capsule review

MacBook Pro (COLOR) RED

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UPDATE December 14, 2006: Speck Products has informed Macworld that the price of the SeeThru is now $50.

If you’ve been reading recently, you know that Rob Griffiths and I spent the past week with a number of Mac-industry luminaries cruising the western Caribbean. We were lucky enough to be speakers for MacMania V, a combination of a luxury cruise and a Mac conference. Interestingly, although a slew of formal classes were offered, many of the attendees told me that their favorite aspect of the cruise was access —at nearly any time of day, they could ask Mac experts for answers, information, or opinions. So I wasn’t surprised to get many, many questions over the course of the week.

What I didn’t expect was what the most frequent question would be: “Why is your MacBook Pro red ?”

You see, just before I left for the cruise, Speck Products sent me a sample of the company’s new SeeThru Hardshell for 15" MacBook Pro (   ; $40). Made of “shatter-proof” polycarbonate plastic, the SeeThru is a two-piece protective covering for the 15-inch MacBook Pro; one piece attaches to the lid/screen of the MacBook Pro, while the other covers the bottom and sides of the notebook. (The current SeeThru is compatible with only the Core Duo MacBook Pro; versions for the Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro and the MacBook are in the works.)

Speck SeeThru clear

Although the SeeThru is available in a completely clear version that doesn’t really change the appearance of your laptop, it’s the shiny red model that has adorned my MacBook Pro for the past couple weeks, turning it into a cherry-red, attention-grabbing notebook. Wherever I went, people asked me about it—I even fielded queries from Mac-owning cruise-takers who weren’t part of MacMania V.

Speck SeeThru red

The SeeThru looks great, but it’s also functional. The easily-scratched and -dented external aluminum surfaces of your MacBook Pro are protected—for the first time, I was able to drop my laptop in airport-security bins without wondering if it would emerge from the X-ray with a bunch of new scratches on the bottom—while all of its ports and buttons remain accessible, thanks to perfectly-aligned openings in the plastic. (In addition to the SeeThru’s protective qualities, a MacMania attendee pointed out that he’d put adhesive “grips” on the SeeThru—something he wouldn’t feel comfortable applying directly to his brand-new MacBook Pro.)

Speck SeeThru open 1

Speck SeeThru open 2

I was more impressed than I expected to be by the fit and finish of the SeeThru; in addition to the good alignment of the port openings, the case fits securely, with no rattling or looseness. The top piece uses four small clips—two on the left, two on the right—to attach itself to your MacBook Pro’s screen/lid. The bottom piece attaches using two similar clips on the front right and left along with five along the rear of your MacBook Pro (near the notebook’s vents). Although the SeeThru makes your computer a bit thicker, the difference is small enough that most skin/sleeve cases still fit. On the other hand, there’s no opening on the bottom of the case for the MacBook Pro’s battery; you need to remove the entire bottom piece of the SeeThru to swap batteries. Fortunately, this is an easy process, and one advantage of this design is that it offers slightly better protection for your laptop—and, presumably, better ruggedness for the case itself—than if the case offered a removable battery cover. Four rubber feet on the bottom of the SeeThru keep your notebook in place on a desk or table.

As I mentioned above, I found the SeeThru’s openings to allow unfettered access to my MacBook Pro’s ports. However, I did come across a couple minor issues while using those ports. The first arises if you’re using a USB or FireWire peripheral with a very thick body that presses right up against the MacBook Pro’s body; for example, when using Micromat’s Protege, a portable FireWire utility drive, I had to insert the drive very firmly into the FireWire port to ensure that it was getting a good connection. The other issue is that some security locks, which often depend on the material surrounding the laptop’s built-in lock hole being a specific thickness, don’t work with the SeeThru, since it increases the effective thickness.

The only other issue with the SeeThru is that it slightly —we’re talking a few degrees—reduces the maximum angle to which you can open your MacBook Pro’s screen. I mention this only because that angle is already a few degrees less than that of its PowerBook G4 predecessor thanks to a change Apple made it the screen’s hinge design on the MacBook Pro.

Now, the most common question I’ve received about the SeeThru—after “Where did you get that?”—has been “Does it make the MacBook Pro hotter?” A reasonable question, considering that the SeeThru completely encloses the computer. After a couple weeks of using a SeeThru-enclosed MacBook Pro as my primary machine, my answer is, “A little, but not much.” Keep in mind that a good amount of the heat the MacBook Pro generates during use is released through the vents on the rear of the machine and the keyboard/speaker/wristrest area; those areas remain unobscured by the SeeThru. And the bottom of the case has a series of 74 small vents that let some amount of air to reach the bottom surface of your MacBook Pro, even when it’s sitting on your lap. As I write this, the temperature of my hard drive (obtained using Marcel Bresink’s Temperature Monitor utility) has been holding steady at 104 degrees Fahrenheit after several hours of constant work—only a few degrees hotter than without the SeeThru. And the SeeThru has a related—but unadvertised—benefit: Because it keeps your MacBook Pro’s hot-aluminum bottom away from your skin, you can actually use your laptop on your lap without having to use some sort of lap protector.

Considering that vendors sell similar cases for the iPod—ones that cover the player in a clear or translucent shell—for $30 or more, $40 for a case that covers and protects your entire notebook seems quite reasonable. Still, I’ve no doubt that the SeeThru will prove to be a love/hate product—some people will appreciate the opportunity to protect (and pretty-up) their notebook, whereas others will be offended by the mere idea of “covering up” a MacBook Pro. (Seriously; in addition to the numerous people I met last week who wanted more information about the SeeThru, there were two or three who reacted as if I was wrapping the Mona Lisa in tinfoil.) But if you’re looking for a way to add some always-on protection for your 15-inch MacBook Pro, and, in the case of the red SeeThru, to add a bit of flash, the SeeThru is a nice accessory for a reasonable price. I don’t plan on taking mine off anytime soon.

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