When Steve Jobs pulled out the MacBook Air in 2008, the accolades of the “world’s thinnest laptop” were quickly met with outrage. “Come on! This is crazy,” we all said. “For $1,800 you expect me to use a severely underpowered laptop with no DVD drive and just one USB port?” Seven years (and one additional USB port) later, those complaints sound crazy.
Apple’s introduction of a sleek new $1,300 MacBook Monday felt like traveling back in time. Except, there was no manila envelope, and all of the ports you’re used to got chopped from this ultrathin 2-pound machine, along with some typing comfort and battery life.
Like the first Air, this is Apple’s attempt to reimagine the laptop all over, now for the smartphone and tablet age. Based on my short time with the machine, I think Apple will turn the laptop industry on its head (again), but just like with the original Air, it may be moving too fast for some.
At some point, I will stop being surprised at how thin and light gadgets continue to get. But not today. Picking it up the MacBook feels like lifting an iPad rather than a laptop. And when you look at the 13.1mm-thick machine from the side, it looks like a screen propped up by a metal stand.
Of course, it’s thin because all the ports you know and love are in the trash. No more SD card slot, no more full-sized USB ports or Thunderbolt. All that’s left is a headphone jack and one—and only one—USB-Type C port. The latter charges the laptop, but also can be used to send video to monitors and connect and charge other devices.
We don’t need all those other ports, Apple says. We are living in a wireless world now, where we can connect most of our peripherals without cords. Except every morning I plug my Air into a Thunderbolt display, and every afternoon I plug my iPhone into my Air to charge it. Of course, Apple will sell dongles—overpriced, naturally—that allow you to do those things.
There’s also no fingerprint reader, like the iPhone and iPad’s TouchID.
But when I opened up the lid and gazed at the 2304×1440-pixel Retina 12-inch screen, those issues faded away. The edge-to-edge display is crisp and bright—a huge improvement over the current MacBook Air.
Navigating that software on the screen is a slightly new experience, too. Apple still does not believe in adding touchscreens to its Mac OS X computers. Instead, the trackpad has a smoother coating and new touch capabilities. Called Force Touch, the pad is now a single piece of flat glass that can respond to different pressure. You’ll still feel a “click” when you press down on it, but that is actually all done with software. In a demo, Apple showed me how to press gently on the pad and then more firmly to speed up a video. I’m not sure how useful that feature will be, but the good news is that for regular navigating, the trackpad feels better than ever.
To accommodate the thinner bottom, the keyboard also had to be slimmed down. Think of the bottoms of the keys as having been shaved off. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. A new mechanism under the keys still gives them a slight spring—functional, yes, but not as satisfying as the Air’s keyboard. It is also harder to tell where the keys start and end. So I was shocked at how fast and accurate I was able to type.
The $1,300 MacBook model will be available with a lower-powered Core M processor, 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM—$1,500 will get you a faster processor and twice the storage.
Apple claims the new MacBook will get nine hours of battery life, which is three hours less than the 13-inch MacBook Air, but the same as the 11-inch Air. (The new MacBook has a much higher resolution screen than both.) I plan to test the performance and battery life in a full review closer to the laptop’s April 10 availability.
For now, though, I’ll be trying to figure out how I’m supposed to play all my vintage “Friends” DVDs.