It was inevitable that Apple would take their unibody manufacturing prowess from their MacBook Pros and focus it on the MacBook line. We just never expected the new MacBook to be as enticing as the 13-inch Pro.
It's Basically a White Macbook Pro
To illustrate just how good the internals are on the MacBook, just compare them to the current base 13-inch MacBook Pro. Both have a 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo with a 3MB L2 cache, a 1066 MHz frontside bus and a 2GB default RAM. They also have a really similar LED backlit display, which eliminates the problem of narrowed viewing angles that we docked the first generation unibody MacBooks for, and both now have the same contrast ratio. The only difference is that the Pro has a 60% greater color gamut.
The new body
The rounded edges and a reduced number of seams make the new MacBook appear to be a flattened marshmallow. A glossy, rubber-bottomed marshmallow. It's an immediately more appealing shape than the previous generation of white MacBooks, marking the end of the transition of Apple laptops to unibody construction. That rubber bottom is also pretty satisfying, both in the fact that it grips surfaces better to not slide around, and because it's a more thigh-friendly material when the machine heats up. The whole body is more solid, thanks to an aluminum sheet and some more structural supports found in the teardown.
Otherwise, there are many other small design changes you'll appreciate. The trackpad is now the standard glass multitouch type found on the Pros, the screen has a more prominent bezel and the iSight is circular instead of square. Keyboard layout is the same, but on-key shortcuts have been updated to the latest standards. It also comes with Apple's new 60W power adapter, which has a tip that looks more like the MacBook Air than any of the previous chargers.
In general, the build quality is more solid and more "Pro" than ever before, despite the material being polycarbonate instead of aluminum. It's like trading up from a Toyota Yaris to a Camry—not luxury, but it's a noticeable difference.
Benchmarks and Battery Life
Comparing the 13-inch aluminum unibody MacBook of 2008 to the 13-inch aluminum unibody MacBook Pro to the 13-inch MacBook now shows that there really isn't a big difference between the three models. The small discrepancies fall inside the margin of error, and some change can probably be attributed to the fact that the first two machines were running Leopard, whereas the machine we have now is running Snow Leopard.
Point is, this MacBook isn't really that much faster or slower than the one last year.
Just as the transition to non-replaceable batteries increased MacBook Pro runtime, so too has the transition benefited the Macbook. Except for the fact that there's no external battery display on this unit for some reason, and that there's no infrared port for Apple Remotes.
The new MacBook ran 4 hours and 12 minutes, longer than the two most recent MacBook Pros, using the same metrics as we did before: Wi-Fi on, keyboard backlight on low, non-stop H.264 movie playback. In real-world circumstances, that battery life can only get better. Our testing is processor-intensive.
What's also interesting, according to the teardown, is that the battery is only 60 watt-hours vs. 55 on the old one, yet it gets a lot more battery life. This is probably due to internal optimizations that Apple made, not just because there's a fatter battery.
Some new problems
• A consequence of having an improved, unibody construction is that you can no longer replace the battery yourself. It also means that native battery life will be longer, as demonstrated in the testing above. In fact, unlike Pro machines where people really do want to swap batteries for extended field use, an improved internal battery will serve regular users much better.
• For some reason, Apple decided to make the entire area surrounding the keyboard as glossy as the outer shell, meaning that your wrists have a more sticky feel when you're typing. It's not a huge deal, but it is less usable when compared to previous generations or the MacBook Pro line.
• Again, like the Magic Mouse, the white polycarbonate (plastic) will get scratched easily, and will show scratches if you look at it from a certain angle. It doesn't diminish performance, but it is annoying if you're anal about your stuff.
Where does that leave us?
Right now is the brief window in time when MacBooks just got bumped up in specs to match the low-end MacBook Pros, in order for the MacBook Pros to have room to grow without leaving the entry-level machines too far behind. If you're in the market for a MacBook, this could be the best time for you to buy and feel good about your purchase, knowing that you'll get the same performance as a machine that costs $200 more.
But keep in mind, this development basically implies that the MacBook Pros will be getting the Core i5 and i7 processors some time in the next year.
The unibody construction was an inevitable upgrade to the MacBook line, and one that brings many more benefits than it does faults. There shouldn't be a drastic change in the MacBook design any time soon, so now is probably the furthest away from the next generation as you're going to get. [Apple]
Polycarbonate unibody construction looks, feels great
Has just about the same specs as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, so you're getting a good deal
Finally get Pro stuff like the multitouch glass trackpad
Glossy wrist area is slightly too sticky
Can't swap out batteries, but you do get longer life in return
Firewire port is gone