That picture changes somewhat when we look at Apple’s most recent notebooks. Sure, they’re closed-off and don’t run many games out of the box, but you could say the same about most Windows laptops. And while Apple’s MacBook Pros do carry a heavy markup, the $999 and $1,299 MacBooks aren’t really all that much pricier than comparable Windows laptops (more on that in a short while).
Last month, I succumbed to temptation and purchased the lattera $1,299 MacBook with the standard hardware bundle. As a die-hard fan of Lenovo’s ThinkPad line of laptops, I didn’t make this choice lightly. However, the MacBook’s build quality and features proved too tempting to resist. Read on as I share my thoughts on Apple’s latest and greatest consumer laptop and how it compares to its Windows-based brethren.
Like father, unlike son
Where to begin? Perhaps to really understand the MacBook, one needs to go back and study its original ancestor: the iBook. Apple had been making laptops for years before that system, but following the return of co-founder Steve Jobs, the company’s engineers got busy making an affordable consumer laptop to mirror the iMac. Amid considerable buzz on rumor sites (not to mention many poorly rendered 3D mockups), Apple finally unleashed the fruit of its labor in the summer of 1999.
The first iBook cost $1,599 (that’s over two grand in today’s dollars), looked not unlike a candy-coated toilet seat, and featured a 12.1″ 800×600 display, a 300MHz PowerPC G3 processor, 32 megs of RAM, and a 3.2GB hard drive. It ran Mac OS 8.6 (and later Mac OS 9), an operating system that was looking increasingly antiquated due to its lack of protected memory and pre-emptive multitasking. Application crashes often took down the whole system, and because of the non-x86 processor, running Windows was only possible through slow emulators. The Apple faithful loved the iBook anyway.
Almost a decade has passed since then, and aside from the Apple logo on the display lid, you’d have a hard time finding similarities between the iBook and the new MacBook. On the hardware front, Apple has switched from questionably adequate PowerPC chips to Intel’s latest and greatest 45nm Core 2 Duo processors, which it couples with very capable Nvidia integrated graphics. On the software side of things, the MacBook comes with Mac OS X 10.5an OS that really has more in common with Nextstep and FreeBSD than Mac OS 9and it can run Windows Vista natively. The latest OS X release even includes a tool that makes it easy to dual-boot with Windows.
Apple has come very far in the aesthetics and build quality departments, too. The new MacBook’s shell is carved out of an aluminum brick, which results in a machine that’s at the same time sleek, sturdy, and sexy. Of course, whereas Apple intended for the original iBook to be a kid-friendly consumer system, the aluminum MacBook is more of a luxury laptop by today’s standards. But I digress.
Before we get started, let’s have a quick look at what kind of hardware the new MacBook is packing:
|Processor||Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz (3MB L2 cache, 1066MHz FSB)|
|Chipset/graphics||Nvidia GeForce 9400M|
|Display||13.3″ TFT with 1280×800 resolution and LED backlight|
|Storage||2.5″ 160GB Serial ATA hard drive (5,400 RPM)
8x slot-loading SuperDrive (DVD+/-R DL, DVD+/-RW, CD-RW)
|Audio||Stereo HD audio via Realtek codec
|Ports||2 USB 2.0
1 mini DisplayPort
1 RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
1 combined analog/digital stereo output
1 combined analog/digital line in
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
|Input devices||Full-sized keyboard
Glass multi-touch trackpad
|Dimensions||12.78″ x 8.94″ x 0.95″ (325 x 227 x 24 mm)|
|Battery||45-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery|
That’s a pretty well-rounded feature set for a notebook these daysespecially with the GeForce 9400M, which elegantly rolls core logic and surprisingly decent graphics processing features into a single chip. The Core 2 Duo is one of the latest 45nm models from Intel’s Centrino 2 lineup, too, so it mixes power efficiency and great clock-for-clock performance.
