Although the MacBook is missing a couple of features that should be standard at this price, it's still a highly capable laptop at an entry-level (for Apple) price.
Excellent screen and keyboard; large multi-touch trackpad; good battery life.
Stingy to omit FireWire and an SD Card slot at this price.
Apple hasn't messed too much with the white plastic MacBook for this late 2009 refresh, but it has spruced up its entry-level laptop to bring it into line with its MacBook Pro models.
The most obvious change is the move to a unibody enclosure, but this is cast from a single slab of slick polycarbonate rather than the aluminium ingot of the MacBook Pro. Nonetheless, the single-piece construction improves overall rigidity and even reduces weight by a small amount, but its construction isn't completely seamless. The base is a separate strip of non-slip plastic that's better suited to being scraped across desktops than the rest of the shiny case.
The MacBook's 'Scrabble tile' keyboard hasn't changed, but this is no bad thing as it's one of the most comfortable to be found on any laptop. Apple has swapped the standard trackpad for the same jumbo multi-touch model as the MacBook Pro, though. This has no button and instead can be clicked across its entire glass surface, with a two-finger click taking the place of the right button.
A 13.3in LED-backlit screen is now standard issue for the MacBook, but it has the same 1,280 x 800 resolution and plastic bezel as before. Apple hasn't opted for the same 'frameless' glass display as the MacBook Pro, in other words. Even so, the image is crisp and vibrant, and viewing angles are wide, but the glossy finish does lead to reflections in brightly lit areas. Apple offers only a matte screen option on the 15in and 17in MacBook Pros.
Entry-level it may be, but the 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM and Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics mean that the MacBook has essentially the same specification as the 13in MacBook Pro that costs £100 more. That makes the MacBook a good deal if you won't miss the aluminium enclosure, but there's a couple of other differences to distinguish these two models.
An SD Card slot is an odd omission for a Mac that's likely to be used to store photos from a digital camera, but since the MacBook has never had one, not everyone will miss it. The same can't be said of FireWire, though. It was on the last model, but Apple has since decided that there's no place for the port it invented on a non-Pro portable.
Apple cites longer life as the main reason for switching to non-user-replaceable batteries on the MacBook Pro range, but a mere 5Wh capacity increase hardly seems worth the trade-off for fitting a similar fixed power source to the MacBook. Nonetheless, improved energy efficiency across the board (screen and processor) do lead Apple to claim a MacBook battery life of up to seven hours, two hours more than the old model.
Apple is vague on the 'wireless productivity' tests it uses to measure battery life, and we got just over three and a half hours when playing a looped QuickTime HD video with Wi-Fi off and the screen at full brightness. This heavy-use test probably equates to around five hours of typical Wi-Fi-enabled productivity use, some way short of Apple's figure, but still above average for a laptop like this.