Apple has moved further towards that rumored Steve Jobs "no button" fetish with the new laptops. In addition to replacing the earlier trackpad material with a semi-shiny, smooth glass surface, the company has completely killed the button. The entire trackpad -- nearly entire, actually -- is now a button, which sounds unappealing at first, but comes off feeling remarkably like the previous generation's setup. We said that the whole thing was "nearly" a button, and that's accurate; as you move higher up on the pad, the resistance becomes greater. The design encourages you to keep your thumbs where you normally do, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.
The pad supports multitouch and boasts a number of multi-finger gestures, including some new four finger moves to switch applications and access Exposé. Additionally, corners of the pad can be assigned to act as a right-click, giving you some semblance of a second button. After a week of use, we found the trackpad to be largely comfortable, though at the end of the day we would have preferred a physical button (or two) to this solution. It may be elegant, but it's less functional or natural.Audio
Sound quality and volume is greatly improved in both of these models. While the MacBook hides its speakers somewhere deep in the guts, the levels are more than adequate. On the Pro, it's practically booming, and the definition between frequency ranges seems noticeably improved. This wasn't a dire situation on the older versions, but other laptops might get green with envy when they hear the new sets.Internals
The MacBooks and MacBook Pros have totally redesigned guts in addition to revamped shells. The highlight of those changes come in the form of the NVIDIA 9400M and 9600M GT graphics chips. In the Pro, both are featured and can be switched manually (the process requires logging out and back in, however). The MacBook sports just the 9400M with 256MB of RAM, though that chip still delivers substantial improvements over the previous offerings. Under the hood of the MacBooks, the CPUs are now available in 2GHz or 2.4GHz Core 2 Duos, while the Pros run from 2.4GHz up to 2.8GHz. Memory on both computers is now DDR3 and expandable to 4GB on all of the models. We tested with a 2.4GHz / 2GB MacBook, and the middle-child 2.53GHz, 4GB MacBook Pro (with 256MB / 512MB VRAM). During heavy use, both computers seemed to get far less hot and seemed to be working far less hard to push data. During video playback, scenarios that would have kicked our old MacBook Pro fans into high gear (like full screen HD) didn't make the MacBook or Pro flinch.
Interestingly, you don't see a huge boost in graphics performance in benchmarking between the 9400M and 9600M GT -- though there are clear improvements, noticeably in the Open GL numbers. When gaming, however, the jolt of speed is obvious.
Hard drives are bumped to a minimum of 250GB for each of those, though they can be expanded to 320GB, or you can opt for a 128GB SSD (of course, that'll run you an extra $500). The fact that Apple has made the hard drives so accessible here should prevent anyone with smarts and a little tech know-how from paying the Apple Tax on a drive upgrade. It's easier than it's ever been to swap in your own drive, and it certainly opens up options in both pricing and capacity -- a welcome relief.Benchmarks (and exponentially expanding product names)
We didn't put the laptops through a litany of hardcore battery benchmarks -- we'll leave that to the more minutiae-obsessed critics. Instead, we wanted to see what these performed like in real-world scenarios, say, a day editing Engadget, or scrambling some brains in a deathmatch. On the MacBook, we found we could get around 3 hours of solid use before we needed to plug in again. Those numbers were diminished when gaming or watching video, though the hit wasn't as bad as we thought it would be (then again, these are new batteries). The Pro fared similarly, though there's a palpable increase in drain when you're using the 9600M (did you expect other results?). As our good friend Ryan Block noted
, the new batteries sport a 20 percent lower energy rating, (60Wh to 50Wh for the Pro, 55Wh to 45Wh for the MacBook), though there's speculation that the difference is made up by utilizing the integrated GPUs more effectively. Compared to previous models, these seem to get good -- if slightly diminished -- battery life out of the box. Of course, nothing lasts forever, and just like old versions, you'll see those numbers decrease over time.Wrap up
Apple is offering the MacBooks starting at a base configuration for $1299, or $1599 for the 2.4GHz model with a larger drive. The MacBook Pros start at $1999 and move up from there -- fully kitted out you'll be pushing $3000 or more. These are in no way the cheapest laptops you could buy, but you get quite a lot for your money.
Ultimately, however, you have a call to make if you're due for a laptop purchase and you're looking at Macs. Apple has drawn lines in the sand with these models, and they're asking you to accept a couple of hard facts when you put down your credit card. Though the company has axed the familiar and oft-used Firewire 400 port and you're forced into buying an adapter if you want to use an old monitor (not a huge expense, but a minor annoyance), neither one of those is reason enough to hold off here. The problem lies with the choice (or lack of choice) on the glossy display. Some users will find the glass screens distracting -- we did -- and that's more than a minor niggle when you're talking about something you'll use for years that costs $2000. If you can tolerate (or prefer) those screens, and / or you're a user without a real attachment to older standards or peripherals, these are terrific choices -- not only from an industrial design standpoint, but in specs as well. They're smart, tough, handsome laptops that more than get the job done and look pretty stunning while doing it.
Now Apple, about a matte display option...