The only sour note in my view is the mini-DisplayPort connector, which requires adapters to hook up to… well, pretty much anything except Apple’s own 24″ LED-backlit desktop monitor. DVI and VGA adapters both cost $29, and the dual-link DVI one will set you back $99. That’s regrettable, although I should point out that the first-gen MacBook featured a mini-DVI port that also needed adapters for pretty much everything. Fans of the old MacBook may lament the disappearance of FireWire, as well, but that’s not a major drawback unless you really must use a 13.3″ laptop for video editing.
You might interject that those specs don’t really justify the $1,299 price tag. I won’t argue for a minute that Apple products don’t carry premiums, but the MacBook seems like one of the least marked up. Think about it: perks like LED display backlighting, a slot-loading DVD burner, 802.11n Wi-Fi, a 45nm processor, and competent graphics usually come as options in other notebooks. Price out a comparable Windows system with the same features, and you may be surprised to find the price tag climbing well over $1,000. I tried it with Dell’s XPS M1330, and the price rose to $1,344 with a similar feature set (albeit with a 2.1GHz processor, 3GB of RAM, and 250GB hard driveDell didn’t offer other choices).
The difference here is simply that Apple doesn’t let users opt out of the fancy extras. Whether you agree with that approach depends largely on your needs and budget, but don’t go thinking Apple is robbing all of its customers blind. You can make a pretty compelling case for the MacBook’s unique industrial design, too.
Instead of going with a pretty plastic enclosure, Apple has clad the new MacBook entirely with aluminum. Not only that, but it has carved the top part of the enclosure (including the palm rest, keyboard holes, and side ports) out of a single aluminum brick. That removes the need for a separate internal “cage” to ensure structural integrity, and it means the MacBook doesn’t creak, bend, or budge at all when you pick it up or rest your hands on it to type. You can’t say the same for most other notebooks, including Lenovo’s notoriously rugged ThinkPad laptops.
I don’t know if Apple uses the same aluminum brick-carving techniques to make the display lid and bottom panels, but both of them are made of equally sturdy-feeling aluminum. That’s an especially reassuring trait for the lid, since the MacBook’s LED-backlit display is very, very thin (about 6 mm by my count). The weakest link of the bunch might be the removable panel that conceals the battery and hard drive. It’s not completely flush with the other bottom panel on my MacBook, and there’s an ever-so-slight amount of horizontal play that allows it to wiggle back and forth a tad. I’ve seen users cry and moan about this issue on forum threads, but judging by the design of the retention mechanism, I don’t see any way there couldn’t be at least a small amount of wiggle. Fault or slight design weakness, I can’t say I care much, especially since this is the only part of the MacBook that has any play at all.
Despite its thinness and slight wiggle, the removable battery/drive cover feels very sturdy and doesn’t flex under pressure. You can easily pop it off by pushing and then pulling a small lever above it, and doing so reveals the battery and hard drive, both outfitted with transparent plastic tabs to make removal easier. Apple has etched instructions for upgrading memory on the inside of the panel, but don’t look for SO-DIMM slots under the battery or HDDyou’ll have to unscrew the other bottom panel and expose the whole motherboard to access them.
Part of me likes the concept of having an easy-to-remove cover under a laptop to upgrade memory, but practically speaking, I’ve only upgraded my ThinkPad’s RAM once in four years. I may decide to cram 4GB of memory in the MacBook one day, but I don’t expect to have to make that kind of upgrade on a regular basis. Mind you, I may never replace the hard drive, either, and Apple has made that really easy to upgrade for some reason. Perhaps it’s betting users will want to slip in a solid-state drive once prices go down.
What’s really striking about the folded MacBook is just how little sticks out. Turn over your typical Windows laptop, and you’ll usually see an array of grooves, bumps, panels, vents, and labels, including the all-important Windows product key sticker. By contrast, the MacBook’s bottom panel is almost as bare and elegant as the top one. Some might complain about form over function, but aside from the hidden DIMM slots, I don’t see any major drawbacks with Apple’s approach. And I find it refreshing to see a well-designed laptop with an underside that doesn’t look like an afterthought.
