Apple MacBook Pro notebook

In the past, when it comes to updating, the MacBook Pro range its had tweaks here and there but never such a radical overhaul. The new model gets a new design, new features and new functionality.

Let’s start with the design. Aping parts of the MacBook Air, the casing now has those curved edges top and bottom giving it a thinner appearance; it is only 2.41cm thick in fact. Because of the new "brick" manufacturing process the keyboard deck of the MacBook Pro is made from a one piece "unibody" giving smoother seamless lines. While it’s not going to make much difference to your everyday computing use (it means the seal is on the bottom rather than the top) it is none the less impressive and worthy of showing off to people in the office.

Those curved edges aren't the only design hint taken from the MacBook Air. The keyboard gets black instead of silver keys, and great spacing like the standard MacBook, ready to catch the crumbs from your sandwich. The 15-inch model features a similar setup to the previous MacBook Pro in that you have a full sized keyboard with two speakers either side.

Beneath the keyboard is a new larger trackpad that has removed the visual cue of a clickable button. Now the entire trackpad is a button (you still have to press down to click). The removal of the button means you've got more room for manoeuvres as well as allowing Apple to implement a number of shortcuts that you can do by moving your fingers over the device.

You can control images within Apple applications, use two fingers to scroll up and down pages or now use four fingers upwards to minimise all your windows to the top of the screen or other programmable features. Clearly aimed at the new touchscreen user out there, it could be suggested that it is part of Apple's continued movement towards getting users ready for a completely touchscreen device.

Whether you believe that or not, what is clear is that it's very easy to use, and the extra features, where available, will make navigating around your desktop easier.

Of course it’s not just about a new keyboard layout and trackpad. Apple has also upgraded the screen. You now get an LED-backlit glossy screen that is thinner than the previous model. That gloss will either annoy or please. If you're planning on working in the garden, don't in bright sunshine (a rarity in the UK we know) don't.

Other new features include a magnetic latch rather than the mechanical one found on the previous version and the movement of the battery indicator that used to be underneath to on the side with the same small round button.

As this is a complete overhaul the ports have also moved and changed. Trying to keep it simple, you get all the ports down one side and the 8x SuperDrive on the other. In principle it sounds great, however USB dongle users will soon learn that because the ports are so close together you'll knock out whatever is on either side when your surfing the 3G highway. At least unlike the MacBook Air, you get an Ethernet socket.

Rather than opt for the industry standard HDMI, Apple has gone with Mini DisplayPort instead. Citing "engineered to standards that don’t even exist yet" the new video connector allows you to connect it to the company's new CinemaDisplay. It is compatible with current technologies such as DVI, VGA and Dual-Link DVI but you'll have to buy a separate connector.

Get past the design features and you get a typically impressive set of stats inside. Top of the range gets you a 320GB hard drive, 4GB of memory, and an Intel 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. On the graphics front, not content with one card you actually get two. It’s not so you can plug in two monitors - you've always been able to do that with one output anyway - it's so you can benefit from improved graphics when you are in the office on a power supply, or opt for the less power hungry settings when you are out and about.

Why would you want it? Well with companies like Adobe now offering software with hardware accelerated performance (CS4) the more powerful the graphics card the more useful it is editing images, video and playing games. However take that performance out on the road and your battery life is affected. Apple claim that using the enhanced Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT over the GeForce 9400M will knock an hour off the battery life down to 4 hours from the usual 5.

The move, which will appeal to the graphics set, will also start to allow Apple to tap into the gaming market, something that has clearly been a success following the App Store on the iPhone and iPod touch. In our accompanying Reviewers’ Notes that came with the laptop, the graphics card chapter is all GAMES, GAMES, GAMES.

The only catch from a usability point of view is that you need to log out to switch the graphics card, and if like us you leave your Mac on most of the time, having to restart all your apps because you are going on the road could be a pain.

Verdict

So should you be impressed? Of course you should, this is Apple turning its design eye to the laptop and making a very high-end shiny toy that is likely to appeal to the Mac set through and through.

However the MacBook Pro doesn't go completely unscathed. If this was my full time machine (I currently use a MacBook Pro) the two USB sockets so close together would frustrate me when it comes to being online and accessing a USB stick - it would be impossible.

So should you rush out and buy one? It seems Apple are oblivious to the credit crunch, and at £1399 for the basic model and £1749 for the model we've reviewed here, you'll have to pay for those new and exciting features.

If you've got the cash and are in the market for a top of the range laptop this will do you nicely. It's just a shame it has to be so expensive.