Debating the MacBook’s merits

As our debate over the worthiness of Web-based services showed, nothing sets off a friendly argument faster than our annual Editors’ Choice Awards. Let’s cap off a week that saw us announce this year’s Eddy Award winners by revisiting one of the more contentious debates among our editors: whether to give an award to Apple’s redesigned MacBooks.

We lauded many of the changes introduced to the MacBook line this fall from the new case to the improved graphics. But do those changes merit an Eddy Award?

Making the case that we erred by leaving the MacBook off our list of winning products is senior news editor Jonathan Seff; assistant editor Chris Holt makes the case against the MacBook as an Eddy winner.

Changes make this laptop a winner

As I noted when reviewing Apple’s latest laptop, the MacBook’s new case design is quite beautiful. It’s sleek, thin, and finally gives the MacBook a professional look and feel. Combine those with a half-pound shed from its weight and you’ve got a much more portable MacBook.

The new Multi-Touch trackpad works with multi-finger gestures and gives you more room for your fingers to move around, and the keyboard has a satisfying feel.

Under the trackpad and keyboard, there are some impressive upgrades to the MacBook’s guts. Tops is the Nvidia 9400M graphics, which has its own GPU and fast RAM—a first for the MacBook. Graphics-intensive applications (especially games) see a huge improvement over past models, and the 9400M sets the MacBook up nicely for Snow Leopard and other GPU-dependent apps in the future. Also, a faster frontside bus and speedier RAM are welcome changes (although I admit they don’t improve the overall speed of the MacBook very much).

The backlit LED (light-emitting diode) display is thin and bright, with a very good side-to-side viewing angle. Yes, the glass over the display makes it glossy, but if you’re OK with that, it’s a very nice screen.

Is the MacBook perfect? No. Removing the FireWire port was a mistake, and battery life could be better, but it’s a strong product that meets the needs of the consumers and PC switchers its targeted at.—JONATHAN SEFF

What about FireWire?

There’s certainly plenty to like about the new MacBooks, all of it outlined above. But from a storage perspective, the absence of FireWire is an unforgivable omission. FireWire connections are consistently faster than USB connections, and with some developers now offering Turbo FireWire 800, USB is being left in the dust. If Apple is planning on introducing an alternative to FireWire, that’s fine, but why make the current model less versatile and handicapped by an inferior connection speed?

I’ll concede that the MacBook has superior graphics compared to the previous model, but our Speedmark results weren’t that impressive. If I’m going to shell out a few hundred dollars more for a machine, I want it to be not marginally faster, but noticeably faster.

During our initial tests, the battery life was found to be actually worse on the new MacBooks than on the previous model. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this—the function of a laptop is to be portable and this model, while lighter, can be portable for a shorter period of time.

I believe that overall the new MacBook is a solid machine and superior to the previous model. But the Eddy Awards are about recognizing great products, not simply good ones.—CHRIS HOLT

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