Review by Jeffrey Stanley:
This is my first Mac computer. My first four computers ran Win 3.1, Windows 95, XP, and Vista (from about 1995-present). I have quite a lot of time spent on each of them. Switching from Windows to Mac is not difficult, but it can be a bit frustrating for a week or so. There are Windows features that you will miss, but they are mostly overcome by overall advantages in my opinion.
I’ve spent two weeks with this machine now. If I had written this review after one day, I would have probably stated that I regretted the switch to Mac. After getting more proficient with the machine and realizing how well it works, I would definitely recommend it to a friend.
This review is going to be a mix of my impressions of both the hardware and the Mac operating system from a new Mac user perspective.
The only difference between my machine and the one on this product page is that I ordered directly from Apple and upgraded the hard drive to 250GB (from the 160GB base option). I am using 2gb of ram and the lower-end processor.
My Mac OS impressions:
The biggest thing I missed from Windows at first was the task bar. Mac uses the “dock” to replace the task bar. The dock is kind of like the quick launch toolbar in Windows spread out across the entire bar, with large icons. Having used windows with a task bar for the past 13 years, I missed the ability to see all open programs and switch between them with the task bar. The dock has a tiny dot below the icon on running-programs, but nothing else to separate it from other program and folder icons. The dock is not nearly as useful for multitasking as the task bar.
The saving grace that rescues the Mac from awkward app-switching while multitasking is called expose. Expose is activated by either pressing a key or using a multitouch gesture (four-finger swipe). Expose uses the entire screen to display all open windows and allow you to switch between them. It’s like alt+tab on steroids. Having used the machine for a couple weeks, I miss using expose when I use my Windows machine. As much as I hated the dock at first, I have to give the advantage to the Mac for managing multiple windows while multitasking.
The controls for open-windows are quite different than in MS-Windows. In Mac, there is a resize, hide, and minimize button instead of maximize, minimize, restore, and close. To close an app on the mac you need to use a menu command or keyboard shortcut. The Mac resize button kind of works like restore/maximize, only it’s a bit more awkward. A commenter here pointed out that it resizes the window for ideal viewing without using the entire screen. I find myself resizing windows by dragging corners more than I ever did on a Windows machine. I really miss the ability to maximize, if for no other reason but to avoid distractions. The green resize button may be better on an enormous monitor, but not on a 13″ notebook. When you minimize or hide an app on the Mac, it is only available from the dock and is hidden from expose. I’ll give the window size-management advantage to Windows in this contest. The windows system is just easier and more logical in my opinion. It isn’t a deal-breaker, but I do miss the Windows “window controls.” If you are a frequent user of the F11 key while web browsing in Windows you’ll have to kiss that feature goodbye. Neither Firefox nor Safari will go full-screen.
Windows Explorer is “replaced” with an app called Finder. Finder is kind of like the start menu and an explorer window all rolled up into one. Compared with older versions of Windows, finder is adequate but Vista’s explorer is quite a bit easier and more logical to use. I prefer Vista’s preview pane to Mac’s coverflow. I miss the “up folder” button. I have found myself mostly using the view that puts files, folders and apps into a column view for easiest computer browsing, and it just isn’t as elegant as Windows Vista. The lack of a maximize button has caused frustration especially in the finder, because the finder likes to stay in a very small window unless you drag the corners.
The Safari web browser is nice and quick and has a decent security reputation. I have been switching back and forth between Safari and Firefox. Firefox has crashed a couple of times and I really like being able to use multitouch gestures with Safari, so I’m leaning toward making Safari my main web tool. Reading RSS feeds, and the bookmark toolbar are really well done in Safari. Browsers are so personal that it’s difficult to recommend one over the other, but as a Firefox user in Windows I think I have high standard and Safari has met or exceeded them.