Lifting the lid
Removing the battery and HDD cover is all well and good, but most of us will want to open the display lid first and have a look at our work space. Here, too, Apple does almost everything differently. You don’t need to open a latch to free the lid from the base, because it’s held in place magnetically. Just pull it up. The black display bezel is flush with the TFT panel, and a glossy glass screen covers them both. Instead of a single block wedged into the enclosure, the keyboard has each key poking out through the aluminum enclosure. And the trackpad has no buttons.
Let’s talk about the display first. I know many of you hate glossy displays, and I’m not going to argue with personal preferences. However, I will say the brightness of the MacBook display’s LED backlight more than makes up for the glossiness. Unless you’re sitting with your back to a window, you’re probably not going to notice any reflections outside the bezel. Besides, it’s not like matte notebook displays aren’t vulnerable to glare. You just need a sufficiently bright backlight to cancel out other light sources in both cases, and the MacBook’s does a fine job of that.
Speaking of the backlight, I thought my MacBook was flaky when I noticed the display brightness dim while browsing the web. Further investigation revealed that the backlight was adjusting automatically depending on how much light the integrated iSight camera perceived. Covering the camera lowered the brightness, while putting it under my desk lamp made the display noticeably brighter. I turned off the feature because it seemed to adjust brightness when I leaned forward too much, but I can definitely see the appeal for people who need to use their laptops on the go.
One aspect where I think Apple could have done better is the display resolution. 1280×800 may be good enough for a 13.3″ display, but in a $1,299 laptop, 1440×900 would have been more appropriate. That said, Mac OS X and the multi-touch trackpad really make dealing with limited screen real estate a breeze.
What about the keyboard? In one of our podcasts last month, TR blogger Matt Butrovich said getting used to the MacBook’s unusual “chicklet”-style keyboard took him about a month. I expected a similar learning curve, especially since I’m particularly picky about things like tactile feedback. Much to my surprise, I was able to rattle away effortlessly after just an hour or two. Lenovo’s ThinkPad keyboard was and remains my gold standard, but I find the MacBook’s keys pleasantly comfortable. They need less pressure to hit, and they’re just a wee bit bigger. The completely flat design feels a little unusual at first, but because of the marked gaps between each key, you rarely find your finger hitting another key by accident.
While I like the keyboard, I should probably mention the finish issues I’ve seen both on mine and on display models in stores. Some of the keys are slanted. I can’t see it by staring down at the keyboard, but if I look a bit closer from the front, the function keys, the tab key, and the “1” number key aren’t perfectly horizontal. This flaw doesn’t impede typing at all, but it’s a bit incongruous in light of Apple’s usual attention to detail and the finish on the rest of the notebook. Here again, some users are crying and moaning about this problem on Internet forums. I’m personally not bothered (I rarely look at the keyboard anyway), but you may want to shop for another laptop if small imperfections like that bother you.
Below the keyboard lies the glass trackpad. Apple is treading some new ground here, since this trackpad is the biggest I’ve ever seen on a notebook, and it doesn’t have buttons taking up space. Instead, the front side of the trackpad depresses to work as a single button. I normally prefer the TrackPoint “eraser head” pointer on ThinkPads and some other laptops, but I’ve become a big fan of the MacBook trackpad. The large, smooth surface is very comfortable to use, and it leaves plenty of room for gestures in Mac OS X. Wanna right-click? Just click (or tap, depending on how you have the thing set up) with two fingers instead of one. Scroll? Just glide two fingers up, down, or to the sides. Zoom in and out? Make pinching motions. Go back and forward in Safari? Sweep three fingers back and forth. My favorite gestures are the ones that drive OS X’s Expose: move four fingers down to get an overview of all open windows, and move the same fingers up to conceal open windows and show the desktop. Window management doesn’t get any better than this, folks.
