Monday, January 08, 2007

Review: Macbook Core 2 Duo

Considering your first Mac? A lot of people are. I've recently made the switch. Here are my thoughts after just a few days of owning my first Mac.

I was struck by its elegance and simplicity, by the way it felt and the way it opened itself up to me. Apple really understands packaging as a user experience. The Macbook comes in a slim white box with a handle protruding from the top so that you carry it like a briefcase. Inside, everything has its place, everything is revealed in a way that prolongs your enjoyment of the act of discovery. Included are a power adapter with MagSafe cable and a proprietary extension cord, software discs, user guide, apple remote and of course the Macbook itself.

The Macbook is thin and light, though it feels substantial when you hold it. The lid does not use any locking mechanism but remains firmly closed until lifted via the small nook at the front. Upon doing so, you are immediately struck by the glossy sheen of the screen - more and more notebooks are moving away from matte screens, but if you haven't spent any time with one yet the difference is certainly noteworthy. Look up and there's a tiny black square with a little dot on either side acting as built in webcam and mic. The keyboard features flat keys in a recessed bed and below is a very large track pad and single button for mouse functions. A white plastic casing with rounded corners and an Apple logo on the lid (behind the screen, glows when running) acts as enclosure, while plenty of ports and a slot loading DVD burner are there to keep your gadgets and media flowing in and out.

The MagSafe power cord slots into place with a sudden tug just as it nears the port, its tiny LED light turning amber to indicate it is charging, and I'm ready to turn my Macbook on for the first time.

Apple touts its computers as being ready to go right out of the box. After a very quick and slick Q and A with the setup wizard, OS X 10.4 Tiger was off and running, and me along with it. No discs to insert or drivers to download; any software that came with the computer is already installed, including the full iLife suite of applications. Configuring preferences in OS X is incredibly simple. There are no "Ok" and "Apply" buttons like in Windows settings dialogs, which only serve to cast doubt on whether or not you just did what you thought you did. The graphic user interface, or GUI, which is what you see when you interact with your operating system, is clean, beautiful, fun and loaded with productive little features.

Expose is a feature that quickly and intuitively allows you to see what you're doing and choose what you want to do next. Say you've got several applications open, and each application has several windows open. With a quick press of an F key or flick of the mouse to the appropriate corner of the screen you can view every single window at once, or bring forward all the windows of a particular program, or move everything off screen so you can browse the contents of your desktop. Widgets recess into the background of your computer keeping tabs on things like the local weather or your system's performance, or await to provide services like translations or conversions, and surge forth at your command to place themselves, in all their tiny gadget splendor, at your disposal. Spotlight is a built in search tool that's in every Finder window (think Explorer window in Windows) as well as always up in the menu bar in the top right corner, which keeps track of everything on your computer and intuitively brings it to you as you type in what you're looking for. If you download an application, and there are hundreds of free and very useful ones out there for the Mac, most of the time the installation process is as simple as dragging the application icon into the Application folder in the Finder - simple as that. I could go on, but I'd be gushing. Bottom line: Windows has never been this convenient or this much fun to use.

The built in webcam and mic, iSight, are lots of fun. I was video chatting with a friend in Japan the other day over Skype and it was as easy as making a phone call. The track pad is generously sized and has a great feature of acting as a scroll wheel when you use two fingers. I haven't tested the batter specifically, but I have used it from full to nearly empty a few times and it seemed to last plenty long for my liking, well over 2 hours with heavy usage. When in sleep mode the battery could seem to go on forever - I left it in sleep overnight once running on battery power and after 8 hours it had depleted maybe 5% - which would be great for long journeys where you want to use the computer periodically but not have to shut down and start up over and over again. The screen is very bright and vibrant, and can be turned down in increments to suit your brightness needs or to save battery power. The MagSafe power cord has saved me more than a few times already - it stays firmly in place yet comes loose when a sudden force pulls on it.

Overall I am very happy and very impressed with this Macbook. It runs fast, without hiccups or lags, OS X Tiger is a joy to use and the machine looks stunning.

There are, however, some caveats worth mentioning. This laptop gets very warm, sometimes even kind of hot to the touch at the bottom. Prolonged use on my lap gets uncomfortable after a while. According to Apple this is normal behavior for today's laptop computers and they recommend against actually placing it on your lap for extended periods of time. The fan occasionally gets noticeably loud, obviously in an effort to combat the excessive amounts of heat produced within the computer. As far as fan noises go its not terribly obnoxious, but in a quiet room I expect it would call attention to itself.

If you've been considering your first Mac, like so many people have been since the market dominance of the iPod and the move to Intel brought Apple to the attention of nearly everyone with a steady pulse, I can't think of a whole lot that would keep you from switching. All my files migrated seamlessly from my Thinkpad (a fine machine, passed on to my parents), most applications I used on Windows are on the Mac, with lots of great applications on the Mac I'm discovering that were never on Windows, and even Adobe is about to migrate their video applications back to Mac now that Intel's inside.

I've been elbow deep in my love for computers for around 7 years now, this being my 4th carefully considered computer in that time, and I've never enjoyed using one so much as I'm enjoying my new Macbook.


Orangey said...

Thanks for that, I'm getting a blackbook (my first mac) after work tonight that will last me through university hopefully. I'm hoping the heat issues can be remedied a bit with freeware apps from t'internet but i guess i'll find out later. WOO! 4 HOURS!! hrrhum sorry

Darcy Fitzpatrick said...

Hi orangey,

Your profile is set to be unavailable, so I must try and reach you here.

I hope your new Macbook is treating you well. I wanted to call your attention to a problem I've discovered in mine, so you can take action if the problem exists in your Macbook, too.

You can learn more in my next post, Whine vs. Whine.