MACBOOK REVIEWS: It's gorgeous, but requires lots of compromises

Apple’s new MacBook goes on sale Friday, and Apple has let a few reporters play with it before it launches.

The new MacBook, which was announced at an Apple event in March, is super-thin and super-light, weighing just two pounds.

It has a 12-inch Retina display, is available in silver, space grey, and gold just like the iPhone, and, although it looks like what we know as the MacBook Air, Apple is simply calling it the new MacBook.

  • It’s not for everyone. For better or for worse, the new MacBook is intentionally minimalistic. But, as CNET’s Dan Ackerman says: “Its strictly enforced minimalism will make this laptop the model that industrial designers will strive to copy for the next several years.”
  • Somewhat controversially, the new MacBook only has one USB port, which handles charging and data input and output. So you can’t charge your laptop and connect an external hard drive or a USB charger simultaneously.
  • The laptop looks gorgeous. It’s available in three aluminium hues — silver, space grey, and gold. “Beautiful,” The Verge’s Dieter Bohn calls it.
  • If you’re doing much more than casual web browsing and checking your email, this might not be the computer for you. “Basically, if you do anything that’s going to really tax the processor, this laptop probably isn’t going to cut it for you,” the Verge’s Dieter Bohn says. “In that sense it’s actually kind of like a Chromebook. It’s fast enough for 70 per cent of what I do, but a little slower than what I’m used to.”
  • In addition, Apple is selling users on the new and improved MacBook with a new trackpad, which uses something called Force Click to automatically perform some gestures depending on what you’re doing on your computer.
  • The notebook also has improved keys, and no fan, which will make it quieter when it works. It’s powered by Intel’s new Core M processor.

Here’s what critics are saying about it so far:

CNET’s Dan Ackerman says that while the new 12-inch MacBook provides better battery life than other notebooks with the Core M processor, the MacBook’s “performance and battery life falls short of the MacBook Air and Pro.” If you’re a heavy user, you might see the battery life drain quickly. The newly designed MacBook keyboard is “shallow,” and it takes some time to get used to it. In addition, the new, single USB port “almost immediately frustrating.”

Yahoo’s David Pogue acknowledges that, yes, the new MacBook is gorgeous and ultra-thin, but that it’s akin to the 2008 MacBook Air in one way: if you went out and bought Version One right now, you’d be paying too much for what you’re getting. “Unless you’re a well-heeled executive who doesn’t do much besides write, email, and surf the Web, the price you pay — in speed, utility, and, yes, price — is just too high,” he says. The new MacBook starts out at $US1,299.

The Verge’s Dieter Bohn “hated” the new keyboard at first, but quickly acclimated to it. “The only real hassles are the redesigned up and down arrow keys: they’re entirely too small,” he says, adding that the new MacBook is “easily the most impressive I’ve seen since the original MacBook Air.” But while the new MacBook offers a lot in terms of innovation, its thinness requires you to compromise too: “Basically, if you do anything that’s going to really tax the processor, this laptop probably isn’t going to cut it for you.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern agrees with Bohn’s premise: the new MacBook a beautiful notebook, she says, but you’ll have to compromise battery life and the convenience of having multiple ports for charging and connecting to other devices. “The new MacBook represents an exciting evolution in portable computing, but at this point it is more a proof of concept than your next computer,” Stern says.

Techcrunch’s Darrell Etherington says, sure, both the keyboard and the new trackpad take some getting used to, but having a single USB port didn’t bother him at all. And he found both the battery life and its performance while running programs like Photoshop and Final Cut Pro to be good. In fact, he says, “the MacBook might just be my favourite portable Mac ever.”

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