Before we go on, I should spend a little while exploring the MacBook’s sides. Apple is quite economical there, too: the left side plays host to all six of the MacBook’s ports, plus the very handy MagSafe power connector. Like the display lid, the MagSafe plug uses magnets to stay attached to the laptop’s base. It latches on quite securely and almost guides your hand in the process, but it’ll unfasten just as well if you trip over the power cord. Handy. To the right of the port cluster, you’ll see a small, unlabeled, round button next to a row of tiny holes. Press the button, and the holes light up to tell you how much battery life you have left. Also handy.
The right side of the MacBook houses nothing but the slot-loading SuperDrive. I’ve used laptops with front-mounted optical drives before, and they were always a pain, so I’m definitely happy with that placement. I also enjoy the slot-loading aspect, if only because it makes inserting a DVD that much quicker and more foolproof. Not having the drive’s innards slide out each time is a nice plus, as well. Now I’m just paranoid about getting crumbs in the slot (even if I shouldn’t be, because there’s what looks like a felt pad keeping it shut).
You won’t find any ports at the back. That’s because the MacBook’s hinge design makes the display slide over that part when you open it, and the rear of the notebook body serves as the exhaust vent. You can feel hot air blowing down under the display when the fan kicks in, but you can’t see (or block, for that matter) the vents unless you’re looking for them. Thankfully, the fan rarely kicks in to a noticeable degree. In daily web browsing and desktop activities, the MacBook is whisper-quiet and lukewarm to the touch. I can’t say the same about my ThinkPad, whose fan has always started emitting a pulsating whine after a few minutes of activity.
The operating system
Although it’s essentially a PC notebook in an unusual enclosure, the MacBook really stands out from the crowd because of its operating system. Apple has been selling computers with its own graphical OS since before Windows even existed, and it’s not about to stop nowespecially when it’s more convinced of Mac OS’s superiority than ever.
Blindly touting complete superiority is an Apple tradition, of course, but Mac OS hit a really rough patch in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Apple had attempted a transition to a modern OS with protected memory and all that jazz in the mid-90s, but the effort (code-named Copland) essentially failed. As late as the year 2000, Mac users therefore had to put up with an antiquated OS when their PC-using pals were enjoying things like protected memory and smooth multitasking with Windows 98 (and, later, Windows 2000).
Luckily, during his exile from Apple, Steve Jobs got some smart people together and had them create Nextstep, an object-oriented OS with *nix roots. For an idea of just how far ahead Nextstep was for its time, just watch this 1992 video, in which Steve Jobs showcases features like platform-agnostic network browsing and dragging voice recordings into e-mails. I won’t go into the detailed history, but Jobs essentially returned to Apple and brought Nextstep back with him in 1996. Four years later, Mac OS X was born.
The transition to OS X was a long and difficult one, however. Running old Mac apps on the new Nextstep-derived OS involved using an emulation layer, and it took several releases until professional users deemed OS X mature and fast enough to use on a day-to-day basis. I believe OS X really hit its stride with release 10.3 in 2003, and subsequent updates have turned it into a fierce and very capable competitor to Windows.
Wait, how do you uninstall applications again?
Of course, for a Windows user, getting around OS X involves learning a few new tricks. While most Linux distributions try to cater to Windows users by offering familiar shortcuts and menus, OS X really has a personality of its ownone part classic Mac OS, two parts Nextstep, and one part “holy crap, look at those iPod sales numbers.”
If you plan to use a Mac without loading Windows on it, you’ll have to rewire your brain to hit Command-Q instead of ALT-F4, to install programs by dragging and dropping them into the Applications folder, to stop trying to maximize windows (you usually can’t), and to make peace with the concept of applications staying open after you’ve closed all of their windows. If you open a command prompt, don’t be surprised if the “ls /” command lists /usr, /bin, and /etc directories alongside /Applications and /Users, either. Coming to grips with those eccentricities is easier said than done, even from the perspective of a former Mac user like myself.
