Tech + Lifestyle

games, gear, and googleplexes (joke)

My Macbook Impressions: Two Weeks In

I’m typing this on my still relatively-new Macbook. As the title suggests, I’ve been in possession of this notebook for a grand total of two weeks, and below are some thoughts as to my experience so far. Keep in mind that before this, my use of Macs / OS-X has been minimal. Things that Mac users don’t necessarily notice stick out for me. I’m directly comparing the usability of this system to that of my main PC, in regard to both hardware and software.

Battery Life

Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed with the battery life on my Macbook. It isn’t perfect – writing to my hard drive really kills it, as does gaming (I’ll discuss this later) and cranking up the screen’s brightness. Apple’s advertised battery life, with average usage – basically word processing, web surfing, and listening to music – is five hours. This is accurate with the screen toned down a bit, but at full brightness I’d put it at around two and a half hours, which an average amount for laptops. I’ve been appreciating the battery indicator at the top of my screen – I set it up so that in addition to a graphical battery indicator I get an estimate of how much battery life is left. It’s been helpful while getting a feel for how long I can do various tasks.

Chiclet” Keyboard

One of my main concerns was that I’d hate using the so-called “chiclet” style keyboard. Fortunately, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the keyboard. It is the same one that is used in the Macbook Air, incidentally. The keys don’t have much travel, but they’re decently springy and have a nice audible “click” whenever I hit them. That may sound strange, but it’s a must as far as I’m concerned. I write a lot, and I’m a little finicky about my keyboards. The keys are plastic, but they feel quite solid, and have a nice texture and finish to them. Apple also spaced them out a little, creating visual appeal with the latticework of aluminum bordering them and making typing more comfortable than it would be otherwise. I’m kinda missing having a keypad on the right, but the lack thereof was an acceptable compromise for a 13″ notebook, so I’m adjusting. Overall, I like this keyboard, and I’m getting faster at typing on it every day.

Glass Trackpad

Frankly, I was kinda perplexed by everyone’s obsession over the possibility of a glass trackpad before the new notebooks were released. It might look cool, sure, but does it really add much functionality? Furthermore, I assumed that such a trackpad would feel kinda like the screen of my iPod Touch, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it doesn’t even feel like glass. The texture is definitely smooth, but it doesn’t really feel glass smooth. The multi-touch input is great, once you get used to it, and having a trackpad that is huge is quite helpful. It took me a few days to get used to – I kept thinking I was on the edge of the pad, and then realized I had a lot more space – but it really is a pretty good form of input. In fact, I like it so much that I’ve been thinking about getting a Wacom tablet or something similar to use as input when multi-touch enabled Windows Seven comes out (then again, I might just pick up Mgestyk’s new product and call it a day).

Program Compatability

First things first. My most basic need in a computer is to be able to do work for school – word processing, presentations, etc. I didn’t want to drop $149 for the OS-X version of Microsoft Office, so I started checking out things like Open Office and Google Docs. They’re okay, don’t get me wrong, but I wanted to continue using Office if at all possible. My saving grace came, ironically enough, when CodeWeavers offered their products free for one day. They provide a line of software called Crossover, which uses virtual environments based on Wine to run Windows programs in OS-X (it’s available for Linux, too). I took advantage of their offer and downloaded both the Pro and Games variants of their products, then installed Office with Pro and Steam and Team Fortress 2 with the Games version. It works quite nicely, and I’m really happy I came upon it. Other than that, I’m still sniffing around and figuring out what programs do or don’t run in OS-X, and if they don’t, how well they’ll do with Crossover.

Gaming

Most people laugh when they hear someone say the words “gaming” and “Mac” in the same sentence. Apple support for gaming is almost nonexistent, and not many games are released with an OS-X variant. I remain optimistic, as Apple’s conversion to Intel processors and recent introduction of nVidia chipsets bodes well for the future of gaming on Macs. For the moment though, your video game options on Macs are quire limited. The closest you can get to mainstream gaming is through the use of versions of Wine or something similar. I used Crossover Games and installed Steam and Team Fortress 2, then checked it out for a few minutes. While it was functional, it wasn’t necessarily fun (or pretty). Here’s why:

  •  I got it to run at 720×480 with mostly low detail. Nothing special visually. It reminded me of a six- or seven-year-old game.
  • Without the laptop being plugged in, your screen is going to go into reduced brightness. It further downgrades the visual element, making everything look washed out.
  • Never, ever, under any circumstances, try to game using a trackpad. Even with sensitivity turned all the way up, the response time sucks, and it isn’t very smooth or as natural as even a regular mouse, let alone a gaming mouse.
  • Peering down at a thirteen-inch screen just isn’t the same as looking at a twenty-four inch monitor that practically melts your eyes.

