MacBook Shootout. What to Do?

Let me start by saying that this post is about making a decision … I don’t want it to be viewed as anything but me thinking out loud about a couple of really solid products. With that said, let me get rolling with it. For those who know me I don’t think it is a secret that I am an Apple guy — that may actually be a little bit of an understatement. I try to get my hands on most of Apple’s stuff for a ton of reasons, but design is at the top of the list. I love the way they make things, package things, market things, and execute in the marketplace. It honestly started way back in 1984 when the family got an original 128K Mac on my 12th birthday. It was mesmerizing … the whole thing was just amazing to me. I used that machine for 6 years until it literally blew up when I was a senior in high school. From there I got a Mac SE to take off to college. Things got a bit out of control over the next several years … here’s a sample of the Macs I’ve had in my possession over the years, an LC III, Performa 600 CD, PM 7200, Blue and White G3, G3 All in One, Newton 2100, SnowBall iMac, DP G4s, DP G5s, PowerBooks, iBooks, Intel iMac, MBP, and more … let’s not even get into the iPods. I will say that after the Blue and White most of my machines have been either a work or consulting machine, so its not like I’ve been buying everything that Apple brings out — really!

Prior to coming to ETS I was an avid 12″ PowerBook user. I loved it … everything about it. The size and industrial design still makes me smile when I see one. When I got to ETS I switched over to the 15″ PowerBook and since have been using a 15″ MacBook Pro. I love the MBP, but have found myself looking very longingly at the black MacBook recently. I am getting set to start on a ridiculus amount of travel over the next month and the smaller size and increased battery life of the MB is starting to really appeal to me. So after all that bullshit in the first paragraph, this is what I am wondering about … MBP v MB? I have spent the weekend with a MB testing it out and here’s what I am coming up so far:

The MBP gives me:

  • Lighted Keyboard … I am surprised by how much this helps. I find myself missing that b/c I do quite a bit of email late at night in the dark.
  • Bigger Display … Putting them side by side, the 15″ seems a lot bigger, but I’m not sure I absolutely need the extra real estate, but there are times when it is really nice to have.
  • Card Slot … Honestly this has been the MB deal breaker until now b/c I not only use, but need, my card slot to use my Verizon Wireless V640. More and more places offer free wifi, but when you rely on tools like email and Google Docs as much as I do I need a live connection.
  • Pro Looks … I hate to say it but the MBP looks more grown up. I am finding as I am aging that may not be as desirable as I once thought.

The MB gives me:

  • Killer Keyboard Design … I have to say I am digging on the raised keyboard design. It actually reminds me of the keyboard that shipped with my LC III — my favorite of all the keyboards I’ve ever used. I do miss the backlighting, but I have a little flexible USB light that I used to use with my 12″ that will work on a plane or in a pinch.
  • Size … The thing feels like a notebook — not a computer, but a real notebook. I can see myself just grabbing it to take into meetings much more than I do with my MBP. With the MBP I always put it in a bag and take all the stuff with me for some reason. Also, on a plane, this thing will be killer … being able to actually use it in coach is a big motivator here. I am a big guy and the MBP poses problems, especially if the person in front of me needs to recline.
  • Battery Life … I used it yesterday morning from about 7:30 AM until noon without hooking it to an AC power source. I even had the thing cranked to best performance. The MBP cannot even come close to that. Again on a cross country flight I might actually be able to make it without frantically searching for a power outlet during a layover.
  • Wireless … Yeah they are both wireless, but the MB seems to get a much stronger signal here in my house. Not sure why, but it is snappier when browsing, downloading, and uploading. Maybe it is just in my head, but it is noticeable.
  • Lack of a Card Slot … I know I said I need this, but one of my colleagues pointed me to the Verizon Wireless USB720 Modem. Essentially it is the same as the card only USB based. Sure it sticks out farther, but who cares. I once got stuck on the runway for a couple of hours and was happily surfing, emailing, and connected with the broadband … not once did I care if the thing would stick out.

Update: OK, here is one thng that is bothering me a little bit — the case design of the MB. It isn’t terrible, but this one is a little sharp around the edges. Where my wrists hit the wrist rest areas it is sharp edge. Are others dealing with that or is it just the one I am using?

Performance seems to be close to the same … I am a little dismayed by the lack of dedicated video memory on the MB, but if I am going to need something to do some real work on I use my 24″ iMac anyway. At work I hook the MBP up to an external display and I know the MB can drive it — it isn’t a 30″ display, so no worries there. So at the end of the day I still can’t decide, but I am leaning towards the MB. Anyone out there have a MB and want to share some thoughts with me?

