When I saw the PowerBook G4 Titanium as it was unveiled at Macworld 2001 I immediately knew I wanted one. The machine just looked perfect. Plain, simple, a strong shape, wonderfully thin and yet reasonably (though not outrageously) powerful. I just so wanted one.
And as luck had it, with my parents and a promo that gave you 1000 DM off playing well, I actually got one when they started to sell the first generation cheaply. And I think I haven’t been as delighted by a machine when I first got it because it was just gorgeous. It is still the best looking computer I have ever seen.
Unfortunately my PowerBook’s story ended up being a sad one. Not only because of its bad ending but also about Apple doing their best to destroy any trust I had in their quality, competence and honesty.
As all of my previous Macs, the PowerBook saw some upgrades as well. Ranging from an AirPort card, to going to 640 MB of RAM to running a 40 GB drive. What follows is the sad story of the PowerBook’s life – or rather: demise.
June 2001: Brand new PowerBook
A wonderful machine, Sven is very happy!
Spring 2002: Screen flicker and its consequences (✗)
I had noticed a slight screen flickering before but it became more common – though not constant – at some stage. So I figured I better get Apple to fix that before the machine runs out of warranty. I phoned Apple and they were helpful and sent me the box to return the computer in.
After waiting for two weeks or so, I finally had the computer back. Deciphering the cryptic abbreviations that came in the box I figured that they didn't do anything to the screen, they replaced the mainboard (without explicitly telling me – resulting in me being a bit puzzled why I couldn't access our network with MAC address control) and they lost my hard drive and shipped back an empty 10 GB drive rather than the 40 GB drive I sent them.
As they had explicitly asked for any upgrades before I sent the machine in (but refused to accept the machine without a drive which I had offered because it seemed the easiest way to keep my data safe), there was no problem to get them to agree they owe me a drive. But it took weeks before I received a replacement. And in those weeks I had to call Apple daily and each day I got messages from them which were different, contradictory and downright lies (or what would you call it if they tell you that they found your drive and shipped it back – when it later turns out they lost it long before that moment).
After that experience I was done with Apple’s customer service. Even more so when I the answer I received to a letter detailing all their failures on the way wasn’t even close to being an apology.
Oh, and after a few days it became clear that they hadn’t even fixed the original screen problem. As I didn’t want to send the machine away for numerous weeks once more and neither I wanted to run after parts of my hardware, I settled for running the screen at a less than full brightness level for the rest of its life.
Spring 2004: Charger broken (✗)
Later on the UFO-shaped charger broke. It stopped charging the machine. As the charger is completely servicing hostile (glued together), a friend of mine had to saw it open to reveal the problem: One of the cables to the contacts of AC power having come loose. Don't ask me how that can happen in a case that cannot move and is sealed shut. My bet would be for poor quality soldering.
My friend then fixed the charger within minutes, we glued it back together again and it was working. Looking a big ugly but better than shoving more money down Apple’s throat to work around their bad engineering or manufacturing.
Soon after, the bit of metal that holds back the little hook which fixes the closed lid to the case broke, meaning that the PowerBook wouldn't close properly anymore. Not a real problem for me as I always carried it in snugly fitting bags but another indication of imperfect quality.
Late 2004: Hinge broken (✗)
As problem ridden as my PowerBook was, one of its hinges broke as well. Just as for many other Titanium PowerBook users this happened completely unexpectedly while normally opening the screen. After this bit of damage I managed to force what was left on the hinge into a position that allowed me to open and close the lid nonetheless and from that day on I lived with a rather shaky screen on my computer.
Also in 2004: DVD & Keyboard & Case problems (✗)
Comparatively minor was the issue that the DVD drive started being quite unreliable around this time as well. While occasionally it worked, it often seemed to fail spinning up discs properly and thus couldn't read them.
In addition the machine lost a key cap for no good reason. Luckily Steffen already had a broken iBook keyboard around, so I had a source for a replacement key cap. And the case broke, splitting across the headphone jack.
Summer 2005: Freezes (✗)
After I had gotten ‘used’ to the broken hinge situation, I didn't expect things to become worse. But they did: At some stage the PowerBook just started freezing or panicking while I was using it. And after that it wouldn't start up again. I asked some technical people and they said it might be a problem with the main board (the one they needelessly exchanged instead of repairing the screen flicker years before). From time to time I could get the machine to start up again. But moving it was easily causing freezes. And not saving documents all the time also seemed risky in that situation.
That was it. The machine was at its end as I couldn’t actually use it anymore. I decided to sell the PowerBook itself on eBay where it still fetched more than 200 Euros and I sold the Airport Card, and the newer of my two batteries separately to minimise my losses.
Unfortunately this left a really bad impression. As much as I liked the machine, it caused a lot of trouble and good looks cannot cover all of those up. In addition, I ended up in a situation where I thought that the offerings Apple made for a replacement weren’t too attractive and I obviously didn't want to buy an expensive Apple product again to save myself from future disappointments. Thus I went for a small iBook which became my next computer.