I’ll probably end up loading some classic turn-based strategy games for while I’m in China next semester, or even one of those ad-supported Asian MMORPGs, just for kicks. Serious gaming though? Definitely not.

Connectivity

I like that the Macbook comes with draft-N capability, even though most things are still at B/G speeds. The wifi is pretty good, but the software for it has been a little weird. I like that it loads and saves all the networks I’m on regularly and auto-joins them, but it also randomly drops the signal, for no apparent reason. I’ve been at school, at home even, with both my Macbook and iPod Touch out, and the Macbook will drop the signal, whereas my iPod is just fine.

As far as hard ports go, I kinda wish Apple had included one or two more USB ports – two just doesn’t cut it, especially when I’ll be using this as my main computer. That being said, a USB hub would probably do the trick for me. The lack of Firewire really isn’t an issue for me – when I purchase a camcorder, I intend to just get one that uses HDSC cards. I’ve never used Firewire, and I never will. Video and Photography professionals might be upset over the loss of their beloved Firewire port, but most of them should be using Macbook Pros, or Mac’s desktop line. The mini DisplayPort seems nice enough, but until they’re more widespread than Mac’s new products, it is essentially useless to me, and I don’t feel like buying one of Apple’s crazy-expensive adapters.

Responsiveness

So far, I’ve been pleased with my notebook’s multi-tasking capabilities. I haven’t done anything too demanding just yet, but just for kicks I’ve opened a dozen programs at once, and had no perceivable lag. On the other hand, there’s been times that I’ve gotten that stupid little spinning beachball for no apparent reason whatsoever. I’d like to figure out why, but until then it’ll just be annoying.

Finder

While I don’t have a ton of documents on my Macbook yet, using Finder has been really cool. As I understand it, OS-X actually stores/indexes files differently than Windows, allowing for documents to be located much more quickly. The Documents and Downloads icons on the dock are also really nice, acting as ‘recent documents’ does for me in Word or other productivity programs. Are there programs you can use in Windows to achieve the same thing? Yes, of course. Google’s sidebar does a pretty decent job of it. It isn’t built in, though. I like that instead of focusing on adding little accessories and trivial programs, like Windows had for the past ten or fifteen years, OS-X focuses on core usability, and worries about the rest of it later. Props, OS-X.

Misc. Nice Touches

  • I like that I’ve got a battery indicator at the top that actually tells me how much time I’ve got left.
  • I like that there’s also an LED indicator on the side of the laptop. The shade of green is particularly pleasant.
  • I like the little glow that appears under an icon when the program is running, and how a program’s icon will appear in the dock while it’s open.
  • I like Core animation.
  • I like that when I open my *Windows* cop of Microsoft Word in Crossover, it’s bigger than regular windows. It extends past the dock, but is still visible behind it.
  • I like how solid this thing feels. It has a nice amount of heft for it’s size.
  • I like how quiet it is while playing DVDs. I can only hear the drive if the sound is muted.
  • I like that despite the warnings of so many “analysts” across the web this thing would get hot due to the aluminum shell, it never gets hotter than a nice warmness. It feels good whenever it’s cold outside.

 

Got anything to say about the above? Feel morally outraged? Is there anything you think is just flat-out wrong? Leave a comment, I always appreciate input!

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November 10, 2008 - Posted by | Tech | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Have you tried any games using bootcamp? I really want to get a new mac laptop, but also would like to game. I can’t afford the pro.

    Comment by Nik | November 19, 2008 | Reply

  2. I haven’t used Bootcamp on it, no. I’m pretty satisfied with Crossover so far, and it’s more convenient for me.

    If you’re wondering about gaming performance with the 2.0 Ghz Core 2 Duo and nVidia 9400M, it’ll be better than your mainstream laptops, but not as good as a gaming laptop or a desktop with discrete graphics. There are some games that should play quite smoothly at the screen’s native resolution (1280×800), but I wouldn’t try anything like Crysis.

    Here are some suggestions:

    Halflife 2: great game, even though it’s a few years old. Valve makes great use of the engine that drives it, so it looks pretty good without stressing your hardware too much. As an added bonus, Episodes 1 & 2 are also available for this (basically, HL3 is being released episodically).

    World of Warcraft: If you’re in to MMOs, you can’t go wrong with WoW. Your laptop will be able to run it without any hiccups, and it’s even available specifically for Macs, so you wouldn’t have to mess with Bootcamp or anything else.

    Almost any strategy game should be fine, especially because they tend to be more demanding of the processor than of your graphics.

    Comment by techpluslifestyle | November 19, 2008 | Reply


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