Mini-Review of New 13-inch MacBook

We’ve only spent a few hours with Apple’s latest MacBook so far, but we already consider it to be one of the best 13-inch systems on the market in terms of both design and performance. And there’s some pretty tough competition in this class, including the Sony VAIO Z, the Dell XPS M1300, and the Toshiba Satellite U400 series. The starting price of $1,299 isn’t cheap, but for your money you get a powerful and lightweight notebook that weighs only 4.5 pounds with a rated 5 hours of battery life. We checked out the $1,599 version, which comes with a faster 2.4-GHz processor, bigger 250 GB hard drive, and backlit keyboard. Check out our first impressions, and stay tuned for a full review and video walkthrough. Pros:

  • Elegant and strong unibody aluminum construction makes the MacBook feel as tough as many higher-priced business notebooks while delivering consumer-friendly features.
  • Sharp and bright 13-inch LED backlit display delivers a brilliant picture when watching streaming video, editing photos, and viewing Web pages. Edge-to-edge look is seamless and sleek, and the glare isn’t that bad if you pump up the brightness.
  • All-glass touchpad is miles better than any other on the market, and the push-to-click functionality works so well you don’t miss having dedicated touchpad buttons. In fact, you immediately miss this feature the second you start using other notebooks without it. Plus, the four-finger gestures work well when you want to see all open windows at once.
  • Having easy access to the back cover for replacing battery and/or removing hard drive is huge. Yes, you can do it easily on other Macs, but not on the MacBook Air.
  • Fast Nvidia 9400M graphics gives the MacBook plenty of visual muscle, although we’ve yet to confirm if it’s 5X faster than Intel’s integrated graphics. We had no problems streaming a high-defintion episode of Fringe from Fox.com at full screen. And Google Earth was very smooth when doing fly-overs from the East to West coast. We’ll be doing some gaming tests soon.
  • Overall performance was quite snappy, and we ran Geekbench to confirm our early impressions. The MacBook notched a score of 3512 with its 2.4-GHz CPU and 2GB of RAM. That’s lower than the 3578 an older MacBook Black turned in with the same clock speed and RAM in our office, but we certainly didn’t notice any slowdowns when multitasking.

Cons:

  • No memory card reader. We understand that Apple makes a conscious effort to leave features out that end users aren’t necessarily asking for, but I think a card reader would be really convenient for transferring photos–especially on the go. You don’t have to bother bringing your USB cable or deal with a USB reader.
  • Lacks mobile broadband. We wish this feature was at least an option. One Apple rep told me that consumers can easily plug a modem card in, but with Qualcomm’s Gobi technology available, notebook vendors can offer EV-DO and HSDPA connectivity on the same machine with a single software-based radio. You can choose your carrier.
  • Mini DisplayPort not as popluar as HDMI. This mini port makes connecting to an external display easy, but HDMI is far and away the more popular type of connection right now for TVs and even large LCD monitors. However, DisplayPort supports higher resolutions when outputting the video signal to larger monitors, and you can always purchase an HDMI adapter.
  • Could use more USB ports. Two isn’t terrible, but we would like to see another port on the right side for supporting more peripherals simultaneously, and the two USB ports that are on board are too close together. (You might not be able to have to gadgets plugged in at the same time, depending on their size.)

Early Verdict: While other notebook makers seem like they’re in a race to copy one another in terms of design–and to mask Vista’s issues–Apple has delivered a uniquely beautiful and innovative portable. The oversized touchpad changes the way you interact with your system in a subtle but brilliant way, and the graphics horsepower is surprisingly strong for a notebook in this weight class. Although it’s a bit too minimalist in some ways, the new 13-inch MacBook raises the bar for bang-for-your-buck thin and light machines. [flv:/flvs/MarkMacBook.flv 480 360]

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Doyle Clark Says:

    Unfortunately it does have it’s cons, but I think the pros make up for it in the case of the Macbook. I hadn’t even thought about the lack of card reader till now, and that is a disappointing thing. The obvious solution is a USB card reader attached, but with USB positions on the new book, it wouldn’t be possible to have a short card reader and any other usb device plugged in at the same time. With all that said, I’m still buying one in February.

  2. Greg Says:

    I was really disappointed that this wasn’t a bigger upgrade. It has a slow cpu, dropped the Intel chipset in trade for the discrete gpu. This is an aesthetic and price upgrade more than anything.

    Real let down for me, as a PC user I was waiting for the announcement today to buy my first Mac, only to discover the hardware is the same. Sorry, looks isn’t what I need a computer for.