I absolutely hate the iPhoto app. Iphoto does not allow you to organize and browse your photos in folders. It imports your pictures and sorts them itself based on time/date stamps on the photos. This works fine for personal vacation snapshots but it completely mixed up the rest of my images. Folders that were neatly organized for work projects, and fun web clippings, and adult stuff were all shuffled into one big mess after I imported my image collection. I ended up just deleting all of them and not using iphoto at all. Right now I’m just using Finder to browse my photos and the preview app to view them. Light editing work isn’t possible in the preview app and I still haven’t decided what to use for a basic photo editor yet. Vista’s photo app is junk but it’s still superior to iPhoto if you like to keep your photos organized using your own folder system. I know people who love iphoto. It comes down to whether you want the ability to organize your collection yourself. If you have a big mess of photos, you’ll love iphoto’s ability to organize them via event and face recognition.
Edited to add: you can organize your photos into “albums” after you import them into iPhoto, but be prepared to spend a lot of time reorganizing everything. Even after you organize into albums, the main library screen gives you views of your entire collection (perhaps things you don’t want everyone to see).
I have not used Garage Band or iMovie yet. I’ll update later when I get a chance.
Edited to add: I played with garage band a bit and it’s pretty powerful. It allows you to import and export AAC and MP3 tracks and record sound in multiple tracks. Very easy to use. The only other audio app i’ve ever used is audacity and I much prefer Garage Band. I haven’t used any of the music lessons it offers yet but plan to soon.
I played with iMovie for a few minutes and it seems pretty nice and very intuitive. I actually don’t mind Windows Movie Maker, which is included with Vista. I would not consider it a big step up from Win Movie Maker, but it’s a nice app.
The mail, calendar, and address book apps are basic but work very very well. The address app will import common file types easily. It will sync with yahoo out of the box. Address book will only sync with Google contacts if you own an iPhone or iPod Touch.
Everyone has an opinion about iTunes. I’m a big fan of it. It’s exactly like the windows version only it runs a bit faster without the bugs. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, the Windows-iTunes bug with time/date being wrong after the computer sleeps is not an issue on the Mac.
Time machine is the Mac’s backup app. It is amazing and very simple. I’m using an external drive plugged into my Apple Airport wireless router, as a backup disk. My wireless disk showed up on my desktop instantly once I plugged it into the router. Time machine noticed the external drive right away and went to work backing up my files (after asking permission of course). Now my machine automatically backs up any changes every hour as long as I’m in range of my wireless access point. Time machine is a big load off my mind. If I ever have a drive failure or my computer is destroyed I have an exact backup of everything without remembering to backup my files. Vista will backup according to a set schedule, but it lacks the ability to easily look through backups for specific files. Time machine is wonderful and make wireless backup effortless.
The Mac disk utility is almost as good as the one in Vista and it’s easier to use. It’s far superior to the one in XP. I used it to format my external wireless drive because the Mac router couldn’t read NTFS formating (although the computer can read NTFS drives via USB for some reason).
The graphics control software is a joy to use. When I plug in my external monitor it immediately extends my desktop to the new monitor. Adjusting everything from resolution to rotation couldn’t be any easier.
Boot camp is a utility that allows you to create a partition and install Windows as a secondary boot system (you need to own or buy a legal single-disk 32bit copy of either Windows XP or Windows Vista). When you start up the boot camp utility, it gives you a choice between using either 5 or 32 GB of space for the Windows partition. I learned the hard way that Windows XP SP3 won’t fit into 5GB. You need to give it at least the 32 GB (which left me with almost exactly 200GB on my “250″ GB drive). Installing Windows using the Boot Camp utility is very very easy. Once you get Windows loaded, your OSX install disk makes quick work of installing drivers for all of your laptop’s hardware. It’s too bad that Nvidia and HP aren’t as good at putting together easy Windows driver packages as Apple. In order to boot into Windows, you simply press the “option” key during bootup and it allows you to choose which OS to run. Windows XP absolutely screams on this hardware.
The hardware is where this computer really shines.
The biggest advantage is stability. My last computer purchase was a vista machine. To say that I had stability and hardware compatibility issues with my HP Vista desktop is an understatement. The main reason I turned to mac for this purchase was the fact that the hardware, drivers, and software are made for each other. This machine has ran flawlessly for the past two weeks. I did have two crashes of the Firefox browser while watching Flash video, but only the browser went down rather than the entire system.
