Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Apple MacBook (13-inch, 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo)

CNET editor's review

Reviewed by ; Justin Jaffe
Reviewed May 17, 2006

Yesterday afternoon, our executive editor ran down to the Apple store on Market Street in San Francisco and nabbed one of the first MacBooks to be sold. (He also witnessed an alleged thief get gang-tackled by Apple's beefy security detail.) You can see the MacBook unpacking process in all of its pornographic detail in CNET News.com's slide show and on Engadget and Gizmodo.

I've been playing with the MacBook since then and have come to a preliminary verdict: Apple may have finally nailed it. The company has corrected a handful of the iBook's shortcomings, hit a totally reasonable price point (at least for the $1,099 baseline white model), and finally delivered a laptop with a 13.3-inch display, which I believe offers a better compromise between size and portability than any other screen size on the market. Although plenty of laptops out there start for many hundreds of dollars less than the MacBook, I believe that with the MacBook, the value gap between Apple laptops and the PC competition has narrowed significantly.

After spending a few hours with the MacBook, some early impressions:

Size, weight, materials: At 5.1 pounds, the MacBook weighs about a half-pound more than the 12-inch PowerBook; it's totally portable, though not exactly lightweight. It measures about an inch thick, 12.75 inches wide, and just shy of 9 inches deep. I'll get into more detail about the keyboard and display below, but suffice to say that the MacBook hits the sweet spot between portability and usability, much like the Sony VAIO SZ, another 13.3-inch laptop. The MacBook is glossy on the outside and matte on the inside; it feels sturdily built and quite well put together.

Latchless lid: Apple is getting a lot of design mileage out of magnetic attraction. The MacBook does without a physical latch, instead, using magnets to hold the lid closed. Like the MagSafe AC adapter, it's a perfect solution. A small notch on the front edge affords just enough room for your finger, and the lid and case separate very nicely.

Keyboard: This is perhaps the MacBook's most notable feature. It looks markedly different from what we're accustomed to with an Apple laptop. The keys have a flat top surface and are more rounded and less jammed together than the MacBook Pro's and PowerBook's. And with about half as much travel as other Apple keyboards, the MacBook's keyboard offers a considerably firmer typing experience. So far, I really like it, though I'm hesitant to make a final pronouncement until I spend more time using it.

Touch pad: Yes, there's still only one mouse button. Apple seems to be overcompensating for it, too, because the touch pad is simply huge--about the size of a Treo--and considerably bigger than the 15-inch MacBook Pro's. It still features all of the same magical, two-finger scrolling functionality that we've seen from the others, though.

Display: The MacBook's glossy display is a bit schizophrenic. It looks really nice from straight on: bright, crisp, and clear, and the 1,280x800 native resolution makes text readable and still gives you enough screen real estate to have a few windows open at once. From the side, however, the level of brightness drops off considerably, and like all glossy displays, the MacBook's picks up some serious glare from ambient light sources. If you work primarily in a dimly lit, cave-style office, you'll love it; if you spend a lot of time working outside, the glare may be too distracting. The MacBook's display delivered 230cd/m² on our Minolta luminance meter, compared to about 260cd/m² on the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Both are considerably above average for laptops.

Components: Again, a very competitive set for the price. Our $1,299 unit came with a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo processor; 512MB of RAM; integrated Intel graphics; and a 60GB, 5,400rpm SATA hard drive. (The baseline $1,099 may be an even better deal. We'll know for sure after we test both of them.) The Dell Inspiron E1405, which has a larger display but weighs about the same as the MacBook, costs about $1,000, with an Intel Core Solo processor but otherwise configured as similarly as possible. Based on what we've found with the MacBook Pro, we think we can expect pretty competitive performance from the MacBook, though we're less sure about its battery life; we're currently running it through our benchmarks and will post our results as soon as possible.

Audio: Like the 12-inch PowerBook, the MacBook's speakers sit along the back edge underneath the screen hinge (when the lid is open) and somehow still deliver rich, multilayered sound. It's not as loud or powerful on the low end as what you'll get from the Dell Inspiron E1405, for example, but it's crisp, clear, and totally decent.

Ports and connections: This is a rock-solid lineup for the price. On the plus side, you get an optical output, which the iBook lacked and which is an awesomely high-end feature for a $1,099 laptop. On the downside, the combined DVI/VGA output requires an adapter (sold separately), and there's no ExpressCard slot, which narrows the MacBook's opportunities for future TV tuner and WWAN connectivity.

Left edge: MagSafe AC connector, DVI/VGA output, one 400Mbps FireWire port, two USB 2.0 ports, optical output, headphone jack, security cable slot
Front: battery indicator, infrared sensor (for the included remote) .

Right edge: slot-loading, multiformat DVD burner.

Networking: 802.11g wireless, Gigabit Ethernet, and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR; modem not included

Other notable features: On top of everything else, you get Apple's best-of-breed software package, which includes almost everything that comes with the higher-end MacBook Pro; a built-in iSight Webcam for videoconferencing; and a small, iPod Shuffle-looking remote for controlling iTunes, DVDs, photos, and videos from afar.

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