Since Apple's January introduction of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the unspoken (well, maybe a little spoken) assumption has been that a MacBook without the "Pro" was on the way. Apple's introduction of the 13-inch MacBook last week fills that void, effectively replacing both the iBook and 12-inch PowerBook with a capable, affordable, Intel-based laptop - now available in white or black.
Unlike the aluminum skin of recent PowerBook and MacBook Pro models, the MacBook comes in a white or black polycarbonate shell; the black model is available only on the high end for a $200 price premium that gives you black instead of white and a larger hard drive (80 GB instead of 60 MB). The case also sports a new latchless design, with magnets to hold the laptop firmly closed.
The MacBook features an Intel Core Duo processor running at 1.83 GHz or 2.0 GHz, with a 667 MHz bus. It includes a built-in iSight video camera, Apple Remote and infrared port, Gigabit Ethernet, AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth wireless networking, and Apple's innovative "klutz-proof" MagSafe power adapter, designed to separate easily from the laptop to avoid accidents. The Apple Remote controls not only the included Front Row media software, but also presentations in Keynote. (Apple has put together an informative chart comparing the various MacBook and MacBook Pro configurations.)
The stock configurations ship with 512 MB of memory, which unfortunately is configured as two 256 MB DIMMs. If you install more RAM (up to 2 GB), you should buy two chips of the same capacity to take advantage of better performance by upgrading RAM in pairs; which means you're stuck with those 256 MB DIMMs (and with people buying MacBooks, there may not be much of a market for used 256 MB RAM). Upgrading the RAM is fairly simple: remove three screws and a bracket in the battery bay, and flip two levers that eject the RAM. Macworld's Jason Snell created a short video showing just how easy it is.
An exciting offshoot of this step is that the hard drive is easily accessible from the left side of the bay. The iBook and 12-inch PowerBook models required an almost complete disassembly to replace the hard drive, which made users (like Jeff) reluctant to upgrade old machines with more storage. No doubt this change makes it easier for Apple technicians to speed up repairs and upgrades.
The MacBook also comes with a 60W power adapter, which is the same physical size as the power brick that shipped with the last generation of PowerBooks and iBooks. The MacBook Pro models use a physically larger 85W adapter. You can use the MacBook Pro adapter to power a MacBook and charge its battery, but not the reverse: a MacBook's 60W adpater will power a MacBook Pro, but it won't charge the battery.
Graphics -- The included Intel GMA 950 graphics processor has 64 MB of video memory, and shares the MacBook's main memory as needed, depending on selected resolution and use of external display. This relatively weak graphics capability means you won't want to purchase a MacBook for playing high-performance 3D games, and limits the capability of running Apple's professional applications; for example, Apple confirmed that Aperture's performance is acceptable, but that the MacBook is not the first choice for running the photo-management program. As with previous PowerBook and MacBook Pro models, but not the iBook line, the MacBook supports mirroring or an extended desktop on external displays.
The built-in display's resolution is 1280 by 800, and the MacBook's mini-DVI port can support Apple's 20-inch or 23-inch Cinema Displays (or other displays up to 1920 by 1200 pixels) with the use of a mini-DVI to DVI adapter (available separately for $20). The 30-inch Cinema Display is not supported.
Like the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the new MacBook offers FireWire 400 but not FireWire 800, and its 4x SuperDrive lacks dual-layer write capability. The low-end MacBook includes a Combo drive (DVD-ROM and CD-RW) by default; the SuperDrive is optional. All versions include two USB 2.0 ports and optical digital and analog audio input and output; as with all of Apple's newest computers, an external USB modem is optional.
Gloss: Boss or Loss? The company says the new wide-format 13.3-inch MacBook display is 79 percent brighter than that of the iBook or 12-inch PowerBook, but people are more likely to first notice the new glossy screen. Windows laptops have sported glossy screens for a few years, but the MacBook is the first Apple product to do so (the glossy screen is also now a build-to-order option for the MacBook Pro). In a briefing following the announcement, Apple said that the new screen improves color and image quality (offering blacker blacks, whiter whites, etc.), and that the MacBook's display is less reflective than many Windows laptops.
The reflectivity is certainly noticeable, though looking at the display head-on reduces the effect, especially when the brightness setting is fairly high. We suspect that the glossy screen will invoke a love-it-or-hate-it reaction in Mac users; but since the screen is the only option for the MacBook, we may have to just learn to adapt.
The Keyboard and Trackpad -- Another significant change to the MacBook's exterior is the keyboard, which looks like an old chiclet type found on early PDAs or calculators. The sides of the keys drop straight down instead of tapering up from the bottom, making it appear as if the keys are spaced further apart, even though they're not. However, the key response is slightly firmer than the MacBook Pro and doesn't feel odd when touch-typing. The keyboard is also recessed into the case, giving the lower section of the laptop a flat plane that will hopefully reduce or eliminate screen smudges, a common irritant with Apple laptops for several generations.
The trackpad is the wide variety found on recent Apple laptops, and features two-fingered scrolling. It also adds a new capability: click the mouse button with two fingers resting on the trackpad, or tap two fingers at the same time, to display a contextual menu (the same action as a right-click or Control-click); this feature needs to first be enabled in the Keyboard and Mouse preference pane. Apple confirmed that this is a software feature, not tied to the MacBook's hardware. (Another option is to install SideTrack by Raging Menace, which offers more trackpad configurability.)
Apple's new MacBook is available immediately from the Apple Store Web site and retail locations and Apple resellers, in configurations ranging from $1,050 to $1,500. Build-to-order options include up to 2 GB of RAM and hard drives ranging up to 120 GB.