Apple MacBook review


12 Dec 2008

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The inevitable pomp and ceremony accompanying the arrival of the new Apple MacBook and MacBook Pro was akin to the second coming. And while we may not have got a so-called ‘Jesus’ device like the iPhone with the release of Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook, the refresh does showcase a number of interesting advances in both design and technology.

Design

Apple has cranked the design wheel up a notch with the new MacBook, moving in one smooth swoop from plastic fantastic to cool metal. By this stage, Apple has a tried and tested formula: removing unnecessary clutter from its designs allows it to distill a purer, prettier product with clean, uncomplicated lines, all of which appeals to modern consumer tastes.

The MacBook is no exception. Hewn from a single block of aluminium using computer numerical control – the same method the aerospace industry uses to build mission-critical spacecraft components, no less – the brushed aluminium shell of the new MacBook is a great proponent for industrial chic.

The aim of this new design process was to produce a stronger and sturdier laptop, which Apple certainly appears to have achieved. There is a comforting heft to the MacBook – and none of the flimsiness you often associate with 13-inch laptops – although at 4.5 pounds, it’s actually half a pound lighter than the previous generation. And its sturdy build belies a machine that Apple has clearly put on a crash diet – the new Macbook’s frame has been slimmed down to just 0.95 inches thick from the previous 1.08 inches.

On un-boxing the MacBook, one of the first things that strikes you is the spacious layout Apple has managed to squeeze into a 13-inch frame. Nothing is cramping the style of this machine, with room enough for an ample keyboard and a generous trackpad.

Trackpad

Apple’s blurb on the trackpad is that there are no buttons because the entire trackpad is a button, but I’d have to disagree with Mr Jobs on that score. While the trackpad is great, really responsive to touch, don’t think you can go a-clickin’ everywhere on it and expect results. The higher up the trackpad you move, the more resistant your clicking becomes, so you really just end up clicking on the lower half, as you would with any two-button trackpad.

Just in case you’re thinking Apple’s fetish with pared-down design has gone step too far though, you can assign the corners of the trackpad to act as a right-click. However, I’m not sure I see the reasoning behind Apple’s omission of the extra button. While it reads well in the headlines and is great for building hype, in practice, it left me a little cold. I found squeezing my finger into the very right hand corner to right-click something more than a tad awkward, which is certainly not something we’re used to when it comes to an Apple product.

That said, however, Apple has made the trackpad some 39pc larger this time round, and although its larger size is mostly to accommodate the new one-button innovation, its generous size makes for a welcome relief from the cramped clicking on less-than-generous trackpads that hampers other laptops.

The multi-touch gestures the trackpad facilitates are also an excellent way to swiftly navigate and switch between applications. Various two-, three- and four-fingered gestures will allow you to do things such as flip through your photos libraries and applications at pace, zoom in and rotate images and quickly access Exposé mode.

Hardware

Although we tend to fixate on the design of new Apple products, there have been a number of changes under the hood of the new MacBook, making it none too shabby on the old specs front. The most notable is the addition of the NVIDIA 9400M graphics chip, which aims to add speed to your gaming experiences and provide videos and movies with richer colours and finer details. The MacBook is available in either a 2GHz or 2.4GHz model, with 2GB of DDR3 memory. The 2GHz sports a 160GB hard drive, while the 2.4GHz has a 250GB hard drive. Memory on both models is expandable to up to 4GB.

Keyboard

The 2.4GHz MacBook comes with a backlit keyboard, which provides ample illumination so that if the MacBook wasn’t so teeny you could probably land a 747 on it in heavy fog. However, while you won’t be putting a finger wrong in dark conditions, quite a bit of light does spill out from between the keys, which some may find distracting.

Display

Gone is the matt LCD screeen of yore. The refreshed MacBook comes with a glossy 13.3-inch LED backlit screen designed to provide stronger contrasts and more intense colours. Be warned though, the high gloss can be very distracting if you’re using the MacBook in a bright environment or in low-light conditions. So while I’m a big fan of The Wire, I did find it slightly disconcerting to have my face taking part in virtually every dimly lit scene. Despite this quibble, the screen colours are good with the addition of the NVIDIA 9400M graphics chip.

Pros: It’s Apple, so it almost goes without saying that the design is super-slick and super-cool; trackpad offers great multi-touch gestures; audio from built-in speakers is clear and strong

Cons: Glossy screen makes viewing in brightly-lit and low-light conditions difficult

Verdict: Strong specs and beautiful design. If you can look past the problems the glossy screens throw up, these little bundles of joy are not a bad Apple investment.

Price: €1,199 for the 2GHz MacBook, and €1499 for the 2.4GHz MacBook.

A white 2.1 GHz version of the 13-inch MacBook is also available, but what with white now looking all cheap and nasty beside the cool sophistication of brushed aluminium, this model starts from €949.

All available from www.apple.com.

By Jennifer Yau

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