No Windows for Me

The Black MacBook Is a Gem of a Notebook

- 2008.03.06

Rating: 3 and a half out of 4

As you may have read in my previous column, I have acquired a black 2.2 GHz MacBook. I am going to review it here for all you Low End Mac readers!

black MacBook

To start with, the recent release of the MacBook Air has stolen some of the MacBook's thunder. The truth remains, however, that the plain old MacBook is the Apple notebook of choice for many students.

Under the Hood

The black MacBook that I am reviewing is the top-of the-line model, selling for $1,499. I got it used; it's about two months old. As I write this, new models with the Penryn processors are replacing the 2.0 GHz and 2.2 GHz models with 2.1 GHz and 2.4 GHz ones.

My MacBook has a 2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 4 MB of L2 cache and an 800 MHz frontside bus. It has 1 GB of 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM and a 160 GB 5400RPM Serial ATA hard drive. The display is a 13.3" 1280 x 800 (WXGA) unit with a glossy finish. A 1.3 megapixel iSight webcam resides in the top center of the lid.

It has a full-size "Chicklet" keyboard, which is sealed. The individual keys protrude from the top case. It has media and application buttons, such as fast-forward, rewind, pause/play, and a set of three volume adjustment keys (up, down, and mute). There are also keys to adjust brightness and keys for Exposé and Dashboard.

It has a slot-loading dual-layer SuperDrive on the right side of its inch-thick case. On the other side, it has its MagSafe power connector, a Mini-DVI port, a FireWire 400 port, two USB ports, a TV/media jack, and a headphone port.

Design

The MacBook is crammed into an inch-thick matte black case. There are no design frills to speak of, a refreshing change from Dell's and all of the other PC vendors' designs with pinstripes and protrusions and . . . well, you get my point.

On the top resides a glossy white Apple logo, which glows with light from the display's backlight. Apple notebooks have been doing this in some form since the original WallStreet PowerBook G3 in 1998. When you open the lid, two prominent features appear: A roomy, but not exactly expansive, keyboard, and an enormous trackpad with a single button.

Unfortunately, the beautiful black casing attracts fingerprints like the plague. It's a good idea to wipe off your MacBook with a slightly damp cloth each day. (Note to people considering a white MacBook: These things don't apply to you. Your MacBook will just resemble a squashed iBook G4.) While we're on the subject of color, it seems that the white MacBooks are seen less in the study hall and at Starbucks. This could be due to the fact that there are simply less of them produced, or the fact that most black MacBook owners don't frequent such establishments (i.e., they are "professional" users).

On that topic, the white MacBook certainly does look more juvenile than the black one. In fact, I think that Apple may want to use the black finish on their MacBook Pro; it's about time for a case redesign on those.

Ergonomics/Usage

The keyboard on the MacBook takes some getting used to. I migrated to this machine from an IBM ThinkPad, which has a keyboard with out-of-this-world tactile feedback. I type at about fifty words per minute on the MacBook, using my tried and true touch method. I am trying to convert myself to not looking at the keyboard when I type, so if there is a laughably juvenile mistake in this column, please forgive me. Tactile feedback on the MacBook keyboard is decent. It is not as progressive in travel as some are, however. The keyboard makes a wimpy "click" sound when typing.

The palmrests I find to be just long enough for comfortable use. There is a slight disparity in the edges of the casing, so the angles chafe my wrists somewhat. Nothing major, but a slight annoyance.

The screen is comfortable to look at, but it's insanely bright on the top setting, I suggest that you change it to a few notches short of maximum.

The trackpad has a slightly smoother-than-normal texture to it, but it is not at all uncomfortable. The expansive trackpad button is very firm to the press, which is why I have set up tap-to-click in System Preferences.

Performance

The MacBook is speedy, to say the least. It is the fastest computer I have ever owned, my previous fastest being a 2 GHz Intel Core Duo. Speaking of which, according to Geekbench the MacBook gets a score of 2907 (that's when plugged in and set to "Normal Performance"). I would assume that it would score around a 3000 when set to Maximum Performance, and I would, too, if it weren't for the fact that I am currently on Interstate 40, running on battery, with the nearest unencrypted router probably 10 miles away.

It runs Apple's latest-operating system, Leopard, with ease. With 1 GB RAM, running Garageband, Word, a Web browser, and iTunes at the same time is about as far as I dared venture into the world of multitasking. I hope to buy 4 GB soon.

Applications launch within a few bounces of the icon in the Dock, and overall performance in them is great. I have only used it with a copy of Photoshop CS and iLife '08. This review is being written in Office 2004.

And speaking of performance, battery life is rated at six hours. I can get around six hours at half brightness while typing continuously with both AirPort and Bluetooth on. Currently, with four hours remaining on the battery, I am at 75% charge. Brightness is three notches from the top and both AirPort and Bluetooth are on.

Unfortunately, it does get very hot after intensive use. I will keep it on a laptop stand for times when I am editing sound and images.

Pros

  • Great display
  • Terrific battery life
  • Wonderful glossy screen
  • Good color reproduction, as far as I know, but I'm not really a designer
  • Nice keyboard
  • Decent amount of ports
  • Looks incredibly beautiful
  • iSight camera
  • Light and thin
  • Attracts admiring stares....

Cons

  • Runs hot
  • Sharp edges
  • Attracts fingerprints like exit strategies attract criticism
  • Attracts admiring stares....

I would recommend this notebook to anyone wanting to switch to Mac or simply drag themselves out of the PowerPC era. There is not really much more to say on the subject. There are a couple of ergonomic flaws, but the benefits outweigh the flaws by a factor of ten to one.

Overall rating: 3-1/2 out of 4 LEMs. LEM


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