Apple MacBook (late 2009)

Apple introduces an LED-backlit display and a multitouch trackpad on its cheapest MacBook

Apple MacBook
  • Apple MacBook
  • Apple MacBook
  • Apple MacBook
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Polycarbonate unibody design, LED-backlit display, multitouch glass trackpad, sturdy body, excellent keyboard

Cons

  • No backlit keyboard, poor vertical viewing angles, non-removable battery, no SD card reader or FireWire port

Bottom Line

Apple's entry-level MacBook improves on its predecessor by offering an upgraded, LED-backlit display, a unibody enclosure and a glass, multitouch trackpad. The glossy display is inferior to the screen on the MacBook Pro model of the same size, and the lack of FireWire and cramped USB ports will pose problems for some users. However, given its price point, the new MacBook comes recommended.

Would you buy this?

Apple's latest MacBook upgrade borrows some inspiration from the more expensive MacBook Pro notebook. It's also priced more affordably than previous models. A unibody enclosure, multitouch capabilities and an upgraded display make this entry-level MacBook a better proposition than its predecessor.

The most noticeable change with the new MacBook is the design: it now uses a unibody enclosure like the one used on the MacBook Pro, albeit constructed with polycarbonate plastic rather than aluminium. Despite the use of a less sturdy material, the MacBook feels strong and well built. Rubber backing on the bottom prevents the notebook from sliding or moving when placed on a flat surface. The gloss white MacBook isn't as kind to fingerprints and light scratches as the more expensive MacBook Pro; you'll need to give it a regular wipe to keep it clean.

The two biggest upgrades from the previous MacBook are an LED-backlit display and a larger trackpad that’s now capable of multitouch. The display is sturdy and exhibits minimal flex when twisted and the LED-backlit screen is clearly brighter than its predecessor. Screens with LED backlighting use up to 30 per cent less power than conventional LCDs, so the new MacBook is more energy-efficient than previous models.

Like almost all Apple notebooks, a glossy display is used — it reflects light both in an office environment and outdoors, which can be distracting. We wish Apple would offer the choice of a non-glossy display. Though the screen is definitely an improvement on its predecessor, we found the viewing angles (particularly vertical) and colours to be less impressive than the identically sized 13in MacBook Pro.

The MacBook now has the same touchpad used on the MacBook Pro. Capable of multitouch, the glass trackpad is large considering the notebook's size. Apart from a thin section along the top, its entire area is clickable. The large size makes it easy to use, but there are a couple of spots that sometimes seem difficult to press. You can individually enable or disable a number of preset multi-touch gestures, including "tap to click", and a secondary button function.

The MacBook's keyboard is comfortable, well spaced and provides good tactility. Unfortunately, the keys aren't backlit, so users often working at night or in dimly lit rooms will be left disappointed.

There is only a single configuration of the notebook available, with options for upgrading the RAM and hard drive. The MacBook is powered by a modest 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU with a 3MB L2 cache, 2GB of DDR2 RAM (with an option for up to 4GB), a 250GB, 5400rpm hard drive and a slot-loading SuperDrive. The notebook also offers 802.11n/b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Upgrading to 4GB of RAM adds $140 to the purchase price, while a 500GB hard drive will set you back $210; many buyers would probably be better off purchasing third-party memory and hard drive modules instead (this may affect your warranty, however).

The modest specifications delivered reasonable performance in our tests. The Apple MacBook took just 50sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s. We also benchmarked the MacBook using Geekbench and it scored 3263; predictably, this is a lower score than the MacBook Pro,.

An SD card slot is a notable omission, particularly as one now comes standard on the MacBook Pro range. There are two USB ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a mini-DisplayPort connection (which requires an extra dongle to connect most monitors) and a combined headphone/microphone jack. The two USB ports sit too close together; we couldn't plug in a Bluetooth dongle for our portable mouse and a USB key at the same time. A standard Kensington lock slot and a built-in iSight webcam with microphone are also included, but there is no FireWire port. Though not a deal-breaker, this will be an inconvenience for many potential users.

Apple claims the entry-level MacBook is capable of up to seven hours of battery life. Though we didn't manage to achieve this, our DVD rundown test produced a good result of result of almost 4.5 hours before the laptop powered off. Unfortunately, the lithium-polymer battery is non-removable, so road warriors are again left disappointed.

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