Lay on, MacBook!

I'm sure most of you who care know by now that Apple has released its latest laptop: the 13" MacBook, which replaces both the consumer-level 12" iBook and the pro-level 12" PowerBook G4.

Like the iBook, the MacBook comes clad in white plastic. Unlike the iBook, the MacBook can also be ordered in black.

Which makes me want one.

A lot.

But before I talk more about my personal reactions, here are some other articles and notes:

Todd Benjamin, Apple's worldwide marketing director for portables, talks about the MacBook feature set to MacWorld UK. It mostly has the feel and content of a press release printed as a news article, but still gives useful info.

John Siracusa snarks about the new-to-Macs glossy displays. Various useful info in comments as well. Short version: the new shiny glossy displays (which have been appearing in Windows laptops for a while) are sharper, brighter, and higher in contrast, with more saturated colors and darker blacks, but they're very reflective and some people get really annoyed with the reflections in certain lighting conditions. (And with a laptop, you can be pretty sure you're going to use it in a variety of different lighting conditions.) Whereas matte displays (not available for the MB, but available for the MacBook Pro) have an anti-glare coating that makes the display significantly less reflective (though you can still get glare) but reduces color saturation and contrast. As for outdoor use, one commenter prefers glossy because it results in only a few specular highlights (as opposed to wide diffuse reflection) and you can shift the screen to avoid those, while another commenter says that their MBP (with matte screen) is quite usable outside as long as the light falls onto the screen, while their friend's Windows laptop has a glossy display and is much too reflective to use outdoors.

Best comment on that page is from someone named CoRDS:

the single reason a glossy screen is better is people cant sneek up behind you when you use one, this will save you more times than you know.

Words to live by.

Meanwhile, Macworld has a photo of a 12" PBG4 on top of a new white 13" MB, showing how much bigger the MB is. I'd have liked to see a black MB sandwiched between a 12" PBG4 and a 15" MBP, for best size comparison.

Macworld also has a piece titled "Getting acquainted with the MacBook, a nice brief little overview, and a MacBook FAQ with some specific answers.

Ars Technica published a MacBook review last week. It's a little bit indecisive about various things, but not bad. Includes info about heat, graphics speed, and benchmarks.

Macworld also provides some early benchmarks, with more detailed test results to follow later.

It all sounds pretty cool. I had been planning to wait for the next revision of the MBP; it seems to me that the basic look of the Mac pro laptop line (thin, flat, boxy, silvery) hasn't changed since the Titanium PowerBook G4 was introduced in early 2001. I confess that I've never been all that fond of that look; I love the thinness and sleekness, but I don't find the color and shape nearly as aesthetically attractive as the curvy black previous-generation PowerBook G3. Apple has thoroughly redesigned the look of the iMac twice in the past five years; I keep hoping that it's about time for a laptop redesign, and that they'll offer black as an option in the next-gen MBP. The current 15" MBP seems (based on screen resolution and such) to be modeled generally after the second-to-last 15" PowerBook model; I've been thinking, with no factual basis whatsoever, that Apple did that in order to have a solid and established design to put the first-gen Intel chip in, and that the next version of the MBP might make some departures. And I've been hoping (again with no basis at all) that that next-gen MBP might appear this fall.

But now I'm not so sure it's worth waiting to see what'll happen. The high-end model of the new MB is almost as powerful (in almost all ways except screen resolution and graphics speed) as the low-end MBP; it's definitely more powerful than my four-year-old 800MHz PBG4 Titanium (that link is to a great Apple/Mac history site, showing dates and photos and stats for all Apple computers since 1976), and the MB has almost as high a screen resolution as my PBG4 despite being two inches smaller in physical dimensions.

So at this point I'm leaning pretty heavily toward getting a black MacBook. But there's one thing I haven't yet mentioned: the black model costs $200 more than the white model. The black model also has a bigger hard drive--but it would cost only $50 to upgrade the white one to match the black one. So, in effect, it costs an extra $150 to get black instead of white.

On the other hand, I have no interest in the white one. I like the look of it better than I liked the last-gen iBook, but it isn't viscerally appealing/satisfying in the way that the black one is. I would really like to have a black laptop again.

