Refuting The Albook Myths

All of the reviews of the Big AlBook that have cropped up on the internet have pretty much agreed on a number of issues. Everyone raves about how cool it is, how quiet it is, and so forth. I think its time someone burst this bubble. I swear, if I didn't know better I'd say the iSteven P. himself had managed to extend his reality distortion field across the internet and managed to snowball everyone.

So, here it is. An honest, objective, and brief review from someone who has gotten to spend some quality time with the anodized aluminum shell topping his lap.

So you wanna know about BigAl?

The first two things I want to comment on are the heat this thing generates and the noise it puts out. So many others have tried to tell you that its cool and quiet. It just ain't so. In fact, its got to be the loudest laptop I've ever put my ears to. And the heat! It positively reeks of heat. If you spend any time in the same room with one of these little slabs you can sense its there, just by the heat it puts out. I'm going to have to conduct some tests though to figure out just how its transmitting that heat. After hours and hours of use I can find a couple of mildly warm spots on the casing but nothing...NOTHING... the PowerBook is doing seems to account for the feverish feeling you get when you're in the same room as this thing. And the noise! I'm used to the older laptops. You know the ones I mean. You jack the sound up all the way, turn up iTunes or QuickTime Player to the max, and still you have to wonder if the thing is running when you step across that room. Not so with BigAl. There is no doubt what so ever that the speakers are working, and working very well.

Candidly, if for some reason I couldnct see the impressively backlit screen, I wouldn't know that BigAl has been booted. You see, there really isn't any noise generated by virtue of it being on. As to the heat, if it actually starts to generate anything noticable, I'll let you know.

So, what's really not to like about this beast? If I find anything, I'll let you know. So far, its the mostest magnificent machine I've had the pleasure of computing with. Even the dedicated wintellites at work are captivated by the sheer, brutish size of the display. And since their typical hardware is totally lacking in class or refinement this beauty, being the exact antithesis of same, manages to elicit more than a few wondrous stares. I know how they feel. I don't know which is cooler, staring at the sleek, smooth surface, or getting your hands on it and carrying it around. Apple's really outdone themselves this time. The bottom line is, this is now the bad boy on the block and the target in everyone else's sites.

You're no doubt wondering if its as unwieldy to carry around as others have suggested. The fact is that its not bad at all. While the diagonal measure of the display is 17”, the actual dimensions aren't quite so grandiose. As the iSteve is so fond of pointing out, its only 1” thin. Add to that the other two dimensions which come in at about 10 1/4” by 15 1/2” and you end up with a classy slab of computing testosterone that is considerably smaller than half of a large pizza box.

One of the most telling features about this gem of engineering is just how little you can add to it. Even Apple's Build To Order page offers up the most meager of additions. The biggie is an additional 512 megabytes of RAM. Aside from that, it already has just about everything else you could want.

To put this in perspective, I'm used to working with a G4/400 tower. It has 1.3 gigs of RAM and two hard drives totaling 100 gigabytes of storage. BigAl has only the stock 512 megabytes of RAM and a 60 gigabyte hard disk. Simply put, its a far superior machine. I'm used to starting almost every application I'm likely to use and leave them running for weeks at a time. That's why I have so much memory in it to begin with. Since this little laptop only has a little over 1/3 the memory, I've had to adjust my way of working. But I'm not losing out. On the contrary, I'm actually better off. I can start just about any application in a bounce or less. iPhoto and iMovie take a little longer but not much. Since it is so fast I don't have the need to keep everything running all the time.

The display is a little better and a little more crisp that you might expect. Frankly, its gorgeous. The very capable video subsystem driving it wastes no time rendering any of the eye candy Aqua is so famous for. The closest thing I can come to a complaint is that the keyboard is set so far back from the edge of the case that when the laptop is in your lap the edge of it tends to rub on your forearms almost halfway up from my wrists to my elbows. If I were sitting properly I'm sure I wouldn't notice it at all.

I have no way as yet of trying out BlueTooth and so can't comment on it.

The AirPort Extreme card works nicely with the poor-man's wireless network I have. Specifically I've got an original Airport card in my G4 tower which is set up as a software base station. What could I say except that it works, and seems to be pretty servicable. I've moved some pretty large files, hundreds of megabytes in fact, through the ether without so much as a hiccup.

I love the keyboard. Its easily the best keyboard I've ever typed on. It has a very firm feel to it and the keys are as large as any I've typed on before. The trackpad that accompanies the keyboard is, well, huge. Amost makes me wonder if Apple intends to make a stylus available for it to use in conjunction with inkwell or something.

So, all that said, what would I add to round out this little gem?

First, like so many others, I'd like a second track pad button. I can actually reach the huge track pad button with one hand while pressing the control key to invoke the contextual menus, but its a little inconvenient. Actually, I'd like to have a couple more track pad buttons to work with and map things to.

Second, this thing is in even greater need of something that in my less than humble opinion no portable should be without. Namely, it should have a handle. I find myself desperately clutching the casing for fear that the slick surface will escape my grasp and I'll end up with a $3000 pile of second hand parts on the floor. That reason, more than the sheer size or weight, keep me from moving it around too much.

I have yet to use the Superdrive to burn anything yet. I've only stuck a couple of movies into it to see how they played. Of course, they played magnificently. I hope to at least burn my first CD tomorrow. We'll see how that goes. I'll be shocked if I come up with anything to complain about in that endeavor.

If this review seems to be painting a stellar picture of the AlBook's portrait, then I'm getting my point across. The fact is I'm still not doing it justice. For that, I'm truly sorry. For the Big AlBook is a triumph of engineering. When the iSteve proclaimed 2k3 to be the year of the laptop, he wasn't kidding. He certainly managed to come up with the proper hood ornament to lead Apple's charge into the future of portable computing. There's nothing left for the likes of Dull and all the other vendors to do except to lament their lack of leadership, and write another chapter in their books on playing catch-up with Apple.

But then, they're used to that.