As the world breathlessly awaits tonight’s Apple extravaganza, it’s worth giving due praise to its latest, greatest product: the MacBook.
Announced at the same glittering event as the Apple Watch in March, the MacBook may not have the same wearables-related hype but it is the best laptop Apple has ever made.
Considering the MacBooks – especially the Air range – have set the benchmark, and are what other manufacturers are always seemingly trying to copy, that makes the MacBook the best laptop overall. Find an “ultrabook,” as the comparative Windows-running ultralight laptops are called, that doesn’t look like a MacBook clone.
In the 15 years I have been a technology journalist and the last nearly eight years I have edited the South African edition of Stuff, I have seen a disproportionately large number of the laptops that have been produced. And where Apple goes, the other computer manufacturers follow.
While mobile is eating the world there is still a huge demand for computer with keyboards for those of us who must type with 10 fingers, not just two thumbs. Desktop and laptop computers sales may have fallen off the cliff’s edge, and have long been usurped by mobile’s billion-plus annual sales, but they are still the workhorses of the desktop-bound corporate worrier [sic].
Among those who still interface with their computers through a keyboard are us journalists, the bankers, the lawyers, the students and all those others who need to work on a computer. Touchscreen devices, like mobiles and tablets, are great for working on on-the-go (and especially consuming media) but the keyboard still rules the roost for getting real work done.
Apple’s first laptop might’ve been a dud, but the subsequent models are pushed the envelope a little each time.
At first glance, it’s that usual Apple design gloss that also makes the MacBook the most beautiful of laptops. The space grey 512GB model I have been using for the past two months is just so pleasing on the eye. It has elicited more gleeful appreciation than any other notebook I have owned, including the bamboo cover by Karvt on an Air circa 2011.
I’m forced to admit that I’m not the kind of person who buys a laptop based on looks – for me it’s a balance between enough power and as little weight as possible because of how much I travel – but you can’t help but notice when so many people “ooh” and “aah” over it.
Because I travel so much, I’ve been using the lightest possible laptop Apple made, the 11in MacBook Air. When I tried it, it was a revelation. At first it felt like driving my wife’s Mini, which is a useful analogy. It’s a smaller, more compact, but still a premium car. But it was always underpowered and always a compromise of weight and utility over power.
The new MacBook is by far the best of Apple’s MacBook range. A lot has been written how compact and lightweight (0.92 kg/2.03 pounds) it is. It’s thinnest edge is 35mm/0.14in and its thickest is 1.31cm/0.52in. Roughly the size of an A4 sheet of paper, its 12in Retina screen will give you 2304×1440 resolution at 226 pixels per inch, if you know what that means.
The continuing miniaturisation of computers means Apple could forego a fan needed to cool the logic board, and could cram oddly-shaped batteries into the furthest recesses of its hollowed-out metal frame. I’m not sure I’m getting the promised nine hours of battery life, but I am a heavy user. The five or six hours I get is going to have to be enough. It uses a fifth-generation Intel Core M processor, and has 8GB of memory. There are two solid-state hard drive configurations, 256GB or 512GB.
Another key selling point is the redesigned keyboard, needed because previous combinations of keys and springs took up too much space, Apple proudly said. It’s the kind of PR speech you never want to give credence to; but, sadly, it’s true. The keyboard is really good. Really, really good. The new Force Touch trackpad takes some getting used to, but does add another level of functionality. I can’t say I’ve mastered it yet, and had my fair share of frustrations to begin with, as you get used to the second click.
The new features and connectors it contains are Apple’s way of testing these out on those of us early-adopting suckers. There’s no doubt that USB 3.1 Type-C – the new USB connection that handles power, data and video transmission – is the future. As scifi author William Gibson would say, the future just isn’t “evenly distributed”. Google’s new Chromebook and several Android handsets are using Type-C but it’s mass adoption is far off. That’s party because the current USB format is so successful – even if a significant number of computers still use the much slower 2.0 speed (480 Megabits per second) instead of the blue-coloured USB 3.0 (50 480 Gigabits per second).
Type-C is the ultimate digital multitasker that a modern computer needs, especially if it wants to be the miniscule 1.31cm thin of the MacBook. Apple erred in only putting one Type-C port, instead of two. It’s a design and engineering mistake you’d think they would’ve learned from the first MacBook Air, which had a complicated additional dongle to be able to use the single USB port it shipped with. No one cares if the laptop can fit into an office manila envelope if the accessories need another envelope themselves.
The ability to charge, transfer data (10Gbps) and carry video will simplify connectors for monitors, hard drive and power chargers. It’s the same kind of utopian cable dream that Micro USB delivers for all smartphones and tablets; except Apple and its proprietary Lightning adaptor for iPhones and iPads.
Like Lightning, Type-C is reversible, so it doesn’t matter which way you plug it in. This utility feature alone is worth the upgrade. The real benefit will take a few years to materialise as other manufacturers also start producing gadgets (monitors, hard drives and power supplies) and he usual benefits of supply and demand kick in.
So, before we all get carried away with the latest iPhone hype cycle, let’s give due praise to the MacBook, the best laptop on the market.
This article first appeared on Forbes