Tech Review

MacBook: Grading the New 13-inch Model

Apple's laptop is sexy, powerful, and environmentally friendly

MACBOOK New 13-inch model is small and lightweight -- but powerful enough to be your primary computer
MACBOOK New 13-inch model is small and lightweight -- but powerful enough to be your primary computer

Over the past few days, my once-white iBook G4 (purchased way back in 2004) has been sitting in a corner collecting dust, while I've played with Apple's new MacBook. I'm not ashamed to admit it: I've neglected my old pal for its slimmer, fancier, and more youthful cousin. I think of it on the way to work, see its sleek lines in my sleep. Is this what it's like to be unfaithful?

Okay, so I might be a little dramatic here; I am, after all, talking about a piece of expensive technology. But Apple really has delivered with its new notebook computers — even in the base model of its new aluminum-chassis line, which is the one I've been using. Its off-the-shelf configuration includes a 13-inch LED-backlit screen, 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of memory, and a 160 GB hard drive; $1,299.

Fresh out of the box, the MacBook impresses. Clad in a new ''unibody'' casing — sculpted, as it were, from a single slab of aluminum — it is immeasurably more svelte and appealing than previous models like my own (sob!), which were made of...plastic. (Inexplicably, Apple continues to sell such a version.) And I swear that this metal chassis made it more comfortable to type on than my older and less rigid plastic iBook.

I'm not a shallow girl — which is why I'm glad to report that beauty here is more than skin deep: Besides the nimble Core 2 Duo processor, the new MacBooks also come equipped with NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of SDRAM (for a five-fold performance boost over previous models — which translates into sharper-looking movies and smoother-running games). Longtime standard Apple features are (mostly) all here and include: built-in iSight camera and microphone; AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth; 8x SuperDrive (that lets you rip and burn both CDs and DVDs); and a selection of ports for Ethernet, USB 2.0, and external monitors.

The 13-inch LED-backlit screen offers sharp and vivid images. More important, it uses almost a third less power than conventional LCD displays. The screen itself is mercury-free and comes encased in arsenic-free glass. (For this and other ''green'' innovations implemented in the machine, the MacBook has earned an EPEAT Gold rating, a distinction only bestowed on products that can demonstrate minimal environmental impact in their design, manufacture, use, and recycling.)

There is, however, one aspect of the MacBook that I'm still getting used to: its new ''multi-touch trackpad.'' Larger and more sophisticated than the one I used in my review of the Apple MacBook Air, this trackpad is made of glass — which to me, seems too slick and smooth; though it does look awfully cool. It also is devoid of any button: In fact, the entire pad itself functions as a button. Trust me, it takes some getting used to. As does learning the small set of so-called ''gestures'' — which can involve the use of as many as four fingers. Some are fairly intuitive — like the ''pinch'' used to expand or shrink a photo or document — while others, well, aren't. Even the most basic version of the MacBook — the one I've been playing with — is small and tough enough to function as a travel laptop, yet powerful enough to be your primary computer.

WHAT WE LIKE:
- It's a powerful and sleek machine...
- ...that's also a friend of the earth
- The LED-backlit screen offers a bright and crisp picture
- The battery-life indicator is now located on the back edge of the MacBook — very handy and easy to read
- Once you get used to it, the multi-touch trackpad can be efficient and useful

WHAT WE DON'T LIKE
- The glare on the glossy screen can be distracting — especially in bright environments
- No FireWire port
- The base model doesn't have the fancy illuminated keyboard found in models just above it

GRADE: A-

Originally posted Oct 30, 2008