Assuming you’re willing to give it a chance, I think you may well find yourself liking OS X. Subjectively speaking, everything feels just a bit smoother and more polished than in Windows. It’s kind of like hopping from a Toyota Camry into a Mercedes C-class. Both are excellent cars, but everything is just a little bit nicer (and more expensive) in the latter. I found myself enjoying both the little things, like Apple’s font choices and user-interface animations, and major features like the standardized search field in most apps’ help menus.
For a laptop, three things make OS X particularly pleasant to use: Expose, Spaces, and the seamless trackpad gesture integration. I have two monitors hooked up to my desktop PC, so I rarely find myself running out of screen real estate. Moving to a small laptop display makes me feel a bit claustrophobic, though, since web browsing takes up most of the screen and I constantly have to switch windows. As I noted on the previous page, Expose coupled with the new multi-touch trackpad makes window management incredibly smooth. Gliding four fingers down to get an overview of open windows has become a reflex for me, and I think it’s a shame most other notebooks don’t offer anything similar.
The same goes for Spaces, which is essentially Apple’s take on the virtual desktop concept. I can have my VNC viewer running on one virtual desktop and my web browser on another, and Spaces lets me effortlessly switch between the two with a keyboard shortcut of my choosing. Apple doesn’t let you tie virtual desktop navigation to trackpad gestures, unfortunately, but I still find the feature very useful.
Is there anything else prospective switchers should know? Maybe a couple. For one, be prepared to hunt down (and pay for) new applications. You’ll find a handful of cross-platform favoriteslike Firefox, Openoffice.org, and Skypebut you’ll often have to rely on somewhat different tools to do the same things you do in Windows. Expect to trade Trillian or Pidgin for Adium, uTorrent for Transmission, and Paint.NET for Pixelmator. That brings me to my next point: little third-party OS X apps often cost money. I do remember a similar prevalence of shareware apps in the 1990s, but I expected freeware to have largely taken over. Not so. My quest for a full-featured text editor with macro support for OS X led me to TextMate, which costs a whopping $51, and BBEdit, which will set you back $125. Desperate users can turn to Linux apps through port schemes like Finch, though.
My biggest gripe with OS X is the lack of package management. Apple makes the installation process extremely easy for 90% of applications, since you simply have to drag an application file (technically a folder with a .app extension) to the Applications directory. To uninstall, just drag that same file to the trash. Simple, right? Yes, except when you encounter apps or tools that come with .pkg installers. Those tend to scatter files throughout OS X’s directory tree, and many of them don’t provide a simple way of uninstallingin several cases, I had to use a menu option to see which files the installer extracted before hunting them down individually in the Finder. Even simple .app packages can spread files all over the place, although tools like AppCleaner exist to remove those more cleanly. Still, that’s a far cry from Ubuntu’s Synaptic package manager and even Windows’ Programs and Features control panel.
From my previous brushes with OS X, I’ve usually been favorable to the idea of Apple selling its operating system to PC users. After getting to know it a little more, though, I don’t know if that’d be such a good idea. I think OS X works so well because Apple has complete control over the hardware behind it, and it can elegantly intertwine the two to work smoothly. I just can’t see third-party hardware makers doing the same kind of work, like implementing their own gestures with another kind of trackpad. And without a straightforward package manager, users might have trouble with things like rolling back driver releases and uninstalling fishy adware apps (let’s not pretend OS X is immune to that sort of thing). The absence of features like Windows’ System Restore could make troubleshooting problems a little trickier, too.
