With its new MacBook, Apple has filled out its Intel-based portable line with an entry-level model. But this laptop packs so many clever, practical features into its case that it doesn't feel like a compromise.
The MacBook's unusual in-between size actually makes a lot of sense. The system is petite enough to be travel-friendly, yet it packs a 13.3in widescreen display with room for everything from letterboxed movies to spreadsheets. The screen is Apple's first with a glossy surface, and it's a definite plus for film watching. We weren't overly distracted by the occasional reflections.
A pleasing number of the pricier MacBook Pro's features have trickled down here. There's an Intel Core Duo processor, an integrated iSight webcam, Front Row media software and a tiny remote to control it, optical audio input and output, and 802.11g and gigabit ethernet networking. In addition, like all Apple computers, the MacBook runs the slick and functional OS X 10.4 operating system. It includes the powerful iLife ‘06 digital media suite.
What's missing? Not much, but the MacBook does have integrated graphics rather than the faster discrete adapter that gamers and graphics pros will want. And as standard it has no ExpressCard, PC Card or memory-card slots, nor a dialup modem.
Design-wise, the MacBook shines. The sunken keyboard looks weird but feels solid and the keys won't scratch the display when the case is shut. Magnetism keeps the machine closed without a physical latch and connects the power brick to the notebook in a way that makes it almost impossible to damage either laptop or plug if the cord gets accidentally yanked.
Like all Intel-based Macs, the MacBook can be a Windows PC once you've installed Apple's Boot Camp utility and a full copy of Windows XP SP2. We did, and then achieved a respectable score of 88 in our WorldBench 5 processing-speed tests. Boot Camp is betaware, and it shows. The webcam doesn't work in XP and Windows forgets the time when you power down.