October 17, 2008, 9:47 PM — Apple's new MacBooks are finally here, and the upgrades they feature are more than modest. The new Apple laptops sport slimmer designs, brighter and more power-efficient LED-backlit screens, new graphics systems, buttonless trackpads, and more. The updates have led some people to wonder whether now is the time to switch from a PC to a Mac.
But as cool as the updates are, Apple has not achieved MacBook perfection. Here's a look at what Apple got right and what I would have liked to see.
Construction Done Right
Apple stressed studier construction as a reason for developing its "unibody" manufacturing technique, and sure enough, the new MacBooks are as sturdy as they come. Compare the new design with the previous one, which had an annoying tendency to crack. The two different styles of MacBook are like night and day; the old MacBook seems creaky and cheap in comparison.
Simple, Quick Access
Apple has done a good job making the MacBook's components easy to access. Just pop off the battery cover to reach the hard drive. Remove a few screws, and boom, there are the memory, motherboard, and optical drive. Do-it-yourself upgraders will be happy with a new MacBook, although we would like to see Apple reduce the number of screws guarding the way to the innards.
Ports: What Was Apple Thinking?
Now that Apple has removed FireWire from the MacBook (a decision that upset some users), the only peripheral connectors on the new models are two USB ports. If you own a printer, iPod, digital camera, external hard drive, or perhaps an external keyboard or mouse, you might run out of ports in a hurry unless you buy a USB hub. An additional built-in USB port or two would have been a welcome addition.
It's a little thing, but Apple includes a soft cloth for wiping fingerprints and smudges off the MacBook. You may want to keep it in your laptop bag, because you're going to need it. The glass display is a fingerprint magnet, and the aluminum shell readily shows fingerprints as well.
At a mere 4.5 pounds, the MacBook is light enough and compact enough to toss into your bag and take with you wherever you go. And unlike its superslim MacBook Air sibling, the new MacBook includes an optical drive and a more powerful processor. Given the choice, I think I'd take the MacBook over the Air any day, even if it means another pound and a half of weight.
A Bright Idea
Love the gloss or hate it, the MacBook's screen is flat-out beautiful. The screen itself is bright and evenly lit, thanks to its LED backlighting. I found that the glossiness is less of an issue than some folks might think.
Apple's switch from DVI to DisplayPort--and a mini version, at that--means that users will have to attach a dongle to connect their MacBook to most current displays. Although the adapter situation isn't new to the MacBook (the older models include a mini DVI port), current Mac laptop owners will have to buy yet another adapter. I do wonder if Apple's adoption of DisplayPort will help the standard catch on with other manufacturers, though.
While a buttonless trackpad is a novel idea and it functions reasonably well, it doesn't work as smoothly as it could. The lower portion of the trackpad is nice and clicky when pressed, but the farther up the trackpad you go, the harder it is to click. If you use the MacBook's trackpad just as you would use any other--clicking the button at the bottom of the trackpad with your thumb--you probably won't notice much difference. But if you press the trackpad with your pointing finger, you'll run into areas where it's impossible to push.
My initial reaction to the new MacBooks? Apple put together one solid machine. In a world of US$800 laptops, the aluminum-clad MacBook may seem a little expensive, but it's a winner. Stay tuned for our full review and lab testing of the MacBook and MacBook Pro.