Archive for June 2007

Accessory Makers Ready for iPhone Launch

June 28, 2007

Apple Inc.’s iPhone won’t hit stores until Friday, but the heavily hyped gadget already has unleashed a cottage industry of touch-screen protectors, leather hip carriers and car adapters. Even the most enthusiastic manufacturers said creating formfitting iPhone accessories was an enormous challenge. A notoriously tightlipped Apple kept many partners in the dark on precise specifications, and some of the company’s most trusted accessory manufacturers still have not touched a genuine iPhone.  

To compensate, many cribbed size and weight specifications from Apple’s Web site, then created models out of wood, cardboard or plastic. They shipped models to Apple for advice on whether headset and other outlets were placed correctly. They adjusted and resent revised versions to Apple. 

Many made educated guesses about curved moldings or the location of the proximity sensor, which turns off the touch screen when near the user’s face. A one-millimeter error could result in headsets that come unplugged or an uncomfortably hot screen. “The engineering aspects were a huge challenge,” said Marware Inc. sales manager Sean Savitt 

Hollywood, Fla.-based Marware, which sells iPod accessories in Apple stores and on Apple.com, assigned an industrial engineer to build a molded-plastic custom prototype that weighed precisely as much as a real iPhone. Marware sent the model to Apple for comments – but it’s unclear how many of the roughly 300 Apple accessory makers had similar access. “There are a lot of manufacturers’ cases that are going to have some fundamental mistakes that will only be revealed after launch,” Savitt said. “There was a great deal of information to process and a great deal of guesswork.

 Cupertino-based Apple did not respond to requests for comment. 

 The company recently sent some partners a memo urging them not to talk to journalists or rivals about marketing strategies – including whether their accessories would be on sale alongside iPhones. Partners are not supposed to issue news releases or advertisements until after the launch. 

Digital Lifestyle Outfitters Inc. will have two cases available in AT&T Inc. stores starting Friday. The phones are slated to go on sale at 6 p.m. local time Friday at Apple and AT&T stores, and on Apple’s Web site. 

 Immediately after Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in early January, DLO developed rough models in balsa wood based on the general specifications he gave out. Engineers then built plastic replicas with glass touch screens.  

Even the slick photographs of the iPhone HipCase and Jam Jacket on DLO’s Web site use model iPhones, said Andrew Green, vice president of marketing at Charleston, S.C.-based DLO. “We didn’t have a lot of special details initially. Apple shared stuff with us, but not exclusively,” Green said.

 After the January unveiling, several partners said, Apple cut off access to its designers Web site. Apple may have been making last-minute tweaks – a common practice in the electronics industry, where products have short life cycles. 

“At one point they weren’t going to make the specs available to any vendor until the launch. We all just gasped,” said Carrie Scharbo, co-founder and vice president of Cumming, Ga.-based Case-Mate Inc. 

Case-Mate, which began manufacturing cases at its factory in China after receiving final specs from AT&T May 22, plans to sell a patent-pending, impact-resistant iPhone shell with an injection-molded inner sheath.  

“To build a sleek and slim design without all the specs is challenging, but that’s our schtick,” Scharbo said. “The nerve-wracking thing about this one was that everything was so hush-hush. We felt fortunate that we could partner with AT&T.” 

 EBay Inc. listed roughly 1,700 iPhone accessories Wednesday, from belt clips to whimsical T-shirts proclaiming “I (heart) my (picture of iPhone),” many of them from obscure makers. The San Jose-based auction company is anticipating numerous auctions of iPhones themselves. 

Instead of signing up for cellular service at the time of purchase, iPhone buyers sign up through Apple’s iTunes online store, making the phones easier to give as gifts or resell. About 2,000 eBay security representatives are scheduled to be on the lookout this weekend for iPhone scams. But Cat Schwartz, the eBay executive in charge of electronic gadgets, acknowledged that she can’t do much about ill-fitting accessories.  

