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Thursday, October 22, 2009, 08:55 pm PT (11:55 pm ET)

First look: Apple's redesigned 13-inch unibody MacBook

AppleInsider's Mac Review Series Sponsored by MacMall
Apple's revamped new MacBook takes everything the company learned from last year's aluminum unibody MacBook Pro redesign and applies it to make a solid, curvy, entry level notebook that carries the same $999 price tag.

With the release of its new aluminum unibody MacBooks last fall, Apple appeared to be taking its entire notebook line upscale. That was in dramatic contrast to the course being pursued by the rest of the industry, where generic PC makers were all scrambling to roll out netbooks and achieve record new lows in pricing in order to entice users to buy something, anything during the recession.

Apple replaced its 5-pound, white plastic MacBook with Intel GMA X3100 graphics with a 4.5-pound, thinner, precision-engineered new 13.3-inch aluminum model sporting NVIDIA's new 9400M graphics for slightly more (but missing FireWire). Apple continued to sell its old "white plastic MacBook" as a low end placeholder for users who wanted to spend less than a grand (or for users who wanted a small notebook with FireWire).

This year, Apple twice souped up the plastic MacBook model with 9400 graphics and a speed bump, first in January and again in May. Shortly afterward, Apple clarified things at WWDC when it rereleased its aluminum notebooks as "MacBook Pros" across the line (with FireWire), offering some significant differentiation between the 13.3" MacBook Pro and the its cheaper plastic little brother.

This month, that reshuffling began to make more sense as Apple debuted a redesigned new unibody MacBook that incorporates many of the design advancements premiered a year ago on the company's higher end models:

  • the thinner, lighter, more rigid construction

  • a new built-in battery that lasts much longer

  • the removal of all flaps and levers and covers (it now takes a screwdriver to open the back panel)

  • a new multitouch glass trackpad

  • new Mini DisplayPort video output (rather than mini-DVI)

  • combined audio input and output ports (rather than separate audio in and out jacks)

Missing from the new $999 unibody MacBook is a backlit keyboard (which all MacBook Pros now have); FireWire (new MacBook Pros all offer FireWire 800); and the SD Card reader that replaced the ExpressCard/34 slot on the 15-inch MacBook Pro and appeared on the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Unpacking the new MacBook

The new model comes in the same familiar box. Inside, there's a MacBook Air-style MagSafe adapter with extension cord and the little packet with an introductory manual, stickers, and restoration DVDs.

The new machine doesn't look remarkably different at first glance: It still sports the super-glossy screen and recessed white keyboard that the original MacBook debuted with in 2006. The hinge design, rounded corners, lighter and thinner body, and huge new multitouch trackpad are new, as is the degree of gloss you'll notice on all sides of the new notebook. It's shiny.

MacBook 2009


A handsome backside

Viewed from the side, the new body's rounded edges are more prominent, as is its hinge design. The back is covered in a rubberized matte finish over a single cover held in place by eight Phillips screws. There's no panel for the battery or hard drive, so it's just a smooth expanse of minimalism

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Round and rigid

With a closer look, the new body is revealed to be similar to the aluminum MacBook Pros, but rather than being a rounded-off rectangle of solid metal, the new MacBook has the glossy polycarbonate curves of the iPhone. The fit and finish is nearly as solid and precise as the aluminum models, but the shiny white plastic is a fingerprint and scratch magnet, more closely related to the iPhone 3GS.

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It seems to be well crafted as a compromise between cost effectiveness and clean, strong lines of minimalism. It looks $200 cheaper than the similarly sized MacBook Pro, and it is.

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Oh shiny

Apple's plastic notebooks have always been shiny, but the new model looks to be about as glossy from every angle as could be possible. That means after a few weeks, it will likely begin looking like a broken-in pair of comfortable jeans unless it is handled like the Hope Diamond.

No, that's no Photoshop, it's just MacBook shininess held up to the light in such a way as to allow inconspicuous spying on the neighbors' houses.

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The difference of a half decade

To see the progress Apple has made on a design level over the last half decade, here's a 2005 iBook G4 up close to the new model. No clunky port framing, no huge intake gills, no exposed screws on the side, and nearly half as thick.

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There's also considerably better fit and finish overall. The old iBook isn't worn out, it shipped with that warped frame around its hinge. The lid didn't come within a millimeter of the body when closed, but hovered with a big gap, held down by a clumsy mechanical catch that necessitated a big button to release it.

MacBook 2009


Our full review is coming up, so don't hesitate to post questions in the forum thread about the new MacBook that we can try to answer.

Exclusive Savings

Meanwhile, those interested in the new 13-inch unibody MacBook can pick one up from OnSale.com at a $100 savings when combining the reseller's mail-in-rebates with an additional 3% discount offered exclusively to AppleInsider readers. To take advantage of the offer, use this link to access OnSale's MacBook product page. To see the 3% discount and achieve the final price of $899.18, you must first add the MacBook to your shopping cart. The 3% discount is reflected as "Instant Discount(s)" during checkout, after the items have been placed in your shopping cart.

For similar offers on the remainder of Apple's Mac product line, please see our full-fledged Mac Price Guide.