If Apple wanted to start competing with Windows in the PC market, I expect it would need to do a considerable amount of work to support enough third-party hardware out of the box and allow users to add and remove hardware and software more easily. Like it or not, Windows does a pretty great job of running on just about any PC. Speaking of which…
The MacBook doesn’t have a BIOS, so don’t expect to just slip in a Windows installation DVD and get things going. However, Apple makes installing Windows trivial thanks to Boot Camp. Accessible in OS X’s Utilities folder, the Boot Camp tool seamlessly partitions your hard drive and offers to let you reboot into the Windows installation DVD. Installation goes on as normal from there, although you do need to select and format the right drive partition.
Once you’re in the Windows desktop, you can simply pop in the OS X restore disc, and a friendly Windows installer takes care of loading up drivers. The installer also adds a little system tray tool through which you can change settings for the trackpad, keyboard function keys, and infrared remote support, among other things. Once you’re all set, you can boot into either Windows or OS X by holding the option key at startup. Cool.
Update: It looks like the MacBook’s BIOS compatibility module does let you boot from a Windows DVD out of the box by holding down the option key. You’ll still need Boot Camp to partition your hard drive without erasing OS X, however.
You can tell Windows wasn’t the first thing on Apple’s mind when it made the new MacBook, though. The default Realtek audio drivers seem to prevent Service Pack 1 from installing in Vista, and when I grabbed the latest driver from Realtek’s website, the sound cut off altogether. The trackpad implementation is also a little buggy. While you can use two-finger gestures for scrolling, depressing the trackpad with your thumb makes the cursor move, and right-clicking in tap-to-click mode involves depressing the trackpad with three fingers (instead of just tapping with two fingers like in OS X). Also, leaving the pointer in a text field can causes the system to erase random chunks of textpresumably because one’s palms come in contact with the trackpad surface.
Despite those little kinks, Windows Vista works just like you’d expectand it’s fast. Since the MacBook has a decent graphics processor built in, you can also run current PC games well above slide-show speeds, provided you don’t mind turning down detail settings. I still wouldn’t recommend the MacBook if you’re planning to run Windows as your primary OS, however. Apple could very well iron out the issues I just mentioned in future driver updates, but Boot Camp driver support just feels too flaky for everyday use right now.
That said, you don’t have to dual-boot to run Windows apps on your Mac. Thanks to the magic of hardware virtualization, virtual machines like VMware Fusion and Parallels can run Windows inside OS X with a minimal performance penalty. You don’t even need to have Windows open in its own, isolated window: both of those VMs support running Windows apps within the OS X desktop. If you don’t want to buy a Windows license, you can also use CodeWeavers’ CrossOver, which is essentially a pimped-out Mac version of the Wine compatibility layer for Linux. CrossOver doesn’t run everything, but it can take care of things like Microsoft Office and Valve’s Source Engine games.
Performance and battery life
Unfortunately, time constraints and other obligations prevented me from running a detailed set of desktop productivity benchmarks on the MacBook. With a 2GHz Penryn Core 2 Duo and couple gigs of RAM, though, this machine is more than speedy enough to handle just about anything you’d want to run on a 13.3″ notebook. Heck, the CPU in this thing might actually be slightly faster than the one in my desktop PC (a first-gen Core 2 Duo running at 2.13GHz).
I ended up testing two things: gaming performance and battery life. For gaming, I ran Valve’s popular team-based shooter Team Fortress 2 with a custom timedemo at two custom detail levels. I set all the options to “high” and reflections to “reflect world” for my “High” preset. For my “Medium” preset, I toned down shader detail to “low,” other detail settings to “medium,” and reflections to “simple reflections.” I also disabled color correction, motion blur, and high-dynamic-range lighting. Both tests were run with antialiasing, anisotropic filtering, and vsync disabled.
As you can see, TF2 runs quite well on the MacBook. Even at the high detail level, I found frame rates stable enough for relatively smooth gameplay. Actually getting kills was a different story, since I was too lazy to find a spare mouse and ended up using the trackpad to look around and fire. Anyway, the MacBook isn’t a gaming machine by any means, but it’s a surprisingly capable backup if you’re far from home and feel like hopping in a multiplayer game with your friends. (Just don’t tell them you’re using a Mac.)
