New Apple MacBook: Gorgeous, But Flawed - InformationWeek

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Commentary
3/10/2015
12:02 PM
Eric Zeman
Eric Zeman
Commentary
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New Apple MacBook: Gorgeous, But Flawed

The new Apple MacBook may be one of the thinnest and lightest notebooks out there, but it makes some serious compromises to get there.

Office For Mac 2016: First Look
Office For Mac 2016: First Look
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Apple introduced a new MacBook laptop during its Spring Forward event on Monday, March 9.

Apple's latest laptop sits between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines and is the company's slimmest portable ever. There shouldn't be any debate: The MacBook is a masterpiece of design and engineering. Good looks aren't everything, however, and sometimes utility must intercede. In the case of the MacBook, Apple kicked some utility to the curb.

Like most Apple devices, the MacBook is made from aluminum.

It measures 1.31-cm at its thickest point and weighs a mere 2.03 pounds. At the event on stage, Apple CEO Tim Cook remarked, "Can you even see it? I can't even feel it." By way of comparison, the 13-inch MacBook Air measures 1.7cm thick and weighs 2.96 pounds, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro measures 1.8cm thick and weighs 3.48 pounds. The MacBook's stablemates are hardly chunky, but it sets a new benchmark in the slim-and-light category.

(Image: Apple)

(Image: Apple)

Apple was forced to re-engineer the keyboard to help reduce thickness.

It created a new type of button mechanism that offers more reliable feedback and is yet slimmer than the older, more traditional scissor-style design. Moreover, Apple created its slimmest display ever.

Apple also re-realized the Touchpad. It has new mechanics underneath that let users click effectively anywhere on the pad. It also supports what Apple calls "Force Touch" -- a way to double-click on items by pressing down to activate the button and then pressing hard on the glass.

Apple bestowed the new MacBook with a 12-inch Retina Display boasting 2,304 x 1,440 pixels for a 16:10 aspect ratio. That's a significant improvement over the MacBook Air's 1,440 x 900 screen, but not quite as impressive as the MacBook Pro's 2,560 x 1,600 screen. If you're worried about performance, the MacBook uses the Intel Core M processor clocked at 1.1GHz, 1.2GHz, or 1.3GHz, depending on configuration. The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro each have faster processor options, though they are older Core i3 and Core i5 architectures. The Core M processors don't require fans, a fact which allowed Apple to shrink the size of the logic board and reduce weight at the same time.

All models have 4MB of shared L3 cache and 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM. Users can select either 256GB or 512GB of storage. The Intel HD Graphics 5300 GPU supports two displays at resolutions up to 4K. Battery life is an impressive 9 hours of wireless Web time or 10 hours of iTunes video playback. In other words, a full workday should be no problem.

[Thinking of buying an Apple Watch next month? Read Apple Watch 2.0: Why You Should Wait.]

So far, the MacBook seems downright impressive -- and it is. Let's talk about connectivity.

As you'd expect, Apple stuffed the latest Bluetooth and WiFi radios into the laptop for faster networking. It offers stereo speakers and even dual microphones. There's a 480p FaceTime camera, which is down from the 720p and 1080p HD cameras available to other MacBooks. There's a standard combo headphone/optical digital audio output (minijack) on the right side and a Type-C USB connector on the left side. There's no MagSafe charging port, no Type-B USB connector, no DisplayPort, no HDMI port, and no SD card slot. The Type-C connector is the only way to charge the MacBook and plug in accessories, such as an iPhone, mouse, or extra display. Type-C is reversible and supports charging as well as USB 3.1 for fast speeds. The Type-C connector is the future (all smartphones/tablets are set to adopt it in the next year), but right now it's a severe limitation.

MagSafe has saved my laptops more times than I care to recount.

Without separate charging and data ports, you won't be able to charge your iPhone while also charging your computer. Without DisplayPort or HDMI you can't easily push the screen to other devices. (Apple will argue AirPlay solves this problem). The lack of SD card support means photographers and others who rely on removable memory cards for transferring files will need to find another way to do so. (Apple will argue wireless transfer protocols, such as AirDrop, negate the need for memory card support.) Of course, Apple will happily sell you overpriced accessories to do all these things, too.

Apple was among the first to drop DVD/CD drives from its laptops. It also got rid of Ethernet ports earlier than most other OEMs. Now it's the first to drop USB Type-B and other standard connectors in favor of a port practically no one uses. Perhaps that's the point: Adoption of the Type-C connector has to start somewhere.

Pricing for the MacBook starts at $1,299 for the 1.1GHz model and $1,599 for the 1.2GHz model. Apple hasn't yet indicated what other options will cost. The device goes on sale April 10.

What do you think? Are you happy with it? Is the lack of standard ports a deal-breaker, or does the combination of screen, size, portability, and battery life make up for it? Please sound off below.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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MeasurementBlues
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MeasurementBlues,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/16/2015 | 11:14:09 AM
Testing Type C
There's more to these cables than just the connectors.

