jkOnTheRun: first impressions of the new 13-inch MacBook

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".


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Raised keys; 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.


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.


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.


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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