Technology

The new MacBook – a lay review

MacBookAfter close to 7 years I decided to say goodbye to my 13-inch, aluminium, late 2008 MacBook. This wasn’t an easy choice to make. It was a trusty, stellar workhorse with a flawless history of operation. Although it started to slow down after some of the latest OS X updates, it was still an excellent machine. I probably could have expanded its lifespan further by upgrading the RAM, but there is always an inherent risk in such upgrades and, admittedly, I was also tempted by the shiny new MacBooks released earlier this year.

The 13-inch, aluminium, late 2008 MacBook had become a legendary model over the years. Arguably it is one of the best ‘notebooks’ ever manufactured … so I thought until I received my new retina, 12-inch MacBook a couple of weeks ago.

The model I ordered has a few modifications. It has been upgraded from the base model with a 1.3GHz Dual-Core Intel Core M processor and a 512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage.

As usual with Apple products, the first impression was awesome. Lifting the MacBook out of its box left me shocked by how thin and light this model is. At its thickest point it’s barely over 1cm and it weighs under 1kg. It can be held comfortably and safely in one hand.

Initially I was concerned about the size of the 12-inch screen and I delayed my order because I thought it may prove too small. In real-life, the change from the 13 to the 12-inch screen was practically unnoticeable. Perhaps this has to do with the new retina resolution, which makes everything incredibly clear and sharp.

An unexpected delight of the 12-inch design is that this MacBook fits perfectly in the shoulder bag I bought a few years ago just big enough to fit my iPad comfortably.

Beyond its good looks, the new MacBook is fast and perfectly suited to my everyday computing needs. I am not a gamer and I don’t put my MacBook through a lot of unusual punishment. I often connect to work remotely via a VPN, email, stream music, TV shows and movies, surf the web, update social media, manage my photos and run a few WordPress websites. But I suspect that pretty much sums up the average user. So, if you are an average user this is an excellent, light, fast and perfectly sized model that transfers from desk to bag to public transport, back to bag to coffee shop table, and back to the desk again. If you are a gamer or other heavy user, my experience may not apply to you, so you should make your own assessment.

Another thing that stands out to me is the speed with which the new MacBook starts up and shuts down. This is a result of the flash storage, a solid-state drive (SSD), rather than a traditional hard disk drive (HDD). Given that SSD, unlike HDD, has no moving parts, you can also be more relaxed about bumps, and moving your machine, while using it. In these particular aspects the new MacBook behaves more like an iPhone or iPad. When it comes to mobility and data safety, this is an excellent feature.

Of course, just like with everything else in life, flash storage also has some disadvantages, including higher price and generally lower storage capacity (and higher capacity flash storage may experience some performance issues). Personally, in an age of streaming and cloud storage I am not finding the capacity issue troubling, at the 512GB storage level I haven’t experienced any performance issues, and the increased mobility and safety of the flash drive overrides my cost concerns.

I read a lot of grumblings about the new MacBook’s single USB-C port for charging and … everything else. Similar concerns were expressed when Apple removed CD-drives from its machines and released the original MacBook Air with limited ports. In the age of wireless technology, streaming and cloud storage I fail to see the issue as a serious concern and my user experience has not been negatively affected by the sole USB-C port. However, I did buy a USB-C to USB adapter with my new machine which I use when I need to physically connect my iPhone or iPad, which is a rare occurrence. I would recommend that anyone who gets the new MacBook get the adapter for convenience, at least until the iPhone and iPad accessories are updated to USB-C.

The new keyboard and trackpad designs are also a noticeable improvement. In order to fit a full-sized keyboard into the new slim-lined body Apple re-designed the underlying mechanism of the keyboard. When you first start typing on the new keyboard, the difference is physically noticeable … and it feels quite weird. The keys don’t ‘wobble’ side-to-side but go vertically down and are very solid. First this feels unusual, but it’s very easy to get used to. After using it for a little while, other keyboards start to feel flimsy and toy-like.

The update to the trackpad also resulted in a surface that feels more solid. It also recognises three different pressure levels enabling new ways of interacting with your MacBook. You can tap, click or press down harder, enabling you to perform more types of actions quickly and easily via your trackpad. Again, this requires a little re-learning but, once you get the hang of it, it speeds up your ability to perform various functions and it becomes a real efficiency and productivity enhancer.

Another significant consideration with notebooks is battery life. The new MacBook has excellent battery life. I usually get a good 8-10 hours of use on a single charge. My experience has been so positive I stopped carrying the power-cord with me. I just make sure it is fully charged each night and I have full confidence it will work through the entire day consistently.

Overall, the new MacBook is a modern marvel and the perfect union of design and function. Perhaps it’s slightly ahead of its time and may take some getting used to, but would you expect anything less from Apple?

Don’t worry about the faith of the old MacBook though. It is being cared for. I cleared its hard disk, deleted everything from it that wasn’t absolutely necessary and it has now become a ‘guest notebook’, because it is a machine worthy of a happy and respectful retirement.

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