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Summary:

The new 13-inch aluminum MacBook from Apple certainly looks like the MacBook Pro line, albeit much smaller due to the smaller screen.  It sports the same unibody aluminum case that Apple is so proud of and admittedly it makes the MacBook seem more rigid while handling […]

Cimg0915_2The new 13-inch aluminum MacBook from Apple certainly looks like the MacBook Pro line, albeit much smaller due to the smaller screen.  It sports the same unibody aluminum case that Apple is so proud of and admittedly it makes the MacBook seem more rigid while handling it than the older MacBooks.  The construction definitely makes the new MacBook appear very thin, if a tad heavy at 4.5 pounds.  It’s a svelte 4.5 pounds though and carrying it around so far has been very easy.

The MacBook closed looks almost seamless, all sleek metal with soft round edges.  It looks like it’s been sculpted from a single block of aluminum, oh wait that’s how they make them now.  I’ve only had this MacBook for barely a day but it’s been used almost continually for that time so here are my first impressions of the "MacBook lite".

Outside

The biggest difference between this new MacBook and the Pro line isthe absence of the Firewire port.  I only use that port for connectingmy video camera on my old MacBook Pro so I am sure I will miss thatability but that’s it.  It’s obvious that Apple was trying to cram asmuch hardware as possible into the thin case and I expect they just ranout of room.  Better to have it, not a deal-breaker for me to not.

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Most outside edges of the MacBook are devoid of much since Appledecided to put all of the connectors for peripherals on the left side.They are very close together in a tight row of power, Ethernet, twoUSB, mini-display port, audio in, audio out and Kensington lock slot.When I say close together I really mean it and I expect that to try andconnect eight things at once would be near impossible as the ports arevery close together.  The SuperDrive is on the right side of the unitand since the slot is so close to the surface the MacBook rests on Ifind I have to be careful when inserting/ ejecting a DVD.

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Tight connectors on the left; battery LED on the right (green blips)

The bottom of the MacBook has the new battery/ hard drivecompartment that opens by pushing on a lever that pops the compartmentcover up.  A simple pull and the battery and hard drive are easilyaccessible so drive replacements can now easily be performed by theowner.  Memory upgrades require the big plate behind this compartmentto be removed to access the memory slots.  That requires the removal ofeight screws.  There are no vents nor anything else other than fourrubber feet on the bottom of the device.

Screen

Popping open the lid, something that is simple since the "latch" isnow magnetic, is done by pulling up on the little slot in the middle ofthe front edge of the laptop while closed.  Pull up and the lid slidesopen effortlessly, and it can be pushed quite far back to get theproper viewing angle.  That’s important as the glossy LED backlitscreen must be properly angled to get the most vivid image displayed.That image is very bright and the color pops nicely too.  The hinge iseasy to manipulate but feels very solid for long-term usage.

The screen is covered by a single piece of glass which extends allthe way to the edges of the screen making it one smooth surface.  Theonly screen option is a glossy finish and those who prefer matte finishscreens will likely not like this one.  I find that this screen workswell for me as I can easily adjust screen brightness via keys on thekeyboard and at maximum brightness this is one of the brightest screensI have used.

I find I must be careful when opening the lid as the webcam is onthe top of the screen right where the slot to open the lid is located.It’s easy to smudge the webcam while opening the lid if not donecarefully.

Keyboard

The black keys that make up the keyboard are chiclet style andreminiscent of the keys on the Apple wireless keyboard if you’ve seenone of those.  The MacBook’s keys stand up taller however and thismakes for a better typing experience than that of the wirelesskeyboard.  The keys are backlit which comes in very handy in poorly litareas and this backlighting is likely the reason Apple makes the keysstand up taller than most chiclet keyboards.  I am finding the keyboardto be better to use than either the standard keyboard on the olderMacBook Pro and the newer wireless keyboard.  It’s sort of a crossbetween the two.  You find all the normal keys you expect on an Applekeyboard including the top row of function keys which double as specialaction keys on the Mac.

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Raised keys; touchpad

Touchpad

The new touchpad has gotten most of the attention on the new Macsand rightly so.  It is very large and dominates the MacBook whenopened, although it is the same color as the chassis so not glaringlyso.  It has a glass surface although it doesn’t feel like glass to thetouch.  It is easy to use and it is fun to watch the uninitiatedrealize that there are no mouse buttons.  The entire touchpad is alarge mouse button in essence, you simply push down and get aresounding click when you do so.  The very upper edge of the touchpaddoesn’t click though, you have to develop a feel for how far up you canslide your finger and still get a mouse click by pushing down.

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I was very skeptical about this new touchpad I’ll admit.  I havenever been a big fan of touchpads anyway and one of the first things Ido with a new notebook is connect a mouse.  I’m surprised by using thistouchpad is so productive that it only took me about five minutes tonot only get used to it but to prefer it to a mouse.  I still haven’tconnected a mouse to the Mac.  It’s hard to describe but it is verysimple and flowing to move the cursor with the fingertip and then clickwhen you need a button.  Dragging windows is equally easy by pushingthe touchpad down to click the button and then holding it down whilesliding the fingertip.  It turns tasks that are normally two handoperations on other notebooks into a one fingertip action.

