- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Apple Inc. is a company that not only knows the basic recipe for a good product, but continuously works to refine and perfect that recipe without making a mess of things. Case in point: the June 8 release of the $1,699 MacBook Pro, a 15-inch unibody portable carved out of a single piece of aluminum and designed not to carve too much out of your back-to-school (or very lucky father on Father’s Day) budget.

That price is significant, and not just because it’s $300 less than the previous 15-inch model’s lowest price. It adds features, including an SD Card slot for easy photo transfer, that truly make this a good deal. You also get a 15-inch computer with 4 gigabytes of RAM, an illuminated keyboard and a 2.54-gigahertz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. The hard drive, at 250 GB, is the same size as for the previous model, but it’s more than 50 percent larger than the 160 GB unit that came with my office-bound $3,000 17-inch MacBook Pro circa 2007.

Oh, and did I mention the battery? It’s not removable, but it’ll take 1,000 recharges before it needs to be replaced, which Apple claims is equal to five years of recharging. Because the loaner unit I’m reviewing will go back to Cupertino, Calif., long before 2014, I won’t be able to test that claim off the top.

However, I can state that with the battery reporting a 70 percent charge, the three hours, 49 minutes said to remain available is a lot better than what many other portables I’ve seen provide at 100 percent charge. Your mileage likely will vary; it’ll depend on whether you’re using the system to play video games, watch DVDs or write sonnets. I suspect that playing DVDs will mean more of a battery-life hit than working on Sudoku puzzles, for example.

Watching those DVDs, by the way, or working with your vacation snaps in the iPhoto program, will be very comfortable on the LED-backlit display. The colors are fantastic, and the whole thing is very easy on the eyes.

At the same time, my suspicion is that this computer will be used as much for work, with or without the word “course” as a prefix, as for anything else. One of the things Apple wants to push with this new machine is its suitability for students and others on a budget. As configured, my test unit seems to bear this out. The 4 GB of RAM should more than handle a bunch of open applications. The 250 GB hard disk seems a good size, but if you feel expansive, an extra $150 will double that capacity. (Me? I’d spend the extra dough upfront; it’s cheaper and easier than upgrading later.)

None of this would be worth much, however, if the computer weren’t worth using. The just-out nature of the machine means I haven’t had much time to work with it, but as a daily, longtime Mac portable user, I must say I’m impressed. The illuminated keyboard is a great feature; I can imagine it coming in quite handy in many low-light situations.

The new-style Apple portable keyboard, introduced in 2006 on the MacBook, if memory serves me correctly, has been refined and improved in the MacBook Pro line. (By the way, all screen sizes of Mac portables, from 13 to 17 inches, are now “Pro” machines.) It’s a joy to type on these keys; those doing a lot of numeric input will want to purchase an external keypad for that, however.

Apple launched the machine on the cusp of September’s expected launch of Snow Leopard, the next version of the Macintosh OS X operating system. Those who buy a Mac now will only have to fork over $9.95 for an upgrade, versus the $29 the rest of us will pay. And those who buy this computer will have a well-loaded system for home, school or work.

My office portable is two years old, and it’s due for replacement next year. I don’t know what Apple will have by then, but if the screen, hardware and battery performance of the 15-inch systems then is as good as this 15-inch MacBook Pro, I might adopt that size as my standard. If you’re shopping for a portable, you owe it to yourself to investigate the new 15-inch MacBook Pro.

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