The new MacBook and MacBook Pro are here. No, not just “here” in the sense of “publicly acknowledged by Apple and being shipped to arrive in Apple Stores tomorrow.” Here in the sense of, in our office right now. So in advance of our full reviews and lab tests of these products, let us give you a quick tour of the products.
The big physical differences between the MacBook Pro and MacBook lines are gone with this update. The MacBook looks like a 13in version of the 15in MacBook Pro. Both of them have the aluminium enclosure and a black screen covered from end to end with glass. Both have the same black keyboard found in the MacBook Air. Both of them are curvy around the sides and bottom, making them easy to grip.
Basically they both look like the bigger brothers of the MacBook Air. The Air was clearly the first product in a wave of new laptop designs from Apple, and now we’ve seen the second and third versions. They feel rigid and sturdy, despite their light weight.
At first glance, the screens of both models appear to be quite similar – and similar to the MacBook Air’s as well. The LED backlighting is remarkably bright, meaning these laptops are going to be quite usable, even in very bright conditions.
Users who are fans of the matte finish on the MacBook Pro are going to be quite disappointed about these new systems’ standardization, iMac style, on a glossy glass-covered display. In our extensive time with the MacBook Air over the past few months, we’ve found that the bright LED-lit screen could overpower just about every bright, glaring location you could think of.
However, since the displays are a single span of glass, there’s an easy solution for fans of anti-glare-coated displays: if they don’t already, companies will no doubt begin to make screen protectors, like those already available for the iPhone, that you can apply to your display in order to remove the shine and return an old-school matte finish.
The MacBook Pro’s prominent speaker grille holes on both sides of its keyboard are now much smaller, owing to Apple’s new production process. And the MacBook continues to have its stereo speakers embedded right next to the display’s hinge, so that the sound can bounce off the screen. So far as we can tell, the speakers are more or less the same as in past generations.
The MacBook Pro, which previously offered most of its ports on its left side – but with a few ports on the right – has joined the MacBook in offering ports on only one side.
Both models use the same MagSafe connector found in previous generations; unlike the MacBook Air, which sports a redesigned power adapter due to its unique shape, these models appear to use the same adapters as they did before. The MacBook Pro comes with a larger, 85-watt adapter; the MacBook comes with a smaller 60-watt adapter.
Both offer an Ethernet port, two USB 2 ports, audio in and out, and the new Mini DisplayPort monitor port. (DisplayPort is an emerging display-connectivity standard.) Apple says there will be Mini Display Port-to-DVI and Mini-Display-Port-to-VGA adapters available.
In addition to the ports shared by the two systems, the MacBook Pro offers a single FireWire 800 port (yes, you can buy a FireWire 800 to FireWire 400 adapter) and an ExpressCard slot hidden behind an aluminium door. Both models offer a slot-loading SuperDrive on the right side. (Previously the MacBook Pro’s slot was on the front.) Yes, this means that the new MacBook joins the MacBook Air in not offering any sort of FireWire connectivity.
One of the most ballyhooed new features of these MacBooks is the new clickable glass trackpad. So, about that button. Longtime users of Apple laptops will find it quite a bit disconcerting to reach below the trackpad with their thumbs, only to find no button there. However, it’s a pretty easy step to just slide your hand up on the trackpad so that you continue to point with one finger and click on the pad with your thumb. The trackpad is smart enough not to get confused by the presence of a finger and a thumb on the trackpad. And of course, those who are adventurous will get used to pressing with their index finger as they mouse around, giving their thumbs a break.
The new trackpad looks pretty much like the old trackpad. It’s painted the same colour as the MacBook’s aluminium body. But it’s smoother than an old-style Apple trackpad. The sensation of moving your fingers across it is a little disconcerting; there’s friction but not a lot of texture. It definitely doesn’t feel like you’re running your finger across a pane of glass, though that’s what it is.
With the new trackpad come a new set of supported multi-finger gestures, all configured via the new Trackpad preference pane. The gestures supported by the past generation of laptops are still there, including two-finger scrolling, pinching and spreading fingers to zoom in and out, and swiping three fingers to navigate forward and back.
But the new trackpad has a few new tricks up its sleeve. You can program either the bottom right or left corner of the trackpad to act as a secondary mouse button. In other words, if you click in the bottom corner of the trackpad, it can be registered as a right-click. So the no-button laptop can act as a two-button laptop after all.
The laptops’ new four-finger gestures are built into the system and can’t be customized, but they’re still pretty cool. Place four fingers on the trackpad and flick them up, and Expose hides all your windows and exposes the desktop. Flick down with the same four fingers, and Expose shows all windows. Swipe left or right and the application switcher appears.
At 2.04kg, the new MacBook is about 230g lighter than the old version. With its new complement of previously-Pro-only features and its lighter weight, people who have been considering the MacBook Air will probably want to give that purchase some more consideration. The new MacBook isn’t close to the 1.36kg Air on weight, but it’s noticeably lighter than its predecessor and it’s cheaper and faster than the Air. There is definitely an argument for switching back to the MacBook now that it’s gained these new features and lightened its load by 230g.
The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, is about 90g heavier than its predecessor. In practice you probably wouldn’t notice the difference, but the Pro definitely didn’t go on the same diet as the MacBook.
The new MacBook Pro has two separate graphics subsystems inside of it. One, the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, is the same one found in the new MacBook and MacBook Air models. It’s less powerful – and uses less power. The other, the NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT, is a much faster, higher-performance graphics processor. To choose which one you use, you must go to the Energy Saver preference pane, fresh with its new icon. (The Energy Saver icon used to be an incandescent light bulb; Apple has replaced it with a compact fluorescent as a part of its quest to reduce the energy consumption of its icons.)
Within the Energy Saver preference pane, you can choose between “Better battery life” (the 9400M) and “Higher performance” (the 9600M GT) for graphics. However, this isn’t a switch you can do on the fly – nor can you set the system to use one when you’re on battery power and the other when you’re attached to an outlet. In fact, to switch between the two cards requires you to log out of your user account and log back in.