Apple takes the MacBook upscale

Apple's new Macbook inherits some high-end perks from the Pro line

If an Apple iMac married a MacBook Air, what would their offspring look like? A lot like Apple's new upscale MacBook.

I use the word upscale because even though prices for the newest version of Apple's consumer laptop are largely unchanged, the look, feel and performance seem almost luxurious in comparison with the previous generation.

That's not to slam earlier MacBooks, which have been incredibly popular and a major boost to Apple's bottom line financially. It's simply to indicate how much nicer the one I'm using right now is.

The new MacBook lineup

If you're looking for a MacBook -- in fact, if you're considering a small to midsize laptop of any kind or operating system -- you really owe it to yourself to look these over before deciding. The first entry in the new lineup isn't very exciting: US$999 gets you an entry-level MacBook that's basically a warmed-over previous-generation model with slightly better hardware -- a white plastic body enclosing a 2.1-GHz Core 2 Duo processor and a now-standard SuperDrive that reads and burns CDs and DVDs.

The big news is in the new two models in the line: a US$1,299 model with a 2-GHz Core 2 Duo chip, and a US$1,599 version that sports a 2.4-GHz processor. (We recorded our unboxing of the new MacBook -- the video is below. Unboxing pictures and videos have become something of a tradition among eager Apple fans when new hardware is released.)

The redesigned MacBooks look nothing like their lesser sibling. That's because both are made using a new manufacturing process that Apple officials talked up during the unveiling on October 14. At the same time, Apple released two new 15-in. MacBook Pro models.

Most people probably care less about how a laptop is made and more about what's inside. But in this case -- literally, in the MacBook's case -- lies the difference. Apple has devised a way to carve the main chassis for its laptops out of a solid block of aluminum. The end result is a "unibody" laptop with no seams around the edges, no flexibility in the case and a distinctly high-end feel. The use of aluminum is a step up from the MacBook Pro and Air lines, since until now, MacBooks were always encased in plastic.

I said it recently about the MacBook Pro, and I'll reiterate it here: This is the most solid-feeling laptop I've ever used, and the keyboard -- always a dicey part of the laptop equation -- feels just as rugged. Although the MacBook uses the same Chiclet-shaped keys as before, they exhibit none of the sponginess I noticed in earlier iterations. Best of all, in the US$1,599 model, they even light up in the dark, a decidedly luxurious touch that is yet another perk ported from the MacBook Pro and Air.

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