opinion tech

The MacBook Review

I got me a MacBook.

At dead on $2000, it’s the most expensive single purchase I’ve done yet. It’s the second most valuable thing I own. I cherish this baby. I’ve “donated” my desktop to the family, removing the need for the ye olde Pentium III that was their computing universe for the last seven years.

Yes yes but how does it feel?

At 13 inches diagonally, the widescreen is about the size of an A4 notebook, and clocks in at just over 2 kg, making it easily luggable. The glossy whiteness of it has been spoilt a little over the last fortnight by various fingers, but the look is slicker than an oily racetrack. This thing grabs attention when it’s opened – the whiteness marks it out as different to the batillion of corporate-clone silver and black Windows laptops out there. The cleverly glowing Apple logo helps for sure.

The keyboard is different to the standard laptop style, and this is a good thing; there’s a clear gap between the keys, which makes it a little more like a standard stand-alone keyboard. In fact, all the buttons are probably a little bit bigger than normal, and that combined with the gaps and the reduced set of “Apple” keys makes it look almost spartan. I miss some of the ‘functional’ keys – home/end and all that lot. To be sure, they’re all available from key combos, but one-click is more useful – while the nefariously useless Caps Lock key has 1 and a half key-width dedicated to it. Remove that caps lock key already!

The trackpad is responsive, and the double-tap-to-right-click works, except when it doesn’t and you end up somewhere else entirely to where you wanted to be. It’s got a single giant click button on the bottom, which I can only assume makes sense to hardened Mac-heads; c’mon Apple, that context menu thing is pretty useful – a right click button wouldn’t half go astray. It’s not like the button’s not big enough.

2 USB, Firewire, and Optical Audio are your extra input options; nothing extensive, but then again you don’t usually need too much more these days.

Ok so how does it run?

Like a bloody charm. I don’t know if it’s OSX, the Core 2 Duo, the 1 gig of RAM, Apple in general or the newness of it all, but this is fast. At least compared to my desktop, but that wasn’t too much of a sloth, so I’m pleasantly surprised. It’s perhaps not quite so quick in some of the non-Apple apps like Office:Mac or Acrobat Reader, but then again Office:Mac at least is running in PPC emulation mode so it has a reasonable excuse.

Getting used to Mac OS takes some time for a power user of Windows like me. Linux feels a lot closer to the Windows operating ideal than Mac OS, and I don’t think anything really approximates the experience. Sure, you can bend it into an imitation of, but it wants you to use it differently. I like how Mac OS handles applications – they’re very straightforward to get going, and now I find the Windows Method needlessly complex.

Speaking of applications, there’s no way you can do without Quicksilver. This little app has changed the way I use the computer entirely, and now I’m searching for much the same functionality on my Windows system at work. Ctrl-Space is all that’s needed to reach into the bowels of the operating system and get it to do what you want. It’s like Apple built a system that was designed to support Quicksilver. I suspect I would be a lot more frustrated with the Mac OS learning curve were it not for this little beauty.

I’ve heard it does Windows too…

It does. But why would you?

I’ve not even contemplated. Mainly because I’m still busy getting things custom-set, and partially because I wanted to force myself to learn, but after a while you just don’t need it. Ultimately, it is just an operating system, and the important bit is the applications that lie on top of it. Exploring the world of Mac applications, I find there’s just so much more variety of funky apps with actual good looks – but they cost money, most of the time. Still some of them are worth it.

However, at some point in the next fortnight I will try Parallels. There’s still some Windows apps that hold their own, and I can’t help but be curious about Parallels because I’ve heard such rave reviews. I just don’t know if I want to tackle the hassle of drivers and configuration and all those hundred things you have to do to Windows just to get it working the way you want.

Gripes? I’ve got a few

It’s not all plain sailing.

1. Finder… sucks. Finder is sort of the Explorer of Mac OS, and it’s not too crash hot. It may be that years of Windows indoctrination has me picturing a hard drive as the tree structure, but there’s no denying it’s a straightforward idea that works. If someone knows a “Windows Explorer” for Mac OS, or just a decent way to make Finder act similarly, please let me know!

2. Right-click. I’m whipping a dead horse on Cup day, but it has to be said: Mac OS needs a right-click mouse input by default. The context menu is quite useful, bridging the gap between pure keyboard shortcutism and going back to the menu bar time and time again.

3. 1280×800. The 13 in screen is cute for a bit, but when you want to get serious work done,you realise it’s inadequate. If you can afford it, go for the 15in Pro.

4. The heat. Maybe it’s just summer, and in winter it’ll feel good, but this is one hot cookie when it gets going. Hearing the fans kick in late at night is also quite amusing, being on par with a plane about to hurtle down a runway. It may be disturbing when a laptop nearly tops an Athlon XP.

5. The locked-downedness of everything. While I’m all for smart drive/device design, I’m a power user and when I want to, I expect to be able to edit something. Mac OS doesn’t (necessarily) let you do that.

What I would do differently next time

1. More hard drive space. You can’t ever have enough.

2. Order 5 to give to family & friends =)

In Conclusivo

What I’ve said basically is that, overall, it’s a computer you can live with, and enjoy it along the way. It’s far from perfect, but it is one of the best value ones out there, even if all you do is install Windows and use that. If I were to rate it, it’d be in the 8/10 zone. But I don’t need to.

2 replies on “The MacBook Review”

Heat is always a problem. It’s a problem with mine too. But it hasn’t killed me. Yet.

Right click? Don’t need it. I learned about 3 or 4 keyboard shortcuts on top of the ones I already use in Windows and I’m set. You don’t have to look very closely to see that lack of right-click has changed the way UI is architected for almost every Mac app (except Office). Plus, there are utilities out there to change the right side of your mouse button into right click.

The “locked down ness” is something I originally griped about but I got over it. Why? Because I need to get work done. I don’t need to change the way Finder lays out its files or the way the colours of dialog boxes. Each additional feature adds a layer of complexity and usability concerns and I’m happy to do without.

I didn’t notice heat so much from my mum or dad’s laptops, but they have a much larger construction, and vents at the back to boot. The Mac doesn’t have that, but because it doesn’t means that it looks pretty slick. It’s one of those “well it’d be nice if…” things, I think.

Yes, some apps in windows depend entirely too much on the context menu. However, in a GUI, the mouse is the primary action-enabling tool… For example, opening new tabs in Firefox – in Windows, I middle click, or right click and select the option. I’m sure there’s a preference or option somewhere that lets me set it to open tabs by default. It may be something that I have to get used to, but I do think it’s something that can change.

I don’t think you should get over the locked-down-ness. I don’t need to change the things you mention either, but there are other settings that I might like to customise that aren’t obvious to me as yet. Something like Firefox’s about:config may be a way to enable the advanced user. It’s a question of design philosophy I suppose, but I think you should give people such freedoms. It’s not like I fiddle with them daily; once they’re set the way I want, I can do my work the way that suits me.

It’s all a question of enabling productivity and creativity – don’t force people to all think in the same way. “Think Different” shouldn’t mean “Think Different (together)”.

Leave a Reply