The touchpad can be configured in the System Preferences to performmore like the older touchpad if you’re one who can’t adjust to the newway but I really like it.  When you combine the ease of use from thisnew method with the three and four finger gestures I am finding it veryeasy to control the interface using the touchpad.  Three fingergestures in iPhone make working with photos fun and the four fingergestures that manipulate the task switcher and Expose are veryproductive.  I am finding that this new method makes working with onehand the easy way since you don’t have to lift your hand off thenotebook unless you are typing.

Performance

This is the fastest MacBook I have used yet, and that includes the17-inch MacBook Pro I also use.  The unit I bought has a 2.4 GHz Core 2Duo processor with a 1066 MHz front side bus and this rocks.  I have 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4 GB) and a 160 GB hard drive.  A big part ofthe performance I believe stems from the new NVidia GeForce 9400Mintegrated graphics that uses up to 256 MB of system memory.  The videoperformance I am seeing so far is better than that of the MacBook Prowhich uses ATI dedicated graphics.  This thing is definitely fasteroverall than the Pro and I am happy with that, especially when the Prowould cost you $2800 today versus the $1600 I spent.

Conclusion

It has only been a short while but so far I am definitely pleasedwith the MacBook.  I think it is a good alternative to spending muchmore money for the bigger MacBook Pro while offering almost everythingby way of performance that the expensive one provides.  I do wish thishad a Firewire port so I could use it with my camera and I am afraidall of those ports being so close together will end up making it hard,if not impossible, to hook up a lot of peripherals.  It would have beenbetter if those could have been spread out more and some of them movedto the opposite side perhaps.  I am definitely finding this MacBook tohave been worth the money, although it would be nicer if it wassomewhat cheaper for sure.

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  1. Very annoying that they put the ports so close together.

    Thats all well and good for small add ons similar in size to those tiny bluetooth adapters you see these days but think of things like 3G broadband modems etc which are still fairly thick in width. Encountered this problem with my EEE PC but expected more from a high end product like a Mac

  2. Dwight Silverman Friday, October 17, 2008

    James:

    I got one of these today, too. The touchpad really is more impressive. I still set up the pad to single- and double-tap, though, rather than just using the click mechanism built into the pad. The tapping seems a lot more elegant than the clicking.

    Backlit keyboard is cool, too.

  3. Robert Kawaratani Friday, October 17, 2008

    I think that Sean and your comments about the closeness of the ports are reasonable. From the photograph, it looks like the space between the ports looks pretty similar to my original MacBook. When the MacBook was my main computer, I had a cable in every port except the audio-in. However, it not possible to plug an old-style iPod Shuffle into one of the USB port if a USB cable was in the other USB port.

  4. David Gonzales Friday, October 17, 2008

    Great first impressions! And I’m surprised at you saying how quickly you preffered its single button (or is it no button?) glass trackpad over a mouse. I am seriously looking into buying this as my first Mac, after having a good time with my Hackintosh Acer Aspire One. But I think I’ll wait until I get to read your full review, hopefully by next week. :)

  5. Rick Huizinga Friday, October 17, 2008

    Hi James,

    How is the backlit keyboard?

    I purchased the $1299 model, because I didn’t feel the upgrades in the $1599 model were worth it. (250GB HD vs 160GB, 2.4GHz processor vs. 2.1GHz, backlit vs. standard keyboard). Of these items, the only thing I really wanted was a larger hard drive and the backlit keyboard – I didn’t feel these were worth an additional $300, considering that a 320GB hard drive could be picked up from NewEgg for $90.

  6. Rick, I’m sorry to tell you but I think you’ve made a mistake. The backlit keyboard is one of those things that you never notice until you don’t have it, then you realise just how handy it is!

    James I think you need a spirit level, your desk is about to tip over :P

  7. i have used several multi-touch trackpads & absolutely love them. i definitely think they are the way of the future with the old synaptics style we are all used to dying out. of course it all depends on which 1 you are using, but my main gripe about them is that they still cant match the feature set offered by Synaptics very mature-very solid drivers.

    who makes the Apple trackpad drivers?

    how do they compare feature wise to traditional synaptics pads (edge motion, coasting, etc)?

  8. @Mitchell: What are touch-typers doing looking at the keys? =)

  9. Great product, but… no FW port, ports are too close together, it’s a bit expensive. Apple is a master at selling sizzle and coming up a bit short on the steak side, which provides momentum to the upgrade cycle. And I’m speaking as a regular Mac user and purchaser since 1993 who really likes the iPhone (but, of course, no direct Outlook Task synch and no copy-and-paste).

  10. How is the heat dissipation on the new ones?

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