August 25th, 2000

[First Look] First Look At Apple's G4 Cube
Rodney O. Lain

If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love.

Madeleine L'Engle, _A Wrinkle in Time_ 

Hot damn!

I got my Cube today. I've been sitting here playing with it since 7:00 PM. -- it's 11:49 PM as I write -- and I am not in the least bit disappointed.

Hell, I like it so much, if I could, I'd give Jonathan Ive a "big sloppy." He is now my favorite Brit.

[Author's note: British-born Jonathan Ive is the head of Apple's Industrial Design Group, and is credited with the creation of the iMac, the 20th Anniversary Macintosh, and probably every other recent Apple-designed stroke of genius, including the Cube.]

I ordered this system at the butt-end of July, from Apple's on-line store. As I tired of waiting and pondered canceling my order, I received an e-mail confirmation last Saturday night that said my Build-To-Order (BTO) purchase had been assembled and had shipped.

Once again… hot damn.

I went to Apple's web site once a day after that, clicking the links to the Fed Ex tracking numbers. On Monday, it'd left California. On Tuesday, it'd left, Indiana. On Wednesday, it'd arrived in St. Paul. It was here when I made it home, stacked in three boxes: one for the 15-inch Studio Display; one for the Cube; and one for something that I didn't given a damn about opening at first. It turns out that it's the shipping/packing slip, along with my CD-ROM and info on my AppleCare Protection Plan.

Good thing I got that too, as you'll see.

Well, on with the show…

The Display: Did I already say ‘hot damn'?

I think Apple won an award or two for their product packaging (I am judging by the product photography gracing the boxes). Regardless, they looked like the Fed Ex guys had been playing catch with them, so I was a little worried. Never fear. There was Styrofoam and plastic coating galore.

Screw the 22" Cinema Display. The 15" display is more than adequate. I feared that it would be too small, but sitting next to my 17" ViewSonic, there is very little difference, and the picture on this baby is clearer.

I love the way the monitor tilts back: you just push back on the top of the monitor and the back-most leg slides backward. If you pick up the monitor, it slides forward to its original position. Kewl.

After plugging everything in, I barely touched the "power on" logo in the lower right corner -- no switches on this beauty -- and the computer sprang to life. (The only other "dial" on the monitor is a "brightness" logo to the left. Touching that causes a light to brighten behind the logo and the monitor control panel opens; touching the logo again closes the control panel. Kewl.

On to the CPU and speakers…

Damn… PC users NEVER get this excited

Pictures will never do this thing justice. Honest.

The CPU is heavier than it looks. Set up is a breeze, although I became skeptical at first, when I saw the number of wires — there's more than expected. But, never fear; it's easy:

  1. Connect the ADC (the connector that supplies power, USB and digital to the Cube — turn it upside down for initial set up
  2. Connect the display to the CPU
  3. Connect keyboard and mouse to first of two USB ports on monitor's backside
  4. Connect speakers' to second USB connection
  5. Turn it on.

BTW, here are the specs, in case you're wondering: The Cube is a 500 Mhz G4, BTO'd with 128 MB RAM, a 30 Gig HD (because the standard 20 Gig is a 5400 rpm — I like 7200 rpms), an AirPort card, DVD-ROM.

The speakers are bigger than expected, too. Imagine each being the size and weight of two softballs. They came covered with plastic covers that reminded you of clear, miniature bowling balls. You're supposed to remove them for clearer sound and replace them for moving and storage. Looking inside, they're too simplistic to be speakers. Which reminds me: I hate non-Apple translucent products. I hate seeing the innards of my USB Zip drive for example. Apple, however, even designs the way the insides appear, so that it isn't tacky…

I thought I'd replace the optical mouse with my USB trackball and wheel. No way.

The keyboard types very well.

Now for the "test drive."


I see what appears to be a dead pixel in my monitor, right in the top, middle portion. It only shows when I have a black or dark background. I plan to watch it, so I can put that AppleCare to good use.

I've accidentally put the computer to sleep twice (when placing my hand over the vent to see how cool it is, and when picking up the Cube to attach an ethernet cable. This is because of the touch sensitive power switch that automatically drops the machine into sleep without asking.

It boots up in about a minute, maybe less.

The computer crashed when I put in a "South Park" DVD-ROM to view (BTW, disks are inserted with the label facing you). I turned off the autoplay in the QuickTime control panel. It crashed again when I tried to quit MSIE 5.0

IMovie 2 looks very good.

I'd been connecting my "Wallstreet" PowerBook G3 to an AirPort base station for some time now. My Cube connected easily. I can now share files wirelessly, which is one reason why I bought the Cube.

It's awkward to connect devices to the Cube. I don't want to turn it over while it's running, so I push the Cube until about two inches of the bottom hang over the edge of my desk so I can connect an ethernet cable to my hub. Ditto for the USB Zip Drive.

I ejected a few CDs from the keyboard. Works flawlessly.

Oops. Make that three times I've accidentally put it to sleep.

The AirPort 1.2 connection to my modem is way better than it has ever been on my PowerBook running AirPort 1.1. For those of you out there too lazy or too fearful to upgrade your AirPort software (that's me; version 1.0 was pure hell for me, so I was gun shy — or is that "download shy"?).

The jury is out on the OS 9.0.4 that is pre-installed. I never upgraded past 9.0, since I didn't want to upgrade my software and my favorite 3rd-party OS enhancements aren't compatible with OS 9.0.4 yet.

I don't plan to get rid of the keyboard.

Final analysis: Highest ‘drool rating' ever

There are several items in the "pro" column and very few in the "con" column."

Pro: the looks are killer. Is it worth the price? For me, it's very hard to say. Remember my comments about other companies' translucent products? If they took the care and craftsmanship necessary to design the inside as much as the outside, well, they'd be able to charge a premium, also.

Don't hesitate to buy the 15" flat panel, if you are vacillating between it and the $499 monitor. Trust me. You won't regret it unless you're just a screen-real estate fiend. The clarity is the clincher spec.

The mouse is a fitting replacement for the hockey puck. Duh. What took you so long, Apple? Ditto for the keyboard.

The speakers are great, a far cry from those tinny speakers on the original iMac. I can see now that my five-piece speaker system will gather dust from now on…

Con: There needs to be more software with this machine, no doubt about. I put the Cube in a similar category to the iMac. Note to Apple, at least throw AppleWorks in the box.

The jury is still out on the proprietary ADC.

I think Apple needs to consider changing the touch-sensitive power switch, so that it gives the standard Sleep-Restart-Shutdown-Cancel dialogue, instead of putting everything to sleep. I predict we will hear from more people who will tire of accidentally brushing the button…

A 65-MB minimum is cheating the customer.

Did I mention the need for more software with the Cube? But then, Apple is getting away with it, so I don't expect that to change…

Pricing needs to come down, but it won't, since Apple has no direct competition on the PC side of the fence to force the issue.

My unabashedly biased verdict: Overall, I am very impressed with my new computer and monitor. I really wanted to put them in the front portion of the house, so that everyone could see it. This thing should never be put in a closed, untrafficked room. It should be on display so that everyone can have at least a glance at how a computer oughta be made.

Hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot DAMN.

Now, my vigil begins for OS X beta.