J.me

In defense of the Apple new Macbook

On it’s  Spring Forward event, Apple announced a shiny new Macbook with 12 inches retina display, which surprisingly become a new lineup than replacing the Macbook Air line, contrary to the previous rumour. Beside the odd naming (how Macbook is supposed to be thinner and lighter than a Macbook Air?), the new machine is quite exciting. And Apple is quite ambitious that they believe they reinvented the notebook.

Unfortunately, after the unveil, it looks like the machine get more negativity than positivity. I, however, beg to differ and would contribute to the positivity of this machine. Although the machine is not for everyone now, as there is a lot of sacrifice to make, but I can see in future that this might be common in all notebooks, it just start with the new Macbook.

So from what I see, there’s at least three major complains over the new Macbook: limited Core M processor, unified single USB Type-C port and the pricing. All of them are valid complains of course, but is it really that bad?

Intel Core M Processor

There’s no mention over which processor that the new Macbook use, but the base version has 1.1Ghz dual-core processor, which seems to be in line with Intel Core M 5Y51. This processor is also equipped with Intel HD 5300 integrated graphic. Of course, even compared to i5 processor on the yesteryear Macbook Air, this is a weaker overall processor and graphic. But Core M is also running at a very low TDP, to the point that we don’t need a fan to cool it. Yes, the new Macbook is fanless, and it’s more important than you might think.

One major thing people complain about fan-cooling machine is noise, so being fanless, the new Macbook is completely silent. But to be fair, noise is not a major issue with Apple Macbook line, they did an excellent job at that, I never even notice my Macbook Air fan spinning, although I’m sure it’s spinning.

The more important thing of being fanless, in my opinion, is that there’s no ventilation. Dust is pretty nasty and it tends to accumulate on your machine vents over time. That means, if you regularly use your notebook, one year later, dust will start to accumulate and blocking your airflow, reducing the fan cooling efficiency. You might start to notice that your machine running hotter, fan spinning faster, slowing your machine down and even take a hit on your battery life. This is true for every notebook that use fan, thus require maintenance.

This is a problem that would be eliminated by fanless design. Being fanless literally means there’s no need for vents, so dust won’t accumulate around it, and the result is overall more longevity for your machine. There’s also bonus, you can use it on your lap, on your bed, pillow, or any surface, without worrying that you’ll block airflow on your vents. Of course, it doesn’t mean you can use it on full-load all the time, as with any notebook processor, it’ll throttle when it gets too hot. But your machine will still run as well as it is a few years later.

So is it worth it to sacrifice power for fanless design? Depends on what you do. For me, I’ll say yes! I always worry about vents in my notebook, especially a super thin notebook that’s hard to maintain yourself, like my Macbook Air or even the nastier – glued everywhere – Surface Pro (yes, I have one). The main question is, how much power is sacrificed? Have you ever use the full power on your i5 Macbook Air? I know I don’t.

Nowadays, having more RAM and speedier SSD is much more important for productivity work than processing power, at least it’s true for the work I do (front-end developer). I can run a light Photoshop task, full IDE, a lot of tabs in Chrome, a Vagrant box running in background and my Macbook Air hardly ever went to 100% CPU usage. I’m sure running Core M won’t put me into problem.

A single USB Type-C port?

Yes, having full USB port and a Magsafe charging port like the current Macbook Air will be better. I’m surprised that Apple went with this move, but it’s probably for design reason. Yes, the new Macbook is thin, but I don’t think it’s too thin that it couldn’t fit a full USB port (Asus Zenbook UX305 comes to mind). However, having a full USB port will make the new Macbook uglier. Aesthetically, the new USB Type-C port is more compelling, it’s small and reversible.

This is a rather bold move from Apple and I don’t understand why Apple ditched Magsafe. Heck, even if Apple go with one Magsafe and one USB Type-C, it’ll be miles better than the current configuration.

But the bigger question, is it actually matter? For me, I don’t usually insert anything on my USB port these days, the only time I want to is to charge my phone or when I want to connect my Wacom tablet (rarely now since I have Surface Pro). So in Apple all-wireless notebook it envisions, I was already one that don’t really need those ports – most of the time. I said most of the time, as when I need it, there’s still a separate adapter that we can use, albeit a little pricey. I’m voting Apple should include one in the package, seriously.

For me, I don’t want this compromise if possible, but even then, it’s okay. As long as we have option, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is intact (yes, it’s so important that I have to bold it). Other than that, portability and lightness is more important for me. The 11 inches Macbook Air that I have right now is light and thin enough, but shaving a few millimeters and grams? Yes, please. 🙂

Price

Finally, the high price point. The new Macbook start at $1299, configured with 1.1 Ghz dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. Going for the upper version of $1599 gives you a 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor, same 8GB of RAM and 512GB of SSD storage.

