Apple's first new laptop since the company switched to Intel processors, the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro features a Centrino Core Duo processor and, in doing so, ushers in a new era of Apple computing. Replacing the 15-inch PowerBook in the company's lineup, the MacBook Pro delivers many familiar, beloved features (a scrolling track pad, the Sudden Motion Sensor, an excellent software package), along with a few new ones.
While the Intel partnership gives Apple the potential to match the performance capabilities of its Windows-based competition, the first MacBook Pro, like the iMac Core Duo, shows signs of the growing pains Apple faces in switching to the new platform. We expect the company to work out these kinks as it transitions the remainder of its laptops to Intel, but for now, if you use Photoshop or other non-native apps, wait or look at a Windows-based Core Duo laptop -- the HP Pavilion dv1000t and the Acer TravelMate 8200 offer superior performance and many of the same features for a lower or equal price. That said, if performance and battery life aren't a huge concern (and the 12-inch PowerBook is too small for you), the MacBook Pro delivers the goods better than any other Apple laptop.
With the MacBook Pro, Apple's hasn't radically redesigned the PowerBook form factor -- it has just made a few refinements to it. As such, the sleek, aluminium MacBook Pro looks very similar to the 15-inch PowerBook G4 -- just a tad wider, to accommodate the slightly larger 15.4-inch (diagonal) display, and a few millimetres thinner. Striking a successful compromise between portability and usability, the MacBook Pro weighs 2.5kg -- almost the same as the PowerBook and towards the upper end of the thin-and-light category. One glorious innovation is that the the MacBook's AC adaptor connects magnetically to the laptop, so if you accidentally trip over the cord, it will simply detach instead of sending your MacBook flying or tearing out the laptop's innards.
Underneath the lid, the MacBook Pro extends the tradition of the PowerBook's minimalist design. The MacBook Pro has just a power button, a big keyboard framed by stereo speakers, a very large touch pad with a single mouse button, and one new feature: a handy built-in iSight camera that sits above the display. Though the keys are shallow, they're wide, and we found them comfortable to type on. We also love the keyboard's backlighting feature, which adjusts to changes in ambient light levels.
The touch pad lets you scroll through long documents, Web pages and spreadsheets by dragging two fingers down or across the pad, a terrific feature that's unique to Apple laptops. The MacBook Pro's 15.4-inch widescreen display features a fine 1,440x900-pixel native resolution and looks noticeably brighter than the 15-inch PowerBook's display and about as bright as the average PC laptop display.
Apple has updated some of the PowerBook's ports and connections with the MacBook Pro and scaled back a few others. Overall, we think the MacBook Pro comes up short of what you'll find on similarly priced PC laptops, such as the TravelMate 8200 and the Pavilion dv1000t. That said, the MacBook Pro features two USB 2.0 ports (fewer than most comparably sized PC laptops), a FireWire 400 port, an ExpressCard slot, and DVI and VGA ports for connecting to an external monitor. It's also equipped with Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (enhanced data rate), and you can access the Internet via 802.11g Wi-Fi radio and Gigabit Ethernet.
As with the PowerBook, the MacBook Pro features a slot-loading SuperDrive that plays and burns DVDs and CDs. One new extra is a small remote control, which looks like an iPod Shuffle, that controls the included Front Row multimedia player. We wish the MacBook had a storage slot for it (like the Pavilion dv1000t has for its remote). Unlike most PC laptops, however, the MacBook Pro lacks a built-in media reader for flash memory cards. Also, there's no S-Video output, composite-video connection, FireWire 800 port, or built-in modem -- all of which the PowerBook had.
The MacBook Pro ships with Mac OS X Tiger, highlights of which include the incredibly cool Spotlight search utility and the customisable Dashboard, a collection of handy desktop tools. Also included is the robust iLife '06 software suite and a handful of other apps -- an equivalent batch of PC software could easily run to hundreds of pounds.
The MacBook Pro comes in two standard configurations, each running Intel's new Core Duo processor: a 1.83GHz model for £1,429, and a 2.0GHz model for £1,779 (which you can upgrade to 2.16GHz for £210 more). We tested the base 1.83GHz version, which was equipped with 512MB of 667MHz DDR2 RAM, an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics card with 128MB of VRAM, and an 80GB 5,400rpm hard drive.