What about CrossOver Games? CodeWeavers’ tool allowed me to install Steam and TF2 inside OS X without a hitch, although the actual game ran in DirectX 8.1 mode and had a few minor graphical glitches. Still, performance was shockingly decent:
I had to use slightly different settings in these tests, since CrossOver’s DirectX 8.1 compatibility layer doesn’t support graphical options like HDR lighting and motion blur. Nevertheless, you clearly don’t have to install Windows to play TF2 (and presumably other Valve games) on a Mac. The CrossOver Games compatibility list includes a healthy number of other titles, too, from recent ones like Prey and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion to older games like Fallout II and Deux Ex.
At this point, die-hard Apple fans might point out that you can get Mac versions of recent games like Call of Duty 4 and Spore. I won’t disagree, but considering the MacBook’s obvious unfitness as a primary gaming platform, I wouldn’t recommend buying another copy of a game just for it. If anything, loading up a leftover copy of Windows XP with Boot Camp is probably the cheapest and easiest way to game on the MacBook. While CrossOver Games is neat, not everybody will want to pony up 50 bucks for the full version.
Testing battery life was a bit more straightforward. With Wi-Fi on, Bluetooth off, and the display brightness set to around 66%, the MacBook stayed on almost exactly four hours while I wrote this review, browsed the web, watched YouTube videos, and installed some software. In Windows Vista, I hit the 50% mark in just an hour and 18 minutes with a similar config and the “Power saver” preset enabled. That’s another reason not to use Windows as the primary OS on this systemat least not for the time being. The MacBook can’t exactly match a new Eee PC’s battery longevity in OS X, either, but four hours of desktop productivity ain’t half bad for a full-featured 13.3″ laptop.
I sought five things when looking for a replacement notebook: a rugged chassis, a 13.3″ display with LED backlighting, a good trackpad and keyboard, a modern and full-featured operating system, and the ability to run Windows if necessary. After about a week and a half of use, I can now say the MacBook has fulfilled four of those five requirements brilliantly. Windows support still leaves something to be desired, but I’m very happy with OS X and don’t expect having to use Vista on a regular basis. And who knowsmaybe Apple will iron out Boot Camp kinks in the near future. I’m not holding my breath, though.
I think Apple has a winner with the new MacBook overall. Sure, this is an expensive laptop, but it’s also years ahead of most Windows notebooks in the build quality, human interface, and window management departments. My ThinkPad feels kludgy and awkward to use without Expose, gestures, or a giant trackpad; and even its build quality isn’t anywhere near the MacBook’s. For years, I boasted about the ThinkPad’s tough magnesium display lid, but I can easily bend it and make funny patterns on the TFT. I can’t do the same with the MacBook’s much thinner aluminum lid. Perks like MagSafe, a magnetic display “latch,” a slot-loading DVD drive, and a concealed heat exhaust vent only add to the MacBook’s design cred. It just looks gorgeous, too.
That leaves the big question: should you buy one? I won’t turn into an Apple fanboy and say you should get a MacBook no matter what, because that’d be very poor advice. You shouldn’t get the MacBook if you need to run Windows on a day-to-day basis. You shouldn’t get the MacBook if you want an ultra-light, ultra-portable system that can run on one battery for a whole work day. You shouldn’t get the MacBook if you’d be just as happy with a 10″ Eee PC instead.
However, if you’re looking for a portable (but not too portable) desktop replacement, if you don’t mind paying extra for the luxuries Apple offers, and if you don’t mind getting used to Mac OS X, I think you may be extremely pleased with the MacBook. Just prepare yourself for snide comments from your PC-using friends (I’ve gotten a surprising number already), and try to keep the reality distortion field from making you build a shrine to Steve Jobs in your basement.