  3. Rune Says:

    “for at more affordable price point”… My, you haven’t been in Europe lately. Here the macs has actually raised in price. The reviewed model goes for what equals 2.118 $

  4. Speedmaster Says:

    Beautiful and VERY tempting, but still a bit too expensive compared to Windoze boxes, imho. ;-(

  5. Mr. Pinckerton Says:

    Once again this is a huge letdown. Wow its lighter, and its metal, and it has a nifty trackpad, and you can finally get to the hardware. Thats it? Still no higher resolution, no broadband option or memory card
    reader, no additional usb ports, a slower cpu, no matte display option, reduced battery life, and a strong
    chance of heat issues especially with the HDD directly next to the battery again. The Battery should have been put elsewhere, big design flaw, was with the early macbooks as well. I so wanted to
    believe in Apple this time around since they took so long for the update, but these little changes still do not justify the price tag.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    sounds like missing many things that should be standard. No, not worth the $999 or $1,399. Would rather spend $2,500 for a full mac book air or $3,000 for a better PC. This looks like a stripped down laptop. May as well buy one these netbooks if you want something stripped down

  7. Nick L Says:

    $999 expensive??? You don’t get much for less than $1,000 except for one of these toy netbooks for $499 which look like toys and aren’t for serious computer users. I can connect to the internet from my Iphone — why spend $999 for a laptop that can’t do much????

  8. Aman Gupta Says:

    Would really like to see a comparison review between this new Macbook and Sony SR series (Sony Z series is in a different price league, in my view).

  9. Aman Gupta Says:

    I went ahead and tried to compare both laptops from whatever info that can be gathered from their websites.

    Common config:
    Intel P8600 2.4 GHz CPU, 4 GB RAM, 320 GB 5400rpm HDD, 3 year Support, no accessories

    Config Differences:
    Sony – ATI Radeon HD 3470, 100Mbps Ethernet, VGA port
    Apple – nVidia GeForce 9400M, Gigabit ethernet, DisplayPort

    Design differences:
    Sony – 4.14 lbs, 0.99″ – 1.33″ thick, 6 hrs battery life (claimed), memory card slot (SD, memory stick)
    Apple – 4.5 lbs, 0.95″ thick, 5 hrs battery life (claimed), no memory card slot

    Other differences:
    Sony – switch mode, Windows Vista Home Premium
    Apple- New touchpad design, Mac OS Leopard

    Prices:
    Sony – $2000
    Apple – $2100

    My view: General performance, build quality and looks should be good for both laptops. Graphics performance and battery life needs testing. From above, Sony is missing an HD display output (I am sure many people find it useful), and Apple is missing memory card slot (I do a lot of photography, and find it really useful). Otherwise, both laptops are totally neck to neck, other than the fact if someone is a die-hard Mac OS fan, in which case the whole comparison is useless.

  10. Ed Says:

    Could you review the heat distribution. I love apple computer but if its one thing thats kind of annoying its the heat. Its almost like putting hot iron on your lap.

    Prior Macbook Pro owner.

  11. Darrin Says:

    I’m really surprised that in most of the new MacBook reviews, nobody has mentioned the glaring absence of Firewire ports on the new MacBooks. Bad, bad move in my opinion.

  12. Seany Seany Sean Says:

    Leaving out the memory card reader is not really a problem. I mean which card reader did you have in mind? I use CF but I would guess that lots more people use SD or memory stick or…. you get the picture.

    What really is a fatal flaw for me and lots of other amateur and student musicians is the lack of Firewire. I can’t believe it’s not been covered properly in this review. It’s a huge problem. Without Firewire or an express card slot there’s almost no way to do multi-track recording with a MacBook. USB 2.0 is not up to the job at all. There a few, and only the most basic, USB audio interfaces on the market but they’re generally noted as being unreliable, due specifically to the limitation of USB. If you want to do music with a laptop YOU NEED FIREWIRE.

    Now factor in all those with Firewire camcorders who are left out it the cold and you can see why this should have been covered in the review.

  13. Kristan Says:

    Alright, I just got mine last night, and this is my first personal Mac ever — I’ve used them at work and in schools before, but never one at home. I am IN LOVE. So far I’ve had no heating issues (re: Ed). After using it my lap on top of a comforter (which STORES heat, keep in mind) for an hour, I realized I wasn’t feeling warm at all! My old laptop used to make me uncomfortably hot in a matter of minutes. So far my only real issue is with the USB ports being too close… I have a Sandisk Cruzer flash drive that can’t plug in next to anything else! :( Still, there are other flash drives in the world, so that’s hardly a reason for me to get upset given all the other things I LOVE about this computer.

    Also, for anyone currently on PCs considering a switch to Macs, let me tell you: The specs may SEEM the same, but Mac design (and I’m talking operating systems not aesthetics) makes the SAME hardware much more efficient.

  14. Wes Says:

    Seems a bunch of you griping about the small features it’s missing (minus firewire). A card reader, that can be overcame. This is meant to be a portable machine, not a desktop replacement. If you need firewire, and more port options, go with the 15 inch macbook pro. If thats too much money for you, stop complaining.

    Mac’s are proven to yes be a little more initial cost, but in the long run are cheaper to maintain, and to operate. So look at the big picture, not whats right in front of your nose.

