Fast, sleek, and rugged, this new laptop is also reasonably priced.
The battle between Macs and PCs for the hearts and minds of educators might not end anytime soon, but Apple's new laptop, the Macbook, makes a pretty convincing case for itself. When Apple announced in January that it would be switching to Intel-based processors for future computers, some longtime Mac enthusiasts were intrigued and a bit uneasy.
Company: Apple; www.apple.com
System Features: 1.83 or 2.0 GHz Intel dual core processor; 60 to 80 GB hard drive (upgradeable to 120 GB); 512 MB RAM (upgradeable to 2 GB); Mac OS 10.4.5; glossy 13.3-inch, 16:10 aspect ratio display; weighs 5.2 lb.; Apple Remote with Front Row; sudden motion sensor; Webcam; and more
Price/Grade: $1,049 (1.83 GHz processor, white, 60 GB hard drive); $1,199 (2.0 GHz processor, white, 60 GB hard drive); $1,399 (2.0 GHz processor, black, 80 GB hard drive)
Pros: Allows users to seamlessly integrate various multimedia sources; lightweight; solid battery life; bright, attractive display; built-in Webcam; includes safety options to protect the hard disk; affordable
Cons: Trackpad a bit touchy, might not suit some users; black version shows fingerprints and other smudges; runs warm when using graphically intense applications or for an extended period
Those dual-core processors are touted as being five times faster than the processors found on Apple's G4s, which means processor speed certainly will not be a hindrance even to users playing video games or running video editing software. (Most pre-Intel programs will run using Apple's Rosetta software, but more and more products are being modified to run natively on the Intel machines.) However, the standard 512 MB RAM is not quite enough for flawless performance, especially given today's demanding applications, so schools considering the Macbook would be advised to load up with 1 GB or more of RAM.
Perhaps the Macbook's strongest feature is its smooth integration of multimedia and communication, a trend Apple has steadily improved upon since the Mac OS X debuted in 2001. For example, the Macbook comes with a slender remote control that looks not unlike an iPod Shuffle. About the size of a pack of checking gum, it allows users to control multimedia elements without having to touch the keyboard.
That means an instructor could connect the laptop to a digital projector, cue a video about the Battle of Guadalcanal (or play a podcast produced by a history professor or an archived clip of newsreel audio), and continue moving about the classroom without a hitch. When I tested the unit, I placed it on my kitchen table and cycled easily through scenes from a DVD from across the room, then switched quickly to iTunes.
When users first open the Macbook, they'll notice the flush keyboard (which is quiet and ergonomically friendly) and a small, decidedly unobtrusive Webcam located right above the 13.3-inch screen. The laptop, which comes in white and black (though black isn't available with the 1.83 GHz processor), feels rugged; it features a motion sensor that detects sudden movement (such as being knocked off a table) and then takes steps to protect the hard disk. The power cord is also magnetically attached so that if someone pulls on it, it detaches without yanking the laptop with it. For schools concerned about extending the life expectancy of their laptops, these are attractive features.
That said, the scrolling track pad is a bit tedious to use—it requires users to place their finger at a fairly precise angle to get true responsiveness, an angle I found to be uncomfortable for long periods of use. However, users can easily attach a mouse if that suits their style. Also, the black version's surface retains fingerprint smudges and other stains, so the white version might be more aesthetically pleasing for schools.
Not surprisingly, the laptop runs pretty warm after extended use, warm enough that it was slightly uncomfortable to the touch (though not as hot as other laptops I've used). The battery life is solid but not exceptional, but I ran graphically intense applications for a couple of hours before needing to plug it back in for a recharge (Apple says the battery life is as much as six hours, which would be reasonable if the user stuck with word processing or perhaps Web surfing). For schools that would place this laptop on a cart with an onboard power source, battery life might not be a huge issue.
Perhaps the most interesting element of the Macbook is its price. With an entry-level version costing $1,049, it's within reasonable spending limits. For districts striving for one-to-one computing or just looking for new laptops for a computer lab, the Macbook's price and performance make it a solid choice.
Mark Smith is managing editor of Technology & Learning.