“It’s premature for people to be putting out accessories,” Schwartz said. “Until the unit comes out, I wouldn’t advise people to buy a bunch of accessories.” 

By RACHEL KONRAD
AP Technology Writer

Should You Buy an iPhone?

June 28, 2007

The most eagerly awaited cell phone ever is upon us Friday. Should you resist the iPhone’s breathless hype, or take the plunge? Unless you’re already standing in line outside an Apple or AT&T store, or are prepared to mug one of the first customers to come out after the 6 p.m. launch, the answer, at least for now, will have to be “let me think about it for a week or two.”  

The level of hype and demand for Apple Inc.’s phone is reminiscent of the debut of the PlayStation 3 game console in November, when minor riots broke out at some electronics stores. However, eBay prices for resold PS3s quickly fell, and two months later the console was in ample supply. 

 Apparently, much of the initial demand came from people who weren’t really interested in getting them for themselves, but counted on being able to sell them to people who were. It’s quite possible that the iPhone will be subject to the same demand bubble. Check with the stores a month from now: If they have iPhones in stock, the bloom may be off the rose.  

Hype aside, the iPhone is a radical design, a sliver of a device with a 3.5-inch glass screen and very few buttons. The iPhone differs by being designed to be touched with the fingertips rather than a stylus, making it a greater departure from the PC experience. (There have been several expensive phones with large touch screens before, generally using Windows Mobile software.)

 The iPhone does e-mail, Web browsing, music and videos. It comes in two models – $499 for a 4-gigabyte version and $599 for 8 gigabytes of memory – and requires a two-year contract with AT&T Inc.  That’s the basics. Here’s a breakdown of who might want to consider an iPhone and who shouldn’t: 

 The Music Listner:   Possibly. The big screen will make it easy to navigate a large music collection. A feature called Cover Flow shows your album covers like they’re pages of an open book. However, the storage capacity is smaller than today’s full-size iPods. The 4-gigabyte version fits about 800 songs, the 8-gigabyte version 1,800. The memory is not upgradable or expandable with external cards, so the 8-gig version is probably the one to get. Apple puts the battery life at 24 hours of audio playback, which is good.  

The Video Watcher:  Sure, get one. The screen is twice as large as that of the video iPod, and the resolution, at 320 pixels by 480 pixels, is twice as high. The smaller memory capacity is going to mean frequent syncing with a computer, but the bigger screen will make it worth it. Definitely get the 8-gigabyte version, which will fit about 9 hours of video if that’s all you keep on the gadget.  The iPhone also can access some YouTube videos, but since it relies on a relatively slow data network, access could be spotty, unless you’re using its other built-in wireless technology: Wi-Fi. Other Web video will mostly be inaccessible, since the browser doesn’t play Flash content, but that may change.  

The Phone Chatter:  Maybe, but using it mainly as a phone seems like a waste. You can’t type in names to quickly bring up someone from the contact list. Voicemail is listed with the caller’s name or number, sort of like e-mail. In another neat feature, a sensor turns off the screen when you bring the phone to your face.  The cheapest service plan costs $60 a month for 450 daytime minutes – relatively expensive, since you’re paying for unlimited data use. Getting 1,350 minutes costs $100 a month.

The Gamer:  The iPhone does everything except games. A pity, with that nice big screen. Third-party developers might put something clever together that works in the iPhone’s browser, but it’s going to be limited. You probably have a Sony PSP or Nintendo DS already, and the PSP, in particular, already has the big screen and some of the iPhone’s multimedia functions, so you can complement it with a cheaper phone.

The Corporate Road Warrior:  No. For professional use, you’re probably stuck with what the company supports, and for now, that’s going to be BlackBerries and Windows Mobile devices like the Samsung BlackJack. Corporate Microsoft Exchange e-mail servers can be configured to send e-mail to the iPhone, but many companies will not take this step. Other features of Exchange, like contact and calendar syncing, are not available. One possible solution is to forward corporate e-mail to free Web-based e-mail accounts that the iPhone can access, but that raises security issues.

