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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]

Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, 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.