Review: Apple's MacBook will appeal to the fast and the curious

"Hi, I'm a Mac."
"And I'm a PC."
"I appeal to a small but ferociously loyal chunk of the personal-computer market, and I'm typically used by folks in publishing and graphic design."
"I, on the other hand, am used by pretty much everybody else — businesspeople, tech geeks, and gamers."
"But if you're not into computers much and you just want a machine that'll get you online and for day-to-day stuff like organizing your digital photos and instant messaging your friends, you definitely want me. In fact, your friends probably want me, too."
"Hold on — why wouldn't they want me? I'm less expensive, after all"
"Well, apart from the fact that you suck, a lot of the features and software that come with me right out of the box would have to be bought separately if they got you. And even if they did that, it's unlikely it would all work together as neatly as my applications do. Plus I just look pretty hot, don't you think?"
"Arrogant jackass…"

Yeah, that's pretty much the MacBook ad, if Apple produced one for that specific product line — and had zero humility. The thing is, whether you use a Mac or a Windows PC, you're already pretty much entrenched in whatever side you've taken in the longstanding personal-computer cold war. If you already had an iBook or entry-level 12-inch PowerBook, both of which the MacBook replaces, then the new machine is already on your list (and you pros who had high-end PowerBooks got your MacBook Pros when they first came out, right?). And if you're on a PC, you probably think you've spent too much money on software and invested too much time figuring the damn thing out to switch now. No, the MacBook's best bet is to appeal to folks who aren't really into computers and these trendy "Internets" but now feel like they're adrift at sea with whatever ancient model they have, if they even have one at all.

On that score, I can definitely say the MacBook is the machine to get. Absent any need to network with Windows machines or any desire to play serious games, the MacBook offers a compelling combination of useful software applications and raw processing power (thanks to an Intel Core Duo processor). It'll cost you more than a Dell, but the software, ease of use, and that funky iSight camera are worth it. And the details that Apple's known for taking into account — such as the improved keyboard with extra spacing between the keys and the gorgeous, glossy 13-inch widescreen display — really do make a difference.

Fast Acting
Although the Mac Operating System (whose current feline nom de plume is "Tiger" and will be replaced by "Leopard" later this year) is aesthetically superior to Windows, it's always struck me as ever-so-slightly less nimble than its PC-based counterpart — at least on machines that used Apple's older G3 or G4 processors. Not so on the MacBook. Time and again, I was impressed with how quickly performed common tasks — from the speed of rendering big images on websites to shuffling through iTunes.

Good stuff, sure, but that's not really putting this machine to the test. Determined to push my 2-GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM to the limit, I fired up as many iLife applications — iTunes, iWeb, iPhoto, and iDVD — as I could and jumped into some heavy editing in the memory hog of them all, iMovie HD. After ripping some DVD-quality footage, I proceeded to chop, edit, and save, all the while giving the other iLife apps their own tasks. In the end, I saw the infamous "spinning beach ball of death" only once, and it didn't stay for very long. Not bad at all, really — and definitely miles ahead of G3 and G4 machines, on which I often get the so-and-so application has unexpectedly quit, sure sucks to be you message.

Living the iLife
I've got to confess I hadn't really messed around with most of the iLife apps before now, apart from iTunes. Their promise is turn anybody into a photographer, moviemaker, and podcaster overnight, although in practice there's a bit of a learning curve. Nonetheless, I was able to stumble through well enough to burn my own self-made DVD compilation of legally downloaded videos. If you've ever dabbled in professional-level software, like Sony's Vegas and Sound Forge apps, you'll probably find iLife lacking, but for the rest of us the abilities are fine. And if they get you wondering things like "Why can't I put 5.1-channel sound on my DVDs?" so much the better.

But by far the most addictive thing about the MacBook is the iSight camera. Seeing it demo'd at presentations, I originally dismissed the cam as a cute perk you'd never use. But the Photo Booth app, which can take your picture with innumerable cool-looking effects, kept me amused for hours. And iSight's video quality when used as a webcam looked decent even over a finicky Wi-Fi connection. The MacBook has pretty much convinced me that webcams should come standard in all laptops.

At the End of the Day…
I must say, Apple's starting to annoy me. Not because there's anything wrong with this product — the MacBook is another example of a success by having a clear vision. It has everything a computer rookie could want and more, and the new processor and design tweaks (screen, keyboard) will appeal to the already converted. No, Apple's annoying because it's becoming like the kid in the front of the class who's right all the time. I can only hope the company's self-assurance doesn't become hubris, lest they really become just like that sweatshirt-wearing Mac hipster in those ubiquitous ads. Man, that guy's irritating.