After a couple of underwhelming updates the MacBook has been given an aluminium chassis and new screen. Is it enough to put Apple back on top?
Even discounting the tide of netbooks currently swamping Stuff Towers, we’ve been sailing in waters deep with mid-range laptops lately. From the luxurious leather of the Asus S6 to the plastic parsimony of the Toshiba U400, ultra-portable clearly no longer means unaffordable.
But as well designed as many of these 13in Windows machines are, even the most cynical Apple-phobe will admit that nothing comes close to the new aluminium MacBook. It’s elegant and understated in a way that photos can’t capture and, while pricey, has the speed and battery life its Vista rivals will sink at the sight of.
The new MacBook is clearly inspired by its older cousin, the MacBook Air. The body is cut from a single piece of aluminium, which helps it weigh in at about fifteen per cent lighter than its polycarbon predecessor. Apple’s stylistic sleight of hand also makes its look even thinner than it really is.
Again, like the Air, the screen is an LED-backlit panel, so the lid is barely thicker than a stiff sheet of card, though the MacBook doesn’t skimp on ports and connectors: you get two USB 2.0s, an Ethernet, an audio line in and a mini display port. Only the lack of Firewire disappoints.
Under the hood, the big difference is a switch to the Nvidia 8400 graphics chip. This is slightly better for gaming than the erstwhile Intel GPU: it'll run Mac-friendly games like World of Warcraft and Spore a bit faster, but don't expect high definition gaming unless you're playing 'Chambers' Speed Read Dictionary 2008'.
Outside of games, there's nothing the MacBook won't excel at, and with every passing day OSX reveals itself as leaner, faster, more responsive and more feature packed than Vista. The only app you need that doesn't ship with the MacBook is a word processing suite, but now that OpenOffice 3 runs natively on OSX, that's an oversight you can easily correct yourself for free.
Is it the perfect portable? Not quite. The LED-backlit screen suffers from poor viewing angles and colours so pasty they could hang wallpaper. A high contrast filter corrects enough of the problems, but adds a reflective sheen to the screen that can be annoying if you're sat with a window behind you. The ambient sensor is over-enthusiastic too, changing the screen brightness so often it needs an epilepsy warning.
And then there's the price. We can only assume that it was a reaction to Microsoft's 'hilarious' Seinfield advert that made Steve Jobs suggest the new MacBook is now 'more affordable'. The joke's on us, though: the plastic MacBook White is cheap, but has a slower processor.
The two metal chassis models are, we reckon, about £150 too expensive. Annoying as that is, it’s a premium worth paying for one of the best laptops we’ve seen.
Apple MacBook 2009 review
Lighter, faster and better looking, the new MacBook rules its class with an aluminium fist