First Look: MacBook and MacBook Pro

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The new MacBook and MacBook Pro are here. No, not just "here" in the sense of "publicly acknowledged by Apple and being shipped to arrive in Apple Stores tomorrow." Here in the sense of, in my office right now. So in advance of our full reviews and lab tests of these products, let me give you a quick tour of the products.

The look

17-inch MacBook Pro
The big physical differences between the MacBook Pro and MacBook lines are gone with this update. The MacBook looks like a 13-inch version of the 15-inch MacBook Pro. Both of them have the aluminum enclosure and a black screen covered from end to end with glass. Both have the same black keyboard found in the MacBook Air. Both of them are curvy around the sides and bottom, making them easy to grip.

Basically they both look like the bigger brothers of the MacBook Air. The Air was clearly the first product in a wave of new laptop designs from Apple, and now we've seen the second and third versions. They feel rigid and sturdy, despite their light weight.

Display matters

At first glance, the screens of both models appear to be quite similar--and similar to the MacBook Air's as well. The LED backlighting is remarkably bright, meaning these laptops are going to be quite usable, even in very bright conditions.

Users who are fans of the matte finish on the MacBook Pro are going to be quite disappointed about these new systems' standardization, iMac style, on a glossy glass-covered display. In my extensive time with the MacBook Air over the past few months, I've found that the bright LED-lit screen could overpower just about every bright, glaring location you could think of.

However, since the displays are a single span of glass, there's an easy solution for fans of anti-glare-coated displays: if they don't already, companies will no doubt begin to make screen protectors, like those already available for the iPhone, that you can apply to your display in order to remove the shine and return an old-school matte finish. Yeah, it'll be more work and more cost, but it's not as if there isn't an option out there if you just can't stand the glossy look. (Me, I love it.)

The sound

The MacBook Pro's prominent speaker grille holes on both sides of its keyboard are now much smaller, owing to Apple's new production process. And the MacBook continues to have its stereo speakers embedded right next to the display's hinge, so that the sound can bounce off the screen. So far as I can tell, the speakers are more or less the same as in past generations.

The ports

The MacBook Pro, which previously offered most of its ports on its left side--but with a few ports on the right--has joined the MacBook in offering ports on only one side.

Both models use the same MagSafe connector found in previous generations; unlike the MacBook Air, which sports a redesigned power adapter due to its unique shape, these models appear to use the same adapters as they did before. The MacBook Pro comes with a larger, 85-watt adapter; the MacBook comes with a smaller 60-watt adapter.

Both offer an Ethernet port, two USB 2 ports, audio in and out, and the new Mini DisplayPort monitor port. (DisplayPort is an emerging display-connectivity standard; it's unclear if Apple's the first company to offer the "mini" version of DisplayPort, and if it's an Apple-invented proprietary variation or if it's something we'll see in many other computers and displays to come.) Apple says there will be Mini Display Port-to-DVI and Mini-Display-Port-to-VGA adapters available; it's unclear if support for composite and S-Video connections has been dropped with these systems.

In addition to the ports shared by the two systems, the MacBook Pro offers a single FireWire 800 port (yes, you can buy a FireWire 800 to FireWire 400 adapter) and an ExpressCard slot hidden behind an aluminum door. Both models offer a slot-loading SuperDrive on the right side. (Previously the MacBook Pro's slot was on the front.) Yes, this means that the new MacBook joins the MacBook Air in not offering any sort of FireWire connectivity.

The trackpad

One of the most ballyhooed new features of these MacBooks is the new clickable glass trackpad. So, about that button. Longtime users of Apple laptops will find it quite a bit disconcerting to reach below the trackpad with their thumbs, only to find no button there. However, it's a pretty easy step to just slide your hand up on the trackpad so that you continue to point with one finger and click on the pad with your thumb. The trackpad is smart enough not to get confused by the presence of a finger and a thumb on the trackpad. And of course, those who are adventurous will get used to pressing with their index finger as they mouse around, giving their thumbs a break. (For clicking and dragging, you'll basically still need two fingers.)

The new trackpad looks pretty much like the old trackpad. It's painted the same color as the MacBook's aluminum body. But it's smoother than an old-style Apple trackpad. The sensation of moving your fingers across it is a little disconcerting; there's friction but not a lot of texture. It definitely doesn't feel like you're running your finger across a pane of glass, though that's what it is.

With the new trackpad come a new set of supported multi-finger gestures, all configured via the new Trackpad preference pane. The gestures supported by the past generation of laptops are still there, including two-finger scrolling, pinching and spreading fingers to zoom in and out, and swiping three fingers to navigate forward and back.

But the new trackpad has a few new tricks up its sleeve. You can program either the bottom right or left corner of the trackpad to act as a secondary mouse button. In other words, if you click in the bottom corner of the trackpad, it can be registered as a right-click. So the no-button laptop can act as a two-button laptop after all. (There's no support for any additional button mappings, however.)

The laptops' new four-finger gestures are built into the system and can't be customized, but they're still pretty cool. Place four fingers on the trackpad and flick them up, and Expose hides all your windows and exposes the desktop. Flick down with the same four fingers, and Expose shows all windows. Swipe left or right and the application switcher appears.

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