A MacWorld editor writes about the conflict between Logic and Emotion in trying to choose whether to buy a black MacBook or a white one. That's a pretty accurate transcript of what goes on in my head when I look at these things.

Here are some photos of the black MB:

With all of that in mind, I stopped by the Apple Store one day last week. They had one black MB and one white one. The black one looked way cooler (to me) than the white one.

The glossy display on both was very glossy and pretty, though I'm uncertain whether I would prefer it to the matte display, and I don't know what I would think of it for outdoor use.

I felt the underside of the black one to see how hot it was; it had been running all day, sitting on a countertop, but was only mildly warm underneath. I suspect that's because it had adequate ventilation underneath; I've read reports that if you put it on your lap for an extended period, it gets even hotter than the PBG4s, which is disappointing. (There's a kerfuffle in the Mac community about the amount of thermal grease Apple applies to various internal bits of the laptops, but I don't know enough about it to weigh in on that.)

I suspect I wouldn't be satisfied with the sound quality on the MB; it seemed really quiet (but it was in a noisy store). The tiny speakers are mounted on the back of the case, btw, which means the sound reflects off the display section when the computer is open; don't know what, if any, effect that has on sound quality. (But doesn't it mean the sound is backwards by the time it reaches your ears?) Then again, the sound quality and volume on my PBG4 aren't great either; when I want to listen to music on the computer, I usually use earbuds.

I'm not entirely convinced about the new MB keyboard. The flat keys look really cool but feel a little odd to type on, a little loose. But then, imo the pinnacle of keyboard design was the 2002 TiBook, the kind I have, before the light-up keyboard. The keyboard on my PBG4 is approximately the nicest-feeling keyboard I've ever used, so it's unlikely that my next laptop will feel as nice to type on. Also, in my experience the feel of the keyboard of a demo model of a Mac laptop in a store doesn't necessarily match the feel of the keyboard when I take one home.

And again, boy does the black MB look cool. The Apple Store people said, if I understood right, that they'd had several black ones in stock that first day, but they sold out of them quickly. I don't think they said whether they'd sold out of the white ones.

Another argument in favor of waiting is that this is a new design, and computer companies often have problems with "rev A" hardware that need to be ironed out. On the other hand, I've always had good luck with my Macs (knock on wood), and I gather that Apple is usually pretty good about replacing things when there's actual faulty hardware to blame. (Though they may disagree about what counts as faulty.)

Also, the MB is a little heavier than would be ideal. It's lighter than my PBG4, but not by much. It would be really cool if Apple comes out with an ultra-light subnotebook, but I've seen no evidence that'll happen anytime soon.

Finally, it's not clear to me whether I'd be able to attach an MB to a TV. My PBG4 has an S-Video output, which I use to connect to my TV to watch movies; if there's no way to do that on the MB, I would have to finally give in and buy a standalone DVD player. But I've been thinking of doing that anyway, 'cause connecting the computer to the TV every time I want to watch a movie is kind of a pain.

But in the end, the argument in favor of not waiting boils down, basically, to: It looks cool! I want one! And that may be enough to sway me.

Clearly, Apple knows its target audience well, and I'm right there in the middle of it.

3 Responses to “Lay on, MacBook!”

  1. Jenn Reese

    Jed, I have been caught in the exact same quandry! That MacWorld editorial on logic vs. emotion summed up my internal battle quite nicely. I never thought I’d like a black laptop again, but it’s soooo pretty! We must geek upon this more at Wiscon. 🙂

  2. SarahP

    Matte black cover? I may swoon.

  3. jacob

    Here’s an interesting post basically saying that the new Mac laptops are actually cheaper, for the features, than Windows laptops. And since they will actually run Windows, it might be a good time to think about switching. Not that I currently can afford a laptop of either kind; kids are expensive.

    I must confess to some puzzlement about the whole excitement over the black cover. Virtually all Windows laptops are black, yes? So that seems kind of ordinary to me. But I haven’t seen the machine; I’m sure the styling is better than a Dell or HP laptop. For me, though, that’s not really coming across in the pictures.


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