Monday, July 17, 2006

EPHESUS, Turkey. — It may not be the most economic way of field testing equipment, but lugging a laptop computer to a place such as Ephesus on the shores of the Aegean Sea is one effective way to give Apple Computer’s MacBook a workout.

This test unit, which retails for $1,599, comes with a 2 gigahertz (GHz) Intel Core Duo processor, 1 gigabyte (GB) of RAM (512 megabytes is the standard) and an 80-GB hard drive.

As mentioned in an earlier column, I’d upgrade the RAM to 2 GB, and bump up the hard-disk capacity to Apple’s maximum 120 GB, both extra-cost options that are, in my view, well worth the cost for the resulting speed and storage gains.

The MacBook’s 13-inch (diagonal) glossy screen is a switch for Mac users — Apple has previously favored “matte” displays. But in this case change is good; a fellow MacBook user at the Lufthansa business lounge in Munich’s airport a couple of Fridays ago was happily watching an old Spencer Tracy flick and it looked great. Text and photos display just fine, too, and while there’s some glare in direct sunlight, sitting with my back to the Aegean hasn’t made for difficult working conditions.

When the MacBook was first announced, and when my only experience with it was hunched over a display unit in an Apple Store in Montgomery County, I had some worries about the keyboard.

Unlike previous Mac portables, this keyboard is a bit more of the “Chiclets” style, as noted earlier. Well, having had almost a month of daily typing, and more than 10 days disconnected from any external keyboard, I think it’s safe to say that the MacBook’s typing surface is much more than adequate.

I find myself making few mistakes, and even the touch pad doesn’t send the cursor flying around the screen anywhere nearly as often as other computer’s touch pads have done. I could live quite happily with the keyboard on the road, at meetings and even around the house; though having external options, wired or wireless, is quite nice.

No one will likely mistake the MacBook’s built-in speakers for a high-end audio system, but in a hotel room with little else available, the music playback is quite nice. Multimedia features abound in the MacBook, from the built-in ISight video camera and built-in microphone to supplied software for podcasts and, of course, Apple’s ITunes and movie-editing programs.

On this trip, I’m grateful for the built-in Wi-Fi antenna; it’s worked well at the various hotels where I’ve had service. The optional modem Apple sent for testing has stayed in its case, because even in Pamukkale, Turkey, Wi-Fi has arrived.

The only qualm I’ve had with this notebook is heat. It gives off a large amount heat, and at one point it felt as if you could fry up a burger or two without effort. Apple’s official response: “Like all our notebooks, the MacBook meets the industry standard for case temperature.”

Heat can be overcome with a laptop desk, or a real one; and it should be noted that even “hot,” the MacBook kept on ticking. That’s the bottom line for me: This computer took a fair amount of punishment, even a 2-foot drop, and kept on working.

Final verdict: If you want a stylish, great, capable portable, buy this one. You won’t be disappointed.

• Read Mark Kellner’s Technology blog, updated daily on The Washington Times’ Web site, at

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