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KELLNER: High efficiency with MacBook

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Is it morally wrong to spend $1,299 on a new MacBook from Apple Inc. when you can buy a decent notebook computer for half that price or even a recent white-plastic-encased MacBook for $999? The way some initial reviewers have been talking - including two District-based scribes -- it's almost classist in some way to spend the extra bucks.

In the words of talk-radio host G. Gordon Liddy, whom I met at a reception given by The Washington Times many years ago, that's a bunch of "Bravo Sierra." The new MacBook -- all of it -- is worth the expense, in my view. From the sleek case to the high-powered computing plant behind the brushed aluminum, this is a computer with a lot going for it -- and a lot less going for it, too, but in a good way.

The new model weighs about 4 1/2 pounds; that's the good "less." That's not the lightness of the MacBook Air, but it's not bad. The heft is quite good, actually; it feels as if you're carrying a computer, but not one that'll cause a shoulder separation.

It's a "green" machine -- the eco-friendly LED-backlit display is made from arsenic-free glass, eliminates the mercury found in LCD screens and uses up to 30 percent less energy than other notebooks.

Still, it's not only green -- it's golden, in my book. The display is bright enough, sharp enough and large enough for most "road work" you would encounter. From the very start, I have seen the MacBook as perhaps the ultimate personal, portable movie player. Battery life is rated at five hours, and I believe that would be possible. The optical drive will play DVDs, although not Blu-Ray discs -- and, hooray, the optical drive is on the right side of the machine, letting the notebook rest more easily on a stand. Ports and a battery-charging indicator are on the left.

Missing this time around is any sort of a FireWire, or IEEE 1395, connection. That's a shame -- Apple developed the standard, and communication speeds are spiffy -- but it's also a sign of change. USB 2.0 is by far the dominant connecting standard, and there are two USB ports on the machine. There is a minivideo output connector; with an optional adapter, I was easily able to connect a 24-inch display and happily work away.

In fact, one of the things I find most impressive about the new MacBook is that it is at least the equal, if not the superior, of the MacBook Pro I acquired 18 months ago at a cost of almost $3,000, or about twice the $1,599 cost of my test MacBook. Both machines have 2.4 Gh Intel processors (the new MacBook's CPU is probably better than the Pro's, given the continuing advance in engineering), both have optical "Super Drives" that offer DVD writing and playback, both are sturdy machines, and both can handle a lot of computing work. The MacBook, however, features a hard drive and memory installation that's easier to reach (and upgrade) than the Pro. Also, the hard drive is 250GB, about half as much more than the 160GB of the Pro.

There are, of course, other tweaks to the new computer worth noting. I like the battery charge indicator. (Press a recessed button, and LEDs light up to show how much the battery is charged). I like the neo-Chiclet style keyboard, which is far less intimidating to use than it might first seem. Typing is comfortable and virtually stress-free.

The new "glass trackpad" will take some getting used to; I like it, but the larger-than-before pad doubles as mouse click-buttons, and that'll take a bit of learning. I also would like the "click" to be less audible; typing is very silent; clicking isn't. Very much on the plus side for the trackpad are various "swipe" gestures you can make to page through Web sites, make text larger or smaller, and perform other functions such as bringing up the "task switcher" to move between applications. Some swipe features will require using Apple-specific programs such as the Safari Web browser, while others work across applications.

If money is an issue, go for the classic MacBook, still available. It's a great value and a good performer. If, on the other hand, you can or care to splurge a little bit, the new MacBook is worth every penny.

Send e-mail to mkellner @washingtontimes.com.