The New Macbook: A few steps forward, a few steps backward

The New Macbook was revealed for the first time at yesterday’s (March 8th 2015) Apple keynote presentation. It’s an all new line of MacBooks, with Apple retaining the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro lines. Going by their past hardware upgrades (iMac, Macbook Air, Macbook Pro) you could probably guess what features the New Macbook might actually hold. Smaller, thinner, faster? Most, not all of those things it seems. Having reviewed the specifications, the New Macbook seems like a case of form over function. If you follow Apple hardware, that premise often appears to be the Apple upgrade path of choice. Make everything super small and then over time give it speed bumps. In this specifications and design review, I’ll look at how The New Macbook stacks up to the other Macs on the market and who should buy it.

Macbook

The Good

Form

I’ll go through the good stuff first. The form is remarkable. The overall shape is similar to the Macbook Air, and now it comes in three colours, Space Grey, Silver and Gold. Its also the thinnest Macbook ever created at 13.1mm thick. Its 4mm thinner than the thinnest Macbook Air (the 11″). Remember the iPhone 4? That was 9mm, not much thicker, and this new laptop is barely thicker than the iPhone 3G at 12mm! When Tim Cook carried it out on stage in the presentation, it was also shockingly small and very close to the size of the 11″ Macbook Air.

Retina Display

If you were considering getting a Macbook Air, consider also the New Macbook now that it comes with probably the most important feature of all the Retina Display. At 2302 x 1440 pixels, this screen will be better in almost every way.

Keyboard and Trackpad

In an effort to reduce thickness, the keyboard has also been revamped with reduced height and better tactile feel so that hitting edges of the keys still translate into presses. The keys are also 17% larger and go right to the edge of the computer. With the 12″ display, this will feel like a full size laptop, yet in a netbook size. The new trackpad called the Force trackpad also has some nifty innovations, it now senses the pressure applied allowing for more gestures. One of the gestures shown at the presentation was a contextual one in OS X for example while browsing the web, a heavier press over a word would bring up a dictionary, an address would bring up maps, a time and place would set up a meeting in the calendar and so forth.

The Bad

Processing Power (CPU)

At 13.1mm thin, a full 4mm thinner than the previous Air, there has to be some compromises right? Tech can only move so fast. And while what Apple hardware engineers have done is nothing short of amazing to be able to build a computer so thin, Apple showed at the presentation what they pulled out to make it viable. The first thing was that the logic board (motherboard) is 66% smaller, now an amazingly dense circuit board. The New Macbook is also fanless, saving a great deal of space in the chassis. Being fanless also comes at a cost as the CPU has to run on lower power to prevent heating up. Thus the CPU in the New Macbook is a Intel Broadwell Core M 1.1Ghz in the US$1299 model and 1.2Ghz in the $1599 model. With that clock speed, these Broadwell Core M chips are effectively tablet CPUs (which surprise surprise also lack fans). If that’s enough speed for you that’s great, but its definitely a step back from the Macbook Air CPUs running at 1.6Ghz and there’s no comparison really with the 13″ Macbook Pros running at 2.7Ghz. Until there are real world benchmarks, no one knows how good these CPUs are, but these CPUs have given way for the time being to achieve the wider vision Apple wanted for the New Macbook.

If you are the type of person who likes to browse the web, listen to music, watch youtube, watch TV or Movies (1080p should be ok) and sort out your photos then the New Macbook CPU will be fine for these tasks. If you want to do more intensive CPU work such as run games, video editing, run simulations and programs then the Macbook Pro is probably your best bet. And as this is mainly a gaming site, it should be noted that a lot of new games probably won’t run on the New Macbook. You can probably forget about running Call of Duty, Crysis, Assassin’s Creed, but you should be able to run older games like The Sims, Peggle and Minecraft.

USB-C

In Apple’s vision of the future, everything will be wireless, which as they described in the presentation means a lack of ports. The New Macbook contains just the one (all new) USB-C port which allows users to charge and plug other USB-C peripherals and dongles in. As a result of having one USB-C port, Apple have created a USB-C multi AV port, which includes a USB-C port, a generic USB 3.0 port and an HDMI port in the one dongle. For now, its a little pricey at US$79 but it might be a necessity especially if you have external hard drives, cameras, USB memory sticks.

And while Apple continues blazing its own path is to be commended, there are times when it has to be asked whether its realistic. The removal of the DVD drive for the Macbook Pro in 2012 was a good move, despite mainstream users insisting on its inclusion. It can be reasoned that most software can be downloaded and writing to USB hard drives and memory sticks is just way faster than DVD anyway. With the reduction in weight, that was a good choice to take it out and sell it as an external drive. But I’m not so sure about including just the ONE USB-C drive and forcing users to buy a $US79 dongle. I think it would make sense to include it in the box for the time being as a gesture of good faith. Would doing so, kill the bottom line and drive users away from upgrading to iCloud storage? It seems like a money grab from every angle, (and Apple loving every penny of it). Especially so when enterprises are still heavily involved in MS Office software which can not be saved on iCloud.

Price

There are two models for sale, the 1.1Ghz CPU which will also include 256gb SSD will be priced at $1299 while the 1.2Ghz CPU with 512gb SSD will be priced at $1599. At the time of writing, Apple products around the world have also been increased after the presentation to reflect current exchange rates. For example in Australia its $1799 and $2299 respectively.

At $1299 its on the dear side and at the price, I would be seriously considering getting the Macbook Pro for $200 and 0.5kg more which will give you a lot of freedom to run more software. If you can bear the extra cost and the weight, its a worthy investment considering the laptop will also last you a while longer.

As mentioned the Australia price is pretty off the charts and I honestly don’t expect it to sell as well as it should. This is a decent laptop in many areas, but the price will be pretty off-putting to all but the most diehard of people who insist on buying the latest Apple product. It is for all intents and purposes a $2000 laptop with tablet parts inside.

Final Words

There’s no doubt the New Macbook is a remarkable piece of hardware engineering, and I’d expect that in a few years time all the Macbook lines will converge into this single style, super slim but full of power. It’s not there yet, but there’s a vision here. For those sitting on the fence, I really see the New Macbook for two sets of people. The first one is the business traveller who wants to use something extremely light and will mostly likely be editing documents, numbers spreadsheets, emails, browse the web for information. And the second set of people is someone who can take advantage of all the latest technology such as iCloud, Air drop to transfer files, Air play to play videos. For most other people I recommend the Macbook Pro with its superior CPU and large number of ports. The New Macbook has a lot of form, but it lacks some function to make it an essential purchase right now.

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