Macbook first spin

I dropped by my local AppleCentre yesterday afternoon to check out the new Macbook.

Half-expecting that they wouldn’t have actually arrived in Australia, to my surprise the Apple Centre I visited had two Macbooks on display - one each representing the low-end (1.8GHz) and high end (2.0GHz) spec. But alas there were no ‘Darth’-books to be seen today.


The screen is beautiful. After sitting behind a 12” G3 iBook (M8599LL/C spec) for the past 4 or so years, the 13” widescreen on the Macbook is a very welcome upgrade. I didn’t have any issues with the ‘glossy’ screen everyone seems to be up in arms about, apart the odd distraction of finger marks blighting the (heavily used) demo machine’s screen.

The addition of the larger screen does compromise the portability that was afforded by the 12” iBook (and 12” Powerbook for that matter) a little - my current iBook is the same size as an A4 piece of paper, the 13” Macbook sits between this and the full-sized 15” Macbook Pro. As much as I like the smaller size of my iBook, it’d give this up for a second for the larger and better ratio’d Macbook screen - no more 4:3!

‘That’ keyboard

The keyboard is excellent. Again to compare with my iBook, this thing felt rock solid as opposed to the flakey one on the iBook. It does look a little strange, but in design terms - genius. To illustrate my point:

Visualise a heavy cluster of mushrooms growing from the earth, viewed from above. The cap of the mushroom is what you see from above, below it are the stalks and a heap of free space underneath the caps and between each stalk. This is how most keyboards are designed, each ‘key’ on your keyboard is like a mushroom - the key itself as the mushroom cap, with the actuator (mushroom stalk) connecting it with the base of the keyboard. Much like the mushroom cluster, there’s a bunch of free space underneath the keys and between the actuators.

Slowly, over time, particles of dust/hair/crumbs/earwax/god-knows-what fall into your keyboard and collect in this empty void underneath your keyboards keys. Still with me? On my iBook this is a pretty serious issue due to the fact that my G3 iBook has translucent white keys, even on a later G4 iBook with non-translucent white keyboard - the gunk is still very visible. The Macbook keyboards will never have this issue as nothing can fall underneath the keys, only between the keys which could then be easily cleaned out.


Remember also that the iBook - and guess now the Macbook - is the darling of the education market. These things need to be built tough to withstand anything kids can throw at them. With the previous iBook design, you could litterally lift off any key on the keyboard by applying a very moderate amount of leverage underneath a key, they pop straight off. With the new Macbook design, the keys remain slightly recessed into the keyboard base making key removal much more difficult - if not impossible. Though not confirmed, I’ve heard mention that to replace a key, the entire Macbook keyboard needs to be taken out - from behind.

Another evolutionary change witnessed on recent Apple products is the introduction of ‘grey’ zones on white products. Think about the evolution of the scrollwheel on 3rd generation iPod to 4th/5th generation. The scroll wheel turned from white to grey.

Similarly, the scroll-ball on the MightyMouse if grey, not white. Likewise the keyboard surrounds and trackpad on the Macbook are grey, designed to hide the normal discolouration that occurs during constant use. Obviously an important design consideration, taken into account by Apple.

On a minor note, it’s great to see that they chose to fit a proper full-size keyboard with bespoke Eject key, rather than relying on the Function+F12 combination as used on the iBook.

Other notables

I fired up Frontrow to see how the video performance peformed. Like many newer Macs I’ve had some time on recently, the video performance in Frontrow can be a little shakey when a few other apps are running. Best to close everything else down prior to attempting to run videos in FR. After doing so, the Macbook handled a 780p file from the Quicktime website perfectly. The oft-derided integrated graphics of the Macbook (and indeed the Mac mini), whilst not perfect for games, is more than capable of handling any video you throw at it. Though not HD, also managed to watch the new trailer for ‘Cars’ (naturally) which looked incredible on the Macbooks screen.

I didn’t get to try out the new magnetic latch on the Macbook due to the demo machines I tried being massively over-secured to such a degree that couldn’t move the machine and could not adjust the screen angle, let alone close it completely. The latch itself seems pretty trick, where you would expect a latch to be there’s the iSight camera, I’m guessing that a pair of magnets used to secure the lid close are hidden either side of the iSight. The new feet underneath the Macbook are also a very welcome upgrade. I hadn’t lost one of the rubber feet on the bottom of my iBook in over three years of use until recently when two (opposite corners, naturally) came adrift over the space of one weekend.

How much do I want one?

Badly. My trusty old 600mhz G3 iBook has provided some pretty solid service for the past few years, dead backlight micro-switch and dead hard-drive notwithstanding. The relatively recent addition of a G4 iBook into the family has lightened its workload a little, but it really is getting on time for an upgrade. If it weren’t for another large event looming on the very near horizon (more on that later), I surely would have picked one up already - this is the exact machine I’ve been hanging out for.