Yes, it’s pricey, but if you think of how Macbook Air start with $899 or that Surface Pro 3 start with $799, think again. How much do the 11 inches Macbook Air cost if it’s configured to 8GB RAM and 256GB SSD? That’ll net you $1199, it’s still cheaper by $100, but this is where you make a trade. If you want faster processor, still have all the ports and don’t mind the low resolution screen (1366 by 768, with bad viewing angle), then you better go off with Macbook Air. But the new Macbook give you a fanless design, even thinner and lighter, with a high resolution 12 inches retina display (2304 by 1440). I’ll say both are comparable and just depends entirely to your need. The Macbook Air also get a Broadwell refresh in this same event.

The Surface Pro 3 with similar configuration, net you the same price of $1299. That gives you a convertible design, but it’s more tablet-centric than a notebook, it can double-duty, but Surface Pro as a notebook is, meh… The type cover keyboard and trackpad is nothing to write home about. That said, you have touchscreen display, with almost the same resolution screen (2160 by 1440) and it’s a gorgeous display, with a bonus of N-trig pen digitizer. So if you want faster processor, need pen and use it more as tablet, Surface Pro 3 is an excellent choice. But as a notebook, I’ll say Macbook/Macbook Air is still a better choice.

And how is Macbook Pro 13 inches with retina display? I don’t want to compare them in fact, by form factor alone, but their price collided with both starting at $1299. The 13 inches Macbook Pro retina gives you a full-powered processor, higher resolution display (2560 by 1600), 8GB of RAM but with 128GB of SSD. It’s also not so portable compared to the new Macbook and Macbook Air, so it’s really just a choice between power and portability in this option.

A honorable mention go to Dell XPS 13 (2015), the near bezel-less display is so impressive, that when the new Macbook 12 inches display is revealed, it didn’t impress anyone as much as Apple tried. In fact, while Macbook squeeze the 12 inches display on 11 inches body, the XPS 13 squeeze an impressive 13 inches. If you configure it to match Macbook base specs (8GB/256GB), this only cost $1099, $200 cheaper. Still, it’s heavier than the Macbook and only Full HD screen, but you can go with a QHD+ touchscreen display if you want (started at $1299 as well). The XPS 13 also praised across multiple reviews, so it’s a machine that you can’t go wrong with.

An even more direct comparison is Samsung ATIV Book 9, which started at $1199, but ramp up to $1399 for the same configuration as the new Macbook base specs. Both are almost identical in terms of size and weight, both runs Intel Core M processor and both have 12 inches display, but ATIV Book 9 has an even higher resolution screen (2560 by 1600) and have all the ports you need in ultrabook. So the ATIV Book 9 offers better screen and ports, but it’s also $100 more for the same configuration as the new Macbook.

Summary

So if you read until the end, surely, you’ll find that in the competitive market of ultrabook and convertible, there’s already a lot of choices exists, some offer better feature/performance/price than the Apple new Macbook. But my point is, that a market for the new Macbook exists. And while the price is on the top-end of the spectrum, it’s not all that bad when you also ramp up the other machine configuration to match the new Macbook base specs.

Yes, it’s not the thinnest machine, not even the lightest (that reward goes to Lenovo LaVie). However, if you think about having a compact, fanless design, with a very thin and light-weight form factor, while still packing powerful enough internal under-the-hood to run full OS X with high resolution retina display, the new Macbook is not bad at all. It competes very well with the competition.

You might also notice that I avoid discussing the $1599 512GB version, yes, that one doesn’t seem to worth it. While SSD is not cheap, $300 is too much to spend for a small upgrade of processor and twice the storage.

In summary, here’s the pros of the new Macbook in my opinion:

  • Fanless design, allowing silent operation and less worry of blocking the vents, avoid dust accumulation
  • Start with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD
  • Thin and light, not making any record, but it’s one of the most compact notebook on the market right now
  • Retina display, 2304 by 1440 resolution
  • Force touch trackpad – not sure how good that is, but so far only heard good things
  • Mac OS X ecosystem – depend to your preference of course, but I like Mac OS X more than Windows

And the cons:

  • Core M processor is slower
  • Single USB Type-C port that double-duty as data and charging
  • Start at $1299, which is quite high
  • Surprising low 480p web camera
  • Good bye to the backlit Apple logo on the Macbook face

 

1 comments | Leave a comment

  1. Robert November 25, 2015 11:11

    Nice article. I do agree with you that the Core M processor should not be a problem for most people. Price point is rather tricky, depending on each person’s point of view. Apple IS an expensive brand anyway, but usually we get what we pay for. For me, the biggest letdown is the single port USB. I don’t really care if it’s USB-C or full-sized USB, just make sure we have at least two if charging will use one of them.

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