18 thoughts on “MacBook Shootout. What to Do?

  1. Can’t resist this one – many of my colleagues have MBPs and call my MB the lady-mac (in the nicest possible way). I’ve not found they can do anything more efficiently than I can with my MB and the size thing is the deal-maker; my MB is sleaker, lighter and simply easier to pack and that makes a difference when you really want to live with the thing. Go MB.

  2. Ok, I would love to hear how you decide this. I have the 17″. Before this I had the 15″ powerbook and before that the 12″. I do a lot of work with video, which is why I went bigger, both for the screen and for the firewire 800 in the 17″. But now I have MB envy and I am thinking seriously about putting out for one. It seems like a wash to me except I worry about the video thing – the RAM and the fact that I have the screen real estate to see video plus analysis windows without doing a window dance.

  3. I’m with Scott. I used to love my Pismo with its sleek black plastic shell. When they stopped making them in black, I struggled with the same issue you are. I struggled between the 12-inch plastic and the 15 inch Aluminum. I ended up getting the 17. :-/ My 46 year old eyes have thanked me ever since.

    BTW, IFAIK the plastic shell is what makes the difference in the wireless reception. The metal shelled Macs have never had good reception.

  4. Cole,
    I have a white MacBook, largest HD they could put in it & 1GB of RAM (get 2GB if you’re like me, I’m about to upgrade – when I have 7 applications open & am running something in Parallels & open NeoOffice & Graphics Converter, it can hang …)

    & I LOVE it.
    I travel a lot – I have the sad fate of having to teach frequently in eastern Europe ;^), so it goes in my backpack. The battery life is great for train travel.

    Only things I regret –
    I’d go for black (just for the stealth factor …); and the old 12″ PowerBook would permit me to pack along an extra pair of socks.

    I had to go with a Windows system for many years, due to some software unique to my profession that did not lend itself to VirtualPC. This now runs elegantly in Parallels (in coherence mode, with an OS X tiger skin for Windows using WindowBlinds). It was a big hunky Dell, & I do not miss the weight or bulk one bit, or even the 15.5″ screen. (It’s now running Ubuntu Linux, with an OS X Tiger theme; my son made a paper apple cutout to place over the Dell logo).

  5. Please keep us posted on how you work through this one. For me, a 12″ MBP would be the perfect solution. Of course, that’s not an option for now. The two things I can’t seem to reconcile are that I absolutely positively want the 12″ size. However, I also absolutely positively *must* be able to hook it up to a big monitor at a desktop. The cheesy duplexing on the MB just doesn’t cut it.

  6. Hey Cole, I honestly can’t recommend the MacBook. I bought mine as soon as it was announced, and since I’ve gotten it I’ve had nothing but troubles. Off the top of my head, I’ve had issues with the: palm rest discoloration, battery, AirPort card, hard drive, SuperDrive, PMU, and speakers. I’ve had to send it in to Apple twice already, and all of the above have been replaced. Despite that, I’m still having lots of trouble with the AirPort card and WEP (I know it’s weak encryption but it’s all my DS Lite and Tivo can handle). If you do decide to go MacBook, I can’t emphasize AppleCare strongly enough.

  7. Cole, I think Marc’s experience may be due to a first run MB. The keyboard does have sharp edges, but they just replaced mine (black, btw) and it seems a little softer, no more squeaking of the trackpad key, and it just seems more solid. Some folks have noted online that Apple made some subtle tweaks after the first versions shipped. This isn’t, of course, documented and it may not be true, but I am VERY happy. So in context…

    I went from a 17″ PowerBook to the MB. I have no regrets (other than Office apps not running native in Intel 😉 ). Up the RAM and the HD and everything else has been great. Seriously, I do not notice a huge performance difference for most things I am doing between my MB and my MacPro (with 4GB of RAM)! Obviously GarageBand and video editing are slower, but doable. But I regularly have Adium, Entourage, Firefox (BonEcho), MarsEdit, NetNewsWire, iTunes, and Word open. Word is a pig, but other than that… all is well! Even when have GB open and editing with all the rest, I notice very little slow down.

