insists this was never a problem with iBook number one)?
Second, all those sockets demand plenty of good things to plug into them. Give your kids a new iBook and they will be demanding a digital video camera, MP3 player, scanners, external speakers, loads of DVDs, webcams, and all the other devices that the machine is so well equipped to handle.
Apple makes much of the 500 MHz G3 processor that is standard on all new iBooks. To me, it seemed lightning fast on all applications, but then I'm used to a groaning Windows NT network. My in-house expert wasn't so impressed - "Not much quicker than my iBook".
The review product came with 128Mb of memory. You can easily add more - up to 640Mb - but 128 is enough to run an application, which (sorry all you Apple puritans) at least doubles the usefulness of any Mac, that is Connectix's Virtual PC.
The iBook, loaded up Version 4.0 - the latest of this software - in a couple of minutes. It tolerated the indignity of displaying the Windows 98 desktop, and ran classic PC software - like Encarta 2001 - without fuss.
"It's actually faster than my PC at school," says Tom. So much versatility in such a small package.
In case you hadn't realised, we liked this product. If it is as durable as Apple makes out (we didn't get round to testing the cracking point of the polycarbonate case, nor the snapping point of the magnesium frame beneath), it could be a very good buy for schools or anyone else for that matter.
But be warned - don't ask pupils to use it for anything boring. With this iBook they'll be finding interesting diversions within seconds.
iBookSchools prices: G3 500MHZ 64Mb memory, 10Gb hard disc, CD drive, pound;870; G3 500MHZ 128Mb10GbDVD, pound;1,028; G3 500MHZ 128Mb10GbCD-RW, pound;1,107Tel: 020 8218 1599www.apple.comuk
ONLINE STAR RATING
Suitbability for purpose *****
Ease of use *****
Value for money *****