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First look: Apple's new MacBook is small, yet completely capable

Michael deAgonia | April 29, 2015
A first look at Apple's new MacBook reveals a beautifully designed, conveniently compact laptop with some interesting -- and potentially problematic -- features.

The reason for that different feel is the keyboard: As Apple officials explained when they unveiled it last month, the MacBook's thinness forced company engineers to rethink how the keys needed to be implemented; so instead of going with a traditional scissor mechanism for the keys, they devised a new butterfly method. The result: A much shorter throw (the distance a key has to travel).

In concert with the changes to the spring mechanisms, Apple also enlarged the keys, which resulted in much smaller gaps between them. The combination of short key travel, larger keys and the new engineering really changes the feel of typing -- something that not everyone will like. The new keyboard adds to the sense of rigidness I referred to earlier, and the keys' lack of flexibility, combined with the larger surface area, contributes to that different feel.

The same concept was applied to the trackpad: It's no longer springy-feeling like the previous models, in which the hinge mechanism design needed varying levels of pressure to activate a click depending on where the trackpad was pressed. The new trackpad design is built around four force sensors that detect how much pressure is applied against the surface, enabling haptic feedback and contextually sensitive features, depending on the application in use. There's just enough give to provide mechanical feedback, but it's definitely a different feel, one that some long-time users might not like.

On the other hand, I thought my 15-in. MacBook Pro keyboard and trackpad felt spongy after using the newer versions of both on the MacBook. To me, that's the sign of a compelling design.

Built for wireless use

Something else may give some users pause. There are only two ports on the new MacBook: a stereo plug on the right and a USB-C plug on the left. In going with USB-C as the sole connectivity port -- it is used for the power cord and also, via adapters, USB and video out -- Apple has made it clear that this computer is for those living in a wireless-focused world. Some potential customers might be turned off by the fact that you will need an adapter even to do simple things like connect to a hard drive.

Performance-wise, the new MacBook is more than capable of day-to-day activities such as browsing the Web, checking email, writing papers and things of that nature. I found this computer to be responsive even for video editing sessions, though exporting my standard test video did take much more time than when I tried it with the 15-in. MacBook Pro (2012), a 13-in. MacBook Air (2013) and the latest 13-in. MacBook Pro.


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