by LAPTOP Staff on March 27, 2012
From its iconic industrial designs and superior displays to its awesome support and smart software, Apple is simply the best notebook brand.
UPDATE: Check Apple's 2013 Brand Report Card to see how the company fared this year.
Although we only reviewed four notebooks from Apple, three received the Editors' Choice award (including the 13-inch and the 15-inch MacBook Pro), none were rated lower than 3.5 stars and one of them (13-inch MacBook Air) earned a perfect rating of 5 stars, for its slim and sturdy design, backlit keyboard, highly accurate touchpad, long battery life and strong performance.
Apple's 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs didn't change a whole lot this past year, but you don't need to mess with perfection. Apple added a backlit keyboard to its unibody aluminum design, as well as a Thunderbolt port for fast data transfers. The MacBook Pros are getting a little long in the tooth--a 15-inch Air is rumored--so we hope to see updates in 2012 that push the envelope and once again leapfrog the competition.
Apple upped the ante on a strong keyboard by adding backlights to its MacBook Air line (MacBook Air 11-inch, pictured), a feature previously available on the MacBook Pros only. The company's island-style keyboards provide strong tactile feedback and good key size and placement, even on the tiny 11-inch Air. Though clickpads have led to a horror show of inaccuracy and discomfort on PC notebooks, Apple does buttonless designs right, offering incredible accuracy and smooth multitouch support.
Apple has topped our Tech-Support Showdown for the past few years. The helpful new Express Lane feature identifies a user's issue before connecting to a technician. Apple still offers phone help only for the first 90 days unless you get the three-year AppleCare protection plan ($249 for 13-inch; $349 for 15- and 17-inch). However, the wealth of information on Apple's support site minimizes the chances you'll ever need to call the company.
Apple's MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros offer bright displays with wide viewing angles. The Airs' 11- and 13-inch screens are especially brilliant. For example, at 40-percent brightness and a 45-degree angle, we could make out websites even from 15 feet away. As for resolution, the 13-inch model boasts 1440 x 900 pixels of real estate. When it comes to sound, Apple's notebooks offer accurate tones but don't deliver booming bass or the best volume, as we noticed on the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Apple keeps its laptop lineup thin, with just the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro lines. You need to spend at least $1,299 to get a 13-inch-or-larger display. Apple provides a fair number of pricey configuration options, including storage size, processor and extras such as a Thunderbolt display. For instance, jumping from a 500GB hard drive to 750GB on the 15-inch MacBook Pro costs $100, and the same upgrade on the HP Envy 15 costs $40.
Traditionally a core strength, this year we're knocking off a point from Apple's previous perfect software score. The new Mac OS X Lion does incorporate several great features, including full-screen apps and Auto Save. There's also support for iCloud and Find My Mac. However, we were off-put by the inability to close apps or search from within Mission Control, and the new multitouch gestures require a learning curve.
Apple users are very enthusiastic about their brand, and with good reason. The company holds an A+ rating from the BBB, thanks to the MacBook-maker's fast response to consumer complaints. Rescuecom ranked Apple's computers the third-most reliable.
For proof of Apple's ability to out-innovate the competition, simply look to the copycat designs coming out of Acer, ASUS and HP as they attempt to replicate the MacBook Air with Ultrabooks. Thanks to enhancements in the OS X Lion operating system and Apple's early adoption of the super-fast Thunderbolt technology, it's no shocker that Apple tops our list.