Apple MacBook review

23 Jun 2006

Well built and beautifully designed, but Windows users should still think twice

Price when reviewed 
876
4

We never thought we'd say it, but there's never been a better time to consider buying a Mac. With the release of the Boot Camp Beta, Apple's Intel-based hardware can now uniquely run both OS X and Windows. You'll need to have a full copy of the latter to hand, but we had our MacBook out of the box and running a dual-boot system in a little under 90 minutes.

The MacBook is the Intel-based successor to the iBook. While this had 12 and 14in variants, the MacBook is available with a 13.3in widescreen only. The single-size configuration is partly to ensure a decent distinction between it and the MacBook Pro, but at 325 x 229 x 28mm (around the footprint of an A4 sheet of paper) it's also an excellent size to carry around with you. The mobile experience is helped by its 2.3kg weight and light-use battery time of 3hrs 36mins, although this dropped to 1hr 26mins under intensive use.

The screen runs at a resolution of 1,280 x 800 and comes with the glossy finish that's now so common on consumer notebooks. It isn't ideal for working in all conditions (fluorescent lights commonly prove a nuisance), but the extra contrast apparent in films and photos gives it real impact. Our technical tests revealed a beautifully steady image too, while our colour ramps were pleasingly uniform.

The basic range starts at an attractive £749 (inc VAT), with a 1.83GHz Core Duo T2400, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB hard disk and a combo optical drive. From there, there's a 2GHz Core Duo T2500 version, which adds a dual-layer DVD+/-RW burner for £899 (inc VAT), and a top model - reviewed here - which moves up to an 80GB hard disk and comes with Apple's new black finish. At £1,029, this latter addition adds nearly £80 to the price just by itself, and it's difficult to see why you'd want it: the white finish of the two base models is arguably still the more distinctive compared to most Windows laptops, and our MacBook was uniquely effective as a fingerprint magnet. Upgrading the mid-range version to a more sensible 1GB of RAM adds £60 to the price, while taking the 60GB hard disk to 80GB costs another £34.

Performance was as we'd expect given the hardware, with our benchmarks returning a final score of 0.94 under Windows. Elsewhere, the MacBook has a full set of features. The Atheros AR5006X is an 802.11a/b/g wireless adapter, while Gigabit Ethernet and Bluetooth are equally useful additions. There's no standard D-SUB or DVI port, but for £13 extra you can add a removable mini-DVI-to-D-SUB or DVI port adapter. The graphics adapter is nothing more exotic than Intel's GMA 950 integrated card.

The MacBook boasts improved build quality over its predecessor, with the screen hinge standing out as being significantly better, and the MagSafe power adapter is a welcome carryover from the MacBook Pro. The keyboard isn't a single unit - the keys are raised from the MacBook's base individually. The downside to this is that the keyboard isn't removable, but it feels perfectly solid, and the lack of gaps between the keys means crumbs and dust will find it harder to work their way underneath. Our only gripe about the trackpad is Windows-based - just one mouse button means learning a few more keyboard shortcuts.

So, as tempting as it may be, we'd caution anyone against using a MacBook solely as your primary Windows machine. Currently, Boot Camp is beta software that's neither supported by Apple or compatible with all of the MacBook's integrated hardware; the 640 x 480 pixel webcam at the top of the bezel is a no-go under Windows, while the scrolling trackpad, which allows you to scroll around documents using two fingers, is similarly absent. You also lose most of the function keys - only screen brightness can be adjusted via the keyboard. For those who need to operate both OSes, Boot Camp is a godsend, but others would do well to wait for the next version of OS X (Leopard), which will implement Windows compatibility in a more fundamental way.