See USB 3.1 testing part 2: Type-C cable assemblies at IW's sister publication, EDN.

 

 
jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
3/12/2015 | 3:14:30 PM
Re: Lack of "Physical" Connectivity
I'm with you there, Thomas, on having a second port. While the initial battery life is good for a laptop, batteries degrade over time. There are cases when wireless won't do what you want and you need to connect just one extra peripheral.

The cynical side of me says that this is another one of Apple's common ploys to drive more spending on high-priced adapters.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
3/11/2015 | 4:19:30 PM
Re: Lack of "Physical" Connectivity
The lack of a fan is nice. I dislike how my MacBook Pro turns into a jet engine every so often to cool itself. I'd prefer a second USB Type-C connector or SD card slot, for external storage. Wireless can be finicky and isn't as secure as wired connections.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
3/11/2015 | 9:12:08 AM
Re: Lack of "Physical" Connectivity
Yes the lack of physical connectivity is an issue, at least for me. The HP laptop i use for work is a great device because of the HDMI, SD, ethernet and USB ports onboard. I like to have a monitor connected to my laptop when i am at my desk. I give presentations using ClickShare, if wireless is down i need the ethernet connection. Some folks might not have these requirements but i do. And like your Susan, i take a lot of photos and use the SD to directly transfer the files to my computer. So i guess it all depends upon how one uses a laptop if these features are needed.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
3/11/2015 | 6:17:34 AM
Re: Lack of "Physical" Connectivity
Pablo, 

I was thinking of getting the MacBookAir 13", just like your Susan. Now I think the new MacBook would be better for me, as it's lighter and thinner, and I trust that now this is the best Apple laptop for my needs. Because, at the end of the day, it's all about individual needs. 

I use my iPad Air 2 for my photos. I find it great and uncomplicated. I used to hate all the process of the SD card years ago. I see no reason why I would go back to technology that is old. I always prefer to try the new stuff. 

The new MacBook sounds perfect for mobility, which is what I need the most to work in synch with my iPad and at the same time. Maybe your Susan doesn't need mobility that much, and she prefers to work with her Mac at home. This is why Apple has several options for different needs. :) 

-Susan
Pablo Valerio
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Pablo Valerio,
User Rank: Ninja
3/11/2015 | 5:03:15 AM
Re: Lack of "Physical" Connectivity
@Susan, after watching the Apple beautiful show about the new MacBook "my Susan" decided to buy the new 13" MacBook Air. It is bigger, but she doesn't want two computers.

I agree with your comment about the lack of USB ports, but she is an avid photographer and she likes to plug in the SD card direcly to the computer, not playing around with addtional cables and connectors.

But I agree with you, the new MacBook is sleek and light. 
Curt Franklin
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Curt Franklin,
User Rank: Strategist
3/10/2015 | 8:06:56 PM
Re: Lack of "Physical" Connectivity
@Pablo, I think it's important for all of us to remember that this is Apple's "entry-level" Macbook. In many ways it is designed to compete with Chromebooks for those people who want or need to be in the Apple universe. I like many aspects of the USB C connector and expect to see it on future Macbook Pro and Macbook Air machines -- but I also think that it's obvious I'm not the target for this machine.

I suspect this will be a very popular platform -- and I can't wait to see some of the features migrate into machines that I would, in fact, consider buying.
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
3/10/2015 | 7:12:59 PM
Re: Lack of "Physical" Connectivity
Pablo, 

I also have a MacBookPro (2012), which I love. I was thinking of getting a MacBookAir, then I thought I should wait for this announcement. I now think I will get this new MacBook instead.

I haven't used the extra ports in ages and I see no reason why all of the sudden I would need them. I haven't watched a DVD movie in years. I watch all my movies online. I am not sure if I will keep my MacBookPro. I will probably sell it before it gets older. I don't need a collections of Macs. I also believe it will be perfect with my iPad Air 2 as Apple always sees of making all the Apple devices work perfectly together, which another thing I love from Apple. I just love Apple. :D  

Apple products are smart. They work for me like any other has ever worked. Because Apple products work. :) I don't see any limitations in the new MacBook. It's perfect for mobility, which is a big thing for me. 

-Susan
Susan Fourtané
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Susan Fourtané,
User Rank: Author
3/10/2015 | 6:49:05 PM
Re: Only one port
With a 9 to 10-hour battery life I don't see why you need to charge your MacBook at the same time you change your iPhone, or iPad. As for all the others extra ports, I haven't used them in ages on MacBookPro. I don't see why I should need them in the future. 

-Susan
MeasurementBlues
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MeasurementBlues,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/10/2015 | 5:14:00 PM
Only one port
The new MacBook has one, and only one, I/O and charging port: USB3.1 using the new Type-C connector. Because the same port is used for both charging the MacBook and as a USB port, you can't charge this new MacBook while it's charing your phone. Well, unless you buy a port replicator that Apple will surely sell you.

Clearly, Apple is trying to get you to buy a MacBook Pro instead.
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