Review: First Look: The new Apple Macbook

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Review: First Look: The new Apple Macbook

Is Apple good at design? Usabilty? Both or neither? Also, where has all the Firewire gone? Alex Kidman has been testing Apple's new Macbook and gives his first impressions.

Apple's launch last week of a new line of Macbook and Macbook Pro (with the newer Macbook Airs to follow in November) was followed up by the surprising delivery of a shiny new Macbook on my front doorstep. Annoyingly, it's got to go back -- but you can read my full review in an upcoming issue of PC Authority.

Anyway, as is often the case, the moment the new machines were announced, Mac aficionados were picking them apart at the seams to try to work out the benefits and drawbacks. As noted, my full review is upcoming, but I did want to cast out a few notes specifically about the new design of the Macbook.

Apple's one of those companies that prides itself on simple user interfaces, and for the most part it succeeds. In recent years, though, it's become clear that behind the scenes there's something of a pitched battle between the usability folks (who would probably still sell you an Apple II on the grounds that it's got a really good, durable keyboard) and the design department, who do some of the best industrial design in the business.... but end up with products like the Mighty Mouse.

The shiny new trackpad - a good thing?
When I first unpacked the Macbook and had a glimpse at the new trackpad, my first impressions were that the design folks were clearly winning. It looks good -- and the trackpad is large enough to store small elephants on -- but I was dubious about the usability.

click to view full size image
Apple's new 13.3in Macbook: the new trackpad gets our thumbs-up.

I should point out that I'm of the keyboard shortcut school, closely followed by plugging in a nice mouse; my model of choice at the moment being the Logitech VX Nano. Other members of my immediate family are known to refuse to buy notebooks that don't feature the trackpoint "nipple" style mice... but I digress.

After five days worth of solid testing, I'm coming around to the view that Apple has managed to crack the usability and design in the new touchpad. It does take some getting used to -- especially if you're coming from an older Macbook and "expect" the mouse to be at the base, as you'll reflexively leave a finger on the trackpad "above" (on the new Macbook, of course, it's all the same thing), which leads to you right clicking by mistake.

I also somewhat expected it to feel more like a Windows trackpad -- which have been tappable since... forever, basically... but the fact that you still have to click something in does make it a different mousing experience.

So, that's the good out of the way. The other factor that a lot of people have picked up on is ports on the Macbook -- and then the lack thereof. First of all, there's DisplayPort, or as Apple would have it "A standard that doesn't exist yet".

Methinks that Apple doesn't understand the meaning of the word "standard", and indeed, that there is in fact a port on the side of the Macbook I'm looking at right now, so it most definitely does "exist".

There's been some grumbling about the need to buy adaptors to hook up to DVI monitors, but that's nothing new -- Apple's long been in the game of offering adaptors (at extra cost) to connect this, that and the other. Annoying, yes, but par for the course.

So long Firewire
The other port that people have been getting hot under the collar is Firewire, which has been stripped out of the Macbook entirely. It's tough not to view this in a cynical light; by making Firewire a premium Macbook-Pro-only offering Apple's trying a not very subtle upsell, and one that's annoying given that existing Macbook offerings (and the still offered but more costly than it used to be white Macbook) used to have.

I can't say that I'll personally miss Firewire due to the lack of Target Disk Mode, simply because I can count the number of times I've used on Target Disk Mode on the hands of no fingers. Where I would miss it, however, is in the ability to connect up camcorders with a minimum of fuss. Quite why Apple, a company that prides itself on the appeal that it has for the creative community, opted to strip out Firewire eludes me.

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