A cursory glimpse at the MacBook Pro reveals that Apple hasn't changed the machine too much from its older brother—that is, until you turn it on. Apple's first 15.4-inch widescreen (1440 x 900 pixels) is remarkably sharp and bright, and when placed next to an old PowerBook, we knew that it would be tough to go back.
The included remote, which looks like an iPod Shuffle, initializes Front Row, which resembles a smoother version of Windows Media Center. This app gives users quick and easy access to iTunes, iPhoto, iDVD, and iMovie. Another multimedia perk is the 640 x 480-pixel iSight camera located directly above the screen, which looks like a small black dot. This webcam offers good images and makes for smooth videoconferencing with iChat AV.
We like that Apple kept the ambient light-sensing technology, which illuminates the keys and dims the screen in a darkened environment, and the scrolling TrackPad, which allows clickless document scrolling. Apple's SuperDrive comes standard, allowing for out-of-the box DVD burning, as does the six-pin FireWire, Bluetooth 2.0, and USB 2.0 ports on either side of the notebook. Like a small handful of PC makers, Apple has ditched the PC Card slot in favor of the smaller but faster Express Card slot. This means users will have to wait for companies to catch up before they can plug in 3G cellular modems and other peripherals.
The 2.16-GHz Intel Core-Duo and 2GB of RAM make multitasking a breeze, especially with native software, or what Apple calls Universal software. (Universal versions of Final Cut Studio 1.0, Aperture, and Logic Pro 7.1 will be available by March 31.) We created a simple Web site with iWeb while burning an audio CD in iTunes, and we didn't experience a single hiccup. Battery life was respectable, at 2 hours and 33 minutes, while playing a DVD with Wi-Fi off. That means you should expect about 3.5 hours of endurance in everyday use.
Thanks to ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics and up to 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory, gaming is finally a very real possibility for Mac users. We played World of Warcraft, and the MacBook Pro easily outperformed other Apple portables. When we optimized the graphic settings to the highest level, gameplay suffered, becoming somewhat choppy. Hopefully, developers will make more titles available for the Mac OS.
The catch to buying the MacBook Pro is that some Mac OS programs haven't been optimized to take advantage of Intel's processor. In fact, some apps actually ran slower on this system than on an older PowerBook with 1GB less memory. We performed the same Photoshop filter side-by-side, and the test took 5 minutes and 16 seconds on the MacBook Pro compared with 4 minutes and 27 seconds on the PowerBook. This 49-second delta can be chalked up to the fact that the MacBook Pro requires Rosetta translation technology (which runs automatically and undetected when you start up non-native software) in order to run nonoptimized programs. Microsoft Office is another program that cannot yet run natively on the MacBook Pro.
If you want to experience these and other apps now at full speed, Apple is offering Boot Camp, a free download that runs Windows XP natively on the MacBook Pro. You'll need to reboot your system when you want to switch operating systems, and Apple does not support Windows or Boot Camp, but simply having this sort of flexibility is a win for potential switchers. Still, some may want to wait for Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X to be previewed this August, which will include Boot Camp. By then we're assuming Apple will have worked out most of the kinks.
One seemingly minor but nonetheless brilliant innovation is the MacBook Pro's MagSafe power adapter, which automatically disconnects from the notebook's side if strain is applied to the cord. This means that should you trip over the wire, it will separate from the computer instead of bringing the notebook to the floor. If the notebook senses it's falling, Apple's Sudden Motion Sensor (a 3D accelerometer) parks the hard drive.
The MacBook Pro has all the pieces in place to become the best laptop Apple has ever produced. Until the Mac software catches up, however, you may be stuck with a potentially shaky Windows alternative.