Apple MacBook (white) notebook review

4 out of 5
£816

For

Interesting design, great size and weight, powerful enough to use as an everyday notebook, trackpad

Against

Some flex in deck, scratches easily, you lose a number of connection from the Pro models, battery not changeable and no external battery meter

The Apple MacBook white is currently the only plastic model in Apple's line-up of laptop computers, with the rest of the MacBook Pro line coming in aluminium. Stacked up against the most basic MacBook Pro model it looks pretty good: the same processor, RAM, graphics and a larger capacity hard drive, all for less money.

People associate white plastic with Macs, so this is a natural and fitting choice, and doesn't raise any eyebrows. The change in materials brings some increase in size, naturally, but the design is instantly recognisable as a Mac. You get the same tell-tale notch at the front to help you open the screen, you get the same drop down hinge at the back hiding the ventilation ports.

The white plastic isn't prone to visible fingerprints like glossy black plastics are, but it scratches easily. Once you've scratched the entire thing we're sure it looks great, but that first scratch will sting.

Down the right-hand side you get the slot-loading 8x SuperDrive, down the left-hand side you get the physical connections: power, Gigabit Ethernet, Mini DisplayPort, 2x USB 2.0, 3.5mm headphone jack and a Kensington lock slot. Missing from the Pro models is the SD card slot and there is no sign of FireWire or IR. Internally Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth come as standard.

There is something of an elegance about the curves around the sides, with the lid fitting in perfectly when closed. It measures 33.03 x 23.17 x 2.74cm and weighs 2.13kg. It isn't the smallest 13.3-inch laptop out there, but it is still highly portable. The lid is relatively free from flex, as is the rest of the body, but it isn't as sturdy as its aluminium unibody counterparts.

The underside of the MacBook loses the little rubber feet, instead offering a single-piece rubberized bottom which realistically provides better friction on surfaces than those four rubber feet ever did. This model of MacBook doesn't have an interchangeable battery either, which some will find a bit of a shame. That said, the battery will give you nearly 6 hours, if you are just sticking to Wi-Fi and basic browsing or word processing. This beats the 3 or 4 hours you get from the previous generation MacBooks with changeable batteries, so you gain life but lose ultimate flexibility. Realistically however, if you are running a number of applications or doing anything more intensive, you'll see that figure come down to 4 hours or less. You also lose the battery meter which is a real shame.

Inside you get the isolated keyboard, which is very comfortable to type on. The plastic body it is set in doesn't offer the support that the aluminium bodies do higher up the scale and we noticed some flex towards the right-hand side of the keyboard, although this doesn't seem to alter the typing experience overall. You don't get the option of backlighting like you do in the MacBook Pro. Beneath the keyboard is the glass trackpad, which is as excellent as ever.

There is less of a definition between the trackpad and the body of the Mac on this plastic model than there is on the aluminium versions, but given the large degree of space on offer, we didn't find that to be a problem. The MacBook line still gives you more space and more sophisticated multi-touch than any PC rival, and the glass trackpad in our opinion is very much the star of the show.

The 13.3-inch screen offers up a resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels, which in a 13-inch panel is sharp enough. Brightness levels are good (but not as broad as the Pro) with direct brightness control on the keyboard meaning you can simply and easily change the brightness to suit your environment, or to prolong your battery or deny your neighbour a glimpse at what you are typing. The finish on the screen is glossy, which is great for watching movies, but not so suited to working on the move where reflections might be a problem. Maximum brightness will deal with all but the strongest sunlight, accepting that it will drain your battery just that little bit faster. 

The white bezel lacks the elegance of the single-piece display found on the unibody brothers, another area where Apple has saved money to bring this model in at a more affordable price. The bezel contains the iSight webcam, which partners the built-in mic, to mean you are ready to shoot your video diary or talk to your Aunty Mabel in Fort Worth with minimal fuss. 

In terms of performance, you only get one processor option with the MacBook and that is the Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz processor. You get 2GB RAM, but you can upgrade to 4GB to get the most out of it. The entry-level offers 250GB hard drive, with the option of moving up to 320 or 500GB when you order, giving you plenty of space for storage. Graphics are handled by the Nvidia GeForce 9400M chip, which means the MacBook is happy to handle playback of HD content fairly smoothly, so you can playback your downloaded or camcorder footage in Full HD. You don't get the option of switchable graphics that some of the larger MacBook Pro models offer.

The MacBook comes running the latest version of Apple's OS X Snow Leopard and preinstalled with the iLife suite of applications, meaning you can organise your music, photos and video without having to hunt out new software. All the basics are covered out of the box and from start up to being online and working only takes a few minutes and is an extremely smooth process.

The MacBook is a capable and portable laptop that for many will suit as a machine for all their computing needs. It doesn't offer all the options that you get elsewhere in the range, but this is the cheapest option also, which is perhaps an acceptable compromise for some. Further discounts can be had from the £816 asking price if you hunt around in the refurbished section of your local online Apple Store (at the time of writing there were none on offer in the UK), or from other vendors, but it is worth checking if you are making an investment and money is an issue. 

 

Verdict

The MacBook white doesn't have the wow factor of the aluminium unibody MacBook models. As an entry point for Apple's notebook line it is relatively well specced against some PC rivals, but does come in at a price that might draw you back to the Windows family. Whilst it looks like good value against the Pro, it also highlights just how expensive the step-up model is. Such is the case with Apple products, and even with Windows 7's enhancements, we still think that the MacBook is worth the price if you are looking for a portable machine that presents a welcome balance between design, power and stability.

There is little to complain about with the MacBook from a performance point of view as it is very close to the MacBook Pro model above it. With the MacBook Pro model in its sights, this plucky entry-level model trumps the base specs of the MacBook Pro from a hardware point of view; the Pro offers greater potential, but if bang for your buck is important, then we'd take the MacBook. If you think you'll want to jump up to 8GB RAM, and fancy a backlit keyboard, then the MacBook Pro is where you need to be.