Hardware review: Apple MacBook

The Apple MacBookI visited the Apple Store over the weekend and took a look at the new MacBook (the iBook replacement). Apple’s outsourced the production of this laptop to Asus, but it’s definitely still an Apple. It was supposed to arrive in June, so it’s ahead of schedule.

The overall impression is that it’s a very nice laptop, and a welcome successor to the iBook, whose design I thought was in need of improvement. The MacBook is thin, glossy, and beautiful. The design is very similar to the MacBook Pro, except that the case is plastic, not aluminum.

The option to get it in two colors is a nice touch, and coming from Apple, is a tip of the hat to PC laptop users, who are used to the black color. The two finishes are a bit different. While the outside of the computers are similarly glossy, no matter the color, the insides are another story. The white MacBook’s inside finish is a little grainier than that of the black MacBook.

Having never owned a white iBook before, I wondered what grime from everyday use would do to the keyboard and the white finish. I can say that my white iMac keyboard has stood the test of time well so far (since last September, at any rate.) I can also say that I could see grease from people’s hands on the black MacBook in the store. The grease didn’t show on the white MacBook, but there was a bit of grime. I guess you can take your pick: grease or grime. That’s why I always wash my hands before using the computer.

Apple did another nice thing by including some of the features people have come to love on the MacBook Pro as standard on the MacBook: integrated iSight, remote control with FrontRow, and the MagSafe power adapter. This is good stuff!

The wide screen is beautiful. I know people are used to the matte screens, but either finish is fine with me. What I look for in a screen is brightness, high resolution, a wide aspect ratio, and wide reading angles, and the MacBook has all those.

The lid doesn’t have a latch like the MacBook Pro or the now-extinct PowerBook. Instead, it has a notch, so you can just pull it up. What I didn’t like so much is that the lid seemed pretty flexible. If I grabbed the corners, I could bend it back and forth, and I wondered what that would do to the display after long-term use.

The keyboard is interesting. One thing I liked on the iBook was the ability to remove the keyboard in just a few seconds. That was handy in case you spilled something on it. You could rinse it, and wipe underneath. With the new MacBook, the keys rise out of the plastic casing, and they’re more square around the edges than I’m used to. They’re very similar (although the feel is much better) to the keyboards one finds on the computers inside REI stores. The design is utilitarian. But again, I wonder if Apple’s placed anything under the MacBook keyboard to guard against spills.

I wasn’t thrilled with the battery lock, which is a coin-screw. I guess that’ll come in handy for college students without a screwdriver, but I would have liked to see a latch. The coin screw will get damaged over time (it’s plastic) and it’ll look bad. The store model’s screw was already damaged.

I like that Apple’s put a Firewire port on the MacBook. I think their decision to start moving away from Firewire was a very silly one. Firewire is so much better than USB in many ways, and I’ll hopefully detail them in a future post. The digital audio inputs and outputs, which used to be standard only on the PowerBook G4 17″ models, are now standard across the line, including the MacBook. I was amazed to find out this little tidbit.

The Intel Core Duo chip is another nice surprise. Initially, there was talk of only having a single core chip on the MacBook, so this is a bonus as far as I’m concerned. The applications loaded very fast, even with only the standard 512MB of RAM. I’d like to see how the MacBook works with 1GB of RAM and Photoshop. The graphics card uses shared memory, so if you’re thinking of using this laptop for graphics-heavy applications, in particular video, you may want to upgrade to the MacBook Pro line, which has a graphics card with dedicated memory.

I wasn’t happy when I learned that it weighs 5.5 lbs. For a 13.3″ laptop, that’s a lot of weight! But I guess that’s what happens when you pack a lot of features into a tiny laptop. They add to the weight. It’s the same as my MINI. You wouldn’t think a car that small could weigh over 2,700 lbs., but it does!

Last but not least, the MacBook comes with the latest version of the iLife software, which allows for just about the easiest creation of web pages, blogs and podcasts.

Bottom line: I really liked it, and I’ve already started recommending it to my friends. But, given the shortcomings outlined above, such as the overly flexible lid and new keyboard, I’d also recommend buying an AppleCare Plan, just in case.

(Photo courtesy of Apple. This review can also be read on BlogCritics.)

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