I have connected an external monitor, camera, ipod, USB drive, and router to this machine. All of the drivers were already installed and everything has “just worked.” The hardware is a joy to use when it just works. It is difficult to put into words how happy I am with the lack of effort in using this machine.
The speed isn’t blazing-fast but it runs very well, even with many many apps and windows running. My Vista desktop has similar specs, but my new Mac feels slightly faster.
One outstanding productivity feature of this machine is the touch pad. I honestly prefer it to using a mouse for office and browsing tasks. I can’t say enough good things about the multitouch gestures. Two finger scrolling, two finger right-click, three finger forward and back in Safari, and four finger expose make this machine feel like like it is part of you. Having the entire surface of the touchpad as the button is brilliant, especially for drag and drop operations. The large size of the touchpad makes it very precise.
The keyboard is really nice. At first I thought the keys were a bit soft and the travel was too shallow, but I quickly got used to it and now prefer it to my more “clicky” desktop keyboard. I don’t know how I lived this long without a backlit keyboard. The backlight is more useful than I thought it would be.
The display is beautiful. It has good color, a wide viewing angle, and is plenty bright for indoor environments. I would prefer that the screen wasn’t glass, but the reflections aren’t as bad as I feared. If there is a bright light source behind you, you’ll need to angle the screen to reduce the glare but it’s workable.
The DVD drive is a DVD drive. It feels slow and makes a lot of noise. I’ve never owned an optical drive that I considered fast and quiet, and this one isn’t any exception. It works well, but isn’t anything special.
The battery life is incredible. The seven hour battery life is not an exaggeration if you are using the computer for light browsing and office apps. Expect about 4-5 hours if you’re using it for heavy web browsing and a bit of media. Listening to music with the display off would easily last over the advertised 7 hours. Streaming high definition video on netflix using wireless will knock it down to at or below three hours. I haven’t watched DVD movies on battery power but I expect it to barely get you through a single two hour film with a bit left over.
The size and weight are ideal for portability. 4.5lbs doesn’t exactly feel light until you compare it to similarly spec’d machines that weigh a full pound (20%) more. I wouldn’t want a larger machine if I had to lug it around much.
The speakers are quite good for a small light machine. Don’t expect much bass, but the sound is very clear with good mids and highs. The speakers are plenty loud for listening to podcasts or music in a semi-quiet medium sized room or office. I won’t need to pack external speakers for use in my hotel room when I travel, like my last laptop.
The “magsafe” power adapter is more than just a gimmick, and more than just a way to avoid tripping and breaking your machine. The “power brick” itself is a lot smaller than my last dell laptop. It’s exactly the same size as the USB wall adapters that used to be included with ipods. The cord is 6ft long and the brick includes fold-out wings to wrap the cord around. It is very well thought-out for travel. With the cord wrapped up and the plug folded into the body, the power brick only takes up about 2.5″ x 3″ x 1″ in your bag. When you are using it at home or at the office there is an included 6ft extension cord for the power brick so you aren’t as tethered to your desk.
The computer runs very cool compared to most laptops. Also, there are no vents where super-heated air blows out. While I’m sure it uses a fan, I’ve never audibly actually heard it run or felt a stream of warm air from it. I think it may vent through ports and the keyboard but it runs cool enough that you don’t notice it. Edited to add: it does get rather warm when watching high resolution video, but stays quite cool when web browsing or using normal office apps. Even when very warm, the fan is still quiet (the only way to actually hear the fan is to hold it near your ear).
The only drawback to the hardware compared to Windows machines is the fact that there is no option to hibernate when closing the lid. It sleeps when you close the lid but it still is using a small amount of power. If you’re only going to be away for a couple hours this isn’t an issue, but you must completely shut down when on battery power if you’re going to be away much longer.
This machine is a lot more expensive than similarly spec’d Windows machines but I feel that it’s worth the money. I’m a very satisfied Mac switcher.