    I think you nail the only caveat: your Verizon card. If you can get the same performance with the USB and you have a BIG machine waiting at your desk, I don’t think you will regret the MB. I will bring mine to lunch tomorrow! 🙂

  8. The MB screen is smaller than I’d like but portability wins over in the argument for me. If I had a bigger, heavier MBP I know I wouldn’t have it with me so often, so I wouldn’t get so much done. I miss the bigger screen for stuff like musical scores in Sibelius, but figure that the solution is to have an on-the-move machine for productivity and a big screen machine that stays in the office.
    Not had any problems with my MB; the lid clicks a bit as you open it but that’s cos it ended up on the floor in a cable trauma one lesson.

  9. Well I bought the first black MacBook (2G ram 160HD). It was a great machine but I sold it and went for the 15 MBP. I liked the Blackbook (unofficial name) but here are my grievances:

    *Glossy screen was very bright but a little annoying in direct light. I prefer the non-golssy. (it’s a matter of taste of course, the mac community is almost divided 50/50 on that.)

    * keyboard was great but backlighting is heaven sent.

    * something not often mentioned much are the speakers. In MB the speakers are too weak.

    * No dedicated video card is really a shame (more so in the Black version). I like a few games that require dedciacted video.

    * Extra screen real estate is very useful and sometimes very valuable.

    * The black MacBook gets dirty very quickly (oily fingers) and like a black car when it’s clean it’s beautiful and when it’s dirty it’s not fun to look at. (the white macbooks also get dirty too quickly, but MBP almost always looks clean)

    * Sharp edges when typing for a long time, it’s really annoying.

    * Lack of express card slot, firewire 800 and the ability to connect to a 30 inch screen were not essential in my decision to go MBP, but it’s nice to have if I needed to use them.

    The only thing I really miss is the battery life of MB.

    P.S. I assume the price is not a factor in this case.


  10. I very recently got my black MB from the refurb store to replace a 15″ PowerBook. Couldn’t be happier. I do miss the backlit kb just a tiny little bit, but the C2D stuff just blows me away. I do a fair bit of video and sound design work, and find the 13″ 1280×800 resolution is very much comparable to the 1440×960 of the PowerBook in terms of “ease of use” when using stuf like FCE. The MB form factor is great IMO, just right for me. I like the magnetic stuff too (clasp and power) and this is the first Mac I’ve had that does Front Row – I use a piece of software called Boom Recorder which is supposed to work with the remote, I must get around to testing that! It still retains the optical miniTOSlink I/O which I dig, and it also has a DL DVD burner, gigabit ethernet, 802.11g/n, firewire and USB, iSight, etc. What’s not to like?! It’s a minimalist’s dream (such as I). My PowerBook seems oversized, over-connected and underperforming by comparision.

  11. This interests me also – I’m waiting to see if new 15″ MBs are introduced soon (as per the most recent rumors), and if so I’ll compare the 15 & 13″ versions. Three of my colleagues have recently gone to MBs and are very happy (one’s a switcher from a larger PC notebook).

    One question I have – what kind of external display can a MB use? Are there any restrictions there, or is it just that one has to get the adapter?

  12. The MB can drive both the 20″ and 23″ Apple Displays … it even does screen spanning so that you can really extend the desktop. It will not drive the 30″, but I can’t fit that under the hutch on my desk (and I don’t have one). I left out the ability to drive displays b/c the MB has gotten very good at that. What I am not sure though is if the MB will drive my 23″ at the same resolution I am doing now with my MBP? Anyone know that?

  13. This will be quick: I have a MacBook and I used to have a 15 and then a 12” PowerBook. Of all 3 machines, I enjoy the MacBook the most because of its combination of those machines’ features. The screen size, the battery life, the speed…it’s an ideal package, as far as I am concerned. If I could do it over again, I’d get a black one though, since the white seems to collect “user residue.”

  14. My 15″ MBP is strapped to my home office desk and 23″ display — being used as a video production/analysis station. Won’t go anywhere without my little black book now. Couldn’t be happier for all the reasons Chris mentions above. Is it unhealthy to have an emotional attachment to your laptop?

  15. Let me say that when you wrote “after the Blue and White” I immediately sought to understand this out of place reference to Penn State.

    I guess some of us are a bit more conditioned to the “true meaning” of “Blue and White.” Or perhaps I SHOULD write: Who knew Apple was such a Penn State fan?

    We Are…

  16. Pingback: MacBook Reactions at Cole Camplese: Learning & Innovation

  17. I am rocking a black MacBook with 2 GB of RAM … been using it for a week now and it has been great. Thanks to everyone for the advice! It is certainly a nice machine and I am hoping it holds up for me over time.

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