  15. Michael Says:

    I agree with Wes, the MACBOOK is a carefully thought out design running an operating system that leaves Microsoft years behind. As a user of both MACs and PCs over the last twenty years I think the Apple has repeatedly out-classed PCs running Microsoft platform. The only other platform that is in the same class is the long ditched IBM OS2 Warp (1998).In terms of hardware the MACBOOK is admittedly conservative but with class. Sony VAIOs are probably the most stylish systems but as long as they run Vista well I wont say more. I currently have a VAIO and a MACBOOK, having ditched an HP notebook and a Fujitsu Siemens notebook a few months ago. Finally to my utmost surprise MACBOOKs actually run Windows better than PCs using VMWare fusion and so I find the flexibility quite useful. Overall I recommend the MACBOOK, its in a different league. Guess its difficult to compare lemons and grapes.

  16. Eugene Says:

    Having switched to the new Macbook from a Lenovo notebook, the things that impress me are:
    Rock solid body – no flexing,creaking or bending.
    Enormous trackpad – makes navigating SOOOO much easier. I hate having to use my Lenovo machine at work now. The ‘gestures” are a way more efficient way of getting around.
    The speed is fantastic.
    The screen is very sharp and images have a lot of punch. I do find the screen too sensitive to viewing angle though.
    The surfaces have never gotten hot, even with a lot of heavy image processing. No problem sitting on your lap. The whole aluminium body seems to dissipate the heat, so the bottom surface doesn’t get hot.
    Backlit keys are fantastic. Try them in a dark room.Lovely!
    The sound is very clear, with plenty of volume in reserve. Best I’ve heard from a laptop.
    And factoring in the software, which I have to admit is very user friendly and well thought out. Well done Apple. I’m hooked.

  17. Chris Says:

    Wow, I recently switched to MAC and its hard for me to even read some of the basic, worthless complaints about this product…..may I suggest to those who just cant be satisfied, go back to PC! Mac users wont miss you at all. :)

    After spending my entire life frustrated with windows, this has been the BEST thing I could have ever done!

    APPLE RULES!

  18. james Says:

    I’ve always been a Mac user. and by always I mean 10+ years. I use a mac at home and a PC and Mac at work. My brother has been a PC user for 10+ years. I’ve owned 2 different Macs in those ten years. My brother has owned at least five PC’s that I know of in those ten years. That to me is money in the bank.

  19. dan Says:

    i’ve got one 2 weeks ago and was amazed how the software and hardware works together… don’t think of the specs as too low compare to other notebooks.. apple had configured the apps to work efficiently and eat less resources… so why need the bigger hardware upgrade?

    windows+unix+(and now) mac user

  20. Poppa P Says:

    I have had my 2.4ghz Macbook for nearly a month now, I like the design and software applications, but what I don’t like is that I can not connect to the internet with my home wireless network I can only connect using ethernet cable.
    The symptoms are web pages can take a very long time to load or are timed out or no connection at all.
    I think there is a problem with wifi connection on the new Macbook as I have searched forums looking for a soloution and found that a lot of people using the new Macbook are having the same problem but no one has an idea of how to fix this problem .
    I have been to the Genius bar at the store where I purchased my Macbook, but it worked there no problem as they have a unsecured network.
    I think Apple know about this problem but are keeping quiet on the subject, If you are thinking of buying the new Macbook just research poor wifi on the new Macbook I wish I had.

    The addverts said switching to a Mac was simple, Yeah Right!!! :(

  21. John Says:

    I’m a switcher. I bought a Mac Mini at Christmas and even though it is not the most powerful machine in the house it is the one I prefer to use, and OS X really does work better on less grunt than Vista so it is hard to compare a 2GHz Mini on OS X with a 2 GHz Dell on Vista Premium.
    Windows 7 is changing that, so Snow Leopard had better be something special 8)
    Anyway, the new 13″ pro seems to be a Mac Mini with a keyboard, mouse, battery, screen but nearly all of the IO ports eliminated. What did they drop that the bigger “Pros” have? the NVidia 9600 chipset. but maybe they’ll bring back the 10″ Macbook. as the new Pro does seem to encroach on the basic Macbook space.

    BTW with this review – testing the 3D card by playing HD video?? My GMA950 on the old mini can play HD video too. Useless test.

  22. Jacob Says:

    I think a real review should be done when the warranty is over and apple protection has waned away. I was thoroughly disappointed when first the charger fused off and shut my macbook down completely. Of course, you think Apple would replace that? I had to pay $69.99 and purchase one. Luckily nothing went caput inside the machine. Then things were great for awhile then I started having a one inch vertical line with horizontal colors. It became so annoying, sometimes moving the laptop would eliminate it. Until finally nothing helped, the lines became permanent. All I could do was to replace the screen or purchase a new Macbook Prop. Alas, the price? $595.00 to replace the screen includes the labor! How horrible could that get with a Macbook, with Apple that you have learned to leave all your cares behind when you buy one. Not sure what to expect next. For now it runs wonderful. 2011 June

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