Latest MacBook has a long life but shows signs of aging. (March 7th, 2008)
Product Manufacturer: Apple
Price: $1,299 (2.4GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB, Superdrive)
- Stunning battery life that beats Apple's estimates.
- Faster than a model just a few months old; rivals Mac desktops.
- 2GB of RAM finally enough to use out of the box.
- Best value for dollar in the MacBook lineup.
- Design quickly getting old, prone to cosmetic damage.
- Sorely needs a dedicated graphics option; X3100 too slow in some cases.
- LCD is unnecessarily low-quality compared to the MacBook Air.
While it came as no surprise to close followers of Intel's technological shifts -- the company is rumored to be switching quickly to 45nm chips -- Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro updates in February 2008 caught a number of Mac owners off guard. Many hadn't been expecting an upgrade less than four months after a low-key refresh in November.
However, with a new processor, the portables are set to not only run faster but, perhaps more importantly, longer. I've set out to learn whether the likely most popular model, Apple's mid-range 13-inch MacBook, sees a genuine improvement or is just an attempt to keep an older design alive.
The MacBook has been Apple's best-selling computer almost since it was released in mid-2006, and there has been very little reason for the company to change its tune in terms of design -- which, in some ways, is evidence of a solid original concept As far as mid-range notebooks go, the MacBook remains one of the thinnest and sleekest of its kind; it's certainly thinner than the Dell XPS M1530 that sits in its price range, and is technically thinner than the more appropriately-matched M1330, if heavier at five pounds versus four.
The "chiclet" keyboard, magnetic lid, and MagSafe power connector remain some of the most well thought-out design touches on notebooks to date, if not without their catches. The keyboard is quick but, compared to the keyboards on the MacBook Air and on the desktop, feels slightly hollow and cheaper than its counterparts. The lid also does require some force to open, and the power connector can occasionally come loose if the notebook is on one's lap. Apple's newer MagSafe design, for the Air, seems to be less prone to accidents.
Nevertheless, the real issue with the MacBook remains its plastic shell, particularly on the inside. While it's tough on the outside, the palm rest has been known to stain from users who frequently rub even slightly dirty hands on its base. Some have also reported cracks and splinters along the edges if the system isn't handled gingerly, and the plastic is susceptible to scratches from rough surfaces or wayward fingernails.
It also has to be said that, quite simply, the MacBook design is no longer as attractive as it once was. After the release of the MacBook Air and aluminum iMacs, the regular design appears plain and unnecessarily thick. It was already effectively an adaptation of the iBook to the Intel era, and loses its luster compared to systems with thinner displays and professional-looking, more scratch-resistant designs.