I’ve gone and got myself a new MacBook. Not a MacBook Pro, just the plain old white MacBook. I’ve been using it for long enough to form some opinions, and overall I’m satisfied with it. But it definitely isn’t the perfect notebook computer.

First of all, the bad:

  • Intel GMA950 graphics chip – this gives me all kinds of trouble with external monitors. After using iMovie, it won’t detect external monitors until I restart. After waking from display sleep, external DVI monitors can lose synchronisation with the video signal and need to be disconnected and reconnected (this messes up window positions). The performance isn’t bad, though.
  • Reflections off the glossy screen – when that happens, it ranges from really distracting to just plain unusable. Matte screens are never that bad. Sure, it looks great when the light is OK, but it’s all or nothing.
  • No internal modem – hey, people still like to get faxes, so I want to be able to send them. Sure, the USB modem is funky, but it’s one more thing to buy and carry around.
  • Only FireWire 400 (IEEE1394a) – if you’re only giving us one FireWire port, can’t you make it a fast one? We can always use adaptors for slower devices.
  • MDVI video output – this wouldn’t be a problem if they included adaptors, but they expect me to go and spend another $100 or so to be able to plug in to external monitors and TVs.
  • No 802.11a – like it or not, Steve, 802.11a is far more efficient than 802.11g. I know the number is the same (54 Mb/s for both), but there’s a lot more to it than that.
  • Temperature – this thing gets a lot hotter than my wife’s old iBook G3.
  • Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” – Spotlight is useless, Dashboard is a waste of memory, the font rendering is nowhere near as good as Panther and the input menu behaviour is really weird. How does it order the items in the menu, and why does Kotoeri keep deciding to change the underlying keyboard layout for kana input mode? I liked old, mbox-based with the mailbox drawer, too.
  • Apple Remote – it’s a useless piece of junk. Why couldn’t they include some video adaptors or a modem instead?

And to balance that, all the really good things:

  • The case – I like not having a latch (like the original iBook), the keyboard is far better than the iBook keyboard, it’s small and light and it looks great.
  • MagSafe power connector – why didn’t anyone think of this before? The is one of the best things about the new Apple notebooks.
  • The glossy screen – white on black text in terminal windows is a thing of beauty and arcade games in SDLMAME look so good! The brightness and contrast are excellent. Too bad about the reflections, though.
  • Dual CPU cores – it’s great to have the system loaded down and still have a really responsive UI. Two physical CPU cores really helps with that.
  • Battery life – it’s very good if you aren’t doing anything too heavy. But they’ve jammed a pretty big battery in to get there.
  • Gigabit Ethernet – it’s about time that was standard on low-end machines.
  • Video spanning – fixing another silly limitation on the iBooks. Spanning is far more useful than mirroring most of the time.
  • The video camera – at first I couldn’t get excited about this, after all I can make video calls on my mobile phone, but 3G coverage isn’t available everywhere, so it’s occasionally useful.
  • Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger” – yes, it makes both lists. Xcode just keeps getting better, Rosetta is brilliant, Tiger is faster than Panther overall, you don’t notice that this is the first release on completely different hardware, Jabber in iChat let me get rid of another IM program and there are some very nice additions like the ability to re-map modifier keys without hacks.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, 20 September, 2006 at 1:27 pm and is filed under Apple, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One response to “MacBook”

brian says:

Well, you know what they say about opinions… everyone’s got one and they all stink. (That’s the clean version of that cliche, anyway.) Mainly, I just thought it was an odd combination of ideas–that Apple sucks for not having a built-in modem, because you want one and don’t want to carry around an extra piece, but that they should have gone with FireWire 800, because you want it and everyone else should just carry around an extra piece. 🙂

As you know, everything is a tradeoff. For every person who wishes a MacBook had (a FireWire 800 port/a native DVI connector/a modem/etc) there are a thousand others who a) don’t care and b) are happy to have machine that cost less than it would have if it had all those things they don’t want anyway. I can count on my fingers how many faxes I’ve sent in the last 3 years, and I’ve got several FW400 devices but none that support FW800.

Hopefully you’ve discovered that Dashboard can be easily disabled, and check your font smoothing settings in the ‘Appearance’ preference pane. I’m not a font snob but I know a decent amount about type and I spend a lot of time in both 10.3 and 10.4 in a design environment, and saying “the font rendering is nowhere near as good as Panther” is a bit of a stretch. I just took screenshots of your page on rock-stock 10.3 and 10.4 systems and overlaid them in Photoshop (tough to get right since you’ve got your text set to fully-justify–ick!) and there are nearly no differences. At 100%, toggling one layer’s visibility on and off, you can just barely see the tiniest bit of flickering between the two. At 300%, with the top layer’s colors inverted and the opacity set to 50%–thus making all identical pixels grey and all other pixels a different color–you can see how little difference there is.

By the way, I too bought a MacBook and work gave me a MacBook Pro. I could list exactly what I do and don’t want in a notebook, and my list would be different from yours and anyone else’s. I would have liked them to have thrown in an optical audio cable, but I suspect I’m in the vast minority.

I stumbled across your blog randomly and it’s entirely likely I won’t make it back; feel free to reply via email if you care to.

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