Apple MacBook Pro

MacbookNotice anything different about the Mac? Besides the high profile dumping of the Motorola PowerPC chip for Intel’s Core Duo, that is? The iBooks and other older Mac laptops were routinely priced considerably higher than their PC counterparts. For the first time ever — sharing the same chip as their competitors – Apple are well and truly joining the race.

Unfortunately, news stories across the world have made it look like a false start. Report of faults with the battery overhearing and swelling led to Apple issuing a statement warning that prolonged use in contact with the body could result in burns. Apparently they missed the irony of issuing such a warning about a computer commonly¬ known as a ‘laptop’. Barely a week had gone by when new reports emerged of yellow stains under the wrist on white MacBook models. No such problems have been reported in Australia as yet, so the Intel/Apple alliance seems safe for the moment.

So how does it perform? It depends completely on what you use a computer for. Under no circumstances should you expect to perform high-end graphic work on the MacBook. Testing in a design studio environment yielded a very frustrating few hours as the MacBook took forever to switch between applications and perform tasks.

The reason lies in bridging software called Rosetta. As it turns out, Apple-native applications have been re-tooled to run on the MacBook whereas others that were built for the Motorola chip need translating through Rosetta, a process that slows things down considerably in programs like Photoshop or Dreamweaver.

If however you’re part of the new paradigm of the web — blogging, podcasting and publishing your own websites — the MacBook is tailor made for you. It comes with the new version of iLife, Apple’s collection of multimedia tools. As well as the usual components like iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD and GarageBand, it now comes with iWeb, a drag and drop template application that lets you build and publish websites, movies or podcasts with a minimum of fuss.

The time when graphic artists were the only people excited about the launch of a new Mac is long gone. Apple coined the term digital lifestyle several a few years ago now and every move they make is living up to it. As if sniffing the blood in the air from the impending home media PC battle, the MacBook comes with it all built in.

Front Row is a very rumpus room-friendly tool that turns your Mac into the stereo, DVD player, slide projector and home video player without you even having to touch it. Use the Apple remote and — true to Apple’s form — the Front Row menu appears by sweeping the desktop away in a flourish of spinning icons.

The MacBook is also keeping pace with the latest developments by sporting a tiny camera just above the screen. It’s not only your built-in iSight camera — with the application Photo Booth, you’ll be addicted to it in no time.

Mechanically, Macs have always had a better usability profile than PCs. The only real negative is that the screen doesn’t quite tilt far back enough so you have to sit a little lower than is comfortable to be looking squarely at it.

Otherwise, it’s full of tricks both big and small it’ll take you weeks to even digest. You don’t realise there’s a light sensor somewhere until you turn off the lights, whereupon the screen goes a little dimmer and the keyboard lights up softly, making the MacBook usable in near total darkness if you’re that way inclined.

There’s an anti-shock hard disk protection mechanism that monitors bumps and jolts to the machine if you hit or drop it, and unlike PCs the system doesn’t take half the day to come back to life when you open it up.

As usual however, the most impressive feature is the battery. While PC manufacturers crow about their batteries lasting three or four hours — which they seldom do — the MacBook effortlessly clocked six or seven hours time and again depending on the workload.

For a worthy entry into the media PC fray for a price that’s finally within the reach of everyone, the MacBook is an exciting new direction for Apple. Whether stories about melting batteries and yellow hand stains is disinformation planted by jealous competitors will probably never be known, but they should be looking over their shoulders.