If you’re looking for some entertainment from your work phone, Windows Mobile phones like the T-Mobile Wing are already quite capable. A recently released BlackBerry, the Curve, plays music through a standard stereo headphone jack and has a built-in camera.

The Frugal Buyer:  No, the first-generation iPhone is likely to be followed by something substantially better, like one that uses a faster cellular broadband network and has more memory. It’s unlikely that the first iPhone will be upgradable, and in any case, it would require a trip back to Apple.

The Photo Puff:  Not likely. The iPhone has a 2-megapixel camera, which is decent, and the large screen should make the results easy to appreciate. But phones dedicated to camera buffs also record video and have higher resolutions. The new Nokia N95 has a 5-megapixel sensor and a lens from Germany‘s famous Carl Zeiss. Unfortunately, it sells for $750, since it isn’t subsidized by any U.S. carrier.

The World Traveler:   Possibly, but it’s not ideal. The iPhone will work overseas, but only at AT&T’s roaming rates. Better to have a world phone that has been “unlocked” by the carrier, so you have the option to use a local number and pay local rates. _ The fashionista – Sure. The iPhone is one of the best-looking phones ever. The screen is glass, not plastic, and should be fairly resistant to long fingernails. Goodbye, pink RAZR. 

 By PETER SVENSSON

AP Technology Writer

iRiver X20 (4GB)

June 27, 2007

Asia gets all the cool stuff. Case in point: the iRiver X20, a flash MP3 player with tons of features and great sound quality. Why iRiver decided to keep this lovely device from the Americans is beyond me, but luckily, we’ve tracked down a site that sells the player in the States. You can pick up the 4GB X20 for $159.99 over at warehouse123.com 

The iRiver X20 is pretty hefty for a flash player. It measures 3.8 inches tall by 2 inches wide by 0.5 inch thick and weighs 3.2 ounces–you won’t be wearing this thing around your neck. On the plus side, this relative bulk allows for a 2.3-inch screen. I wouldn’t watch a movie on it, but it’s ample for short video clips and  photos.

To the right of the screen is a five-way control pad surrounded by an ultrathin mechanical scroll wheel (á la the SanDisk Sansa e200 series). As with the e200 series, the X20‘s scroll ring lights up blue when activated. It’s also on the too-thin side, making it a little hard to use, but it has some raised bumps that help provide traction. Inside the ring is a white control pad (up, down, left, and right) surrounding a play/pause key. A power button resides below the control pad and there’s a menu key above it.

 The face of the X20 also features a pinhole mic for making voice recordings, and the right side offers a line-in port for that style of recording as well. For line-in, you can choose from low-, medium-, and high-quality settings, and files are saved as MP3; voice recording offers no settings and files are saved as WAV. Alongside the line-in port is a standard headphone jack, followed by a standard mini USB port. The back of the X20 reveals two nifty features–a user-replaceable battery and dual external speakers–and the bottom of the unit offers yet another compelling extra: a microSD card expansion slot for adding more memory.  

When you connect the iRiver X20 to your computer, it mounts as removable storage (the internal memory and SD card show up as separate drives). Transferring files is a simple drag-and-drop affair–no software required–but if you prefer to use a jukebox, the player also works with the standard WMA players (Rhapsody, Windows Media Player, and so on). The jukeboxes could come in handy for transferring playlists (though you may also drag in M3U files), but keep in mind that the X20 does not support subscriptions, just purchased music (WMA DRM9). It also supports a variety of unprotected audio formats including MP3, WMA, WAV, and Ogg Vorbis. In addition, the player takes MPEG-4 and WMV video and JPEG images. 

Once there’s some content on the device, navigating through it is a pleasantly simple task. The X20‘s interface is nearly identical to that of the Insignia MP3 Player & Image Viewer. In fact, the software is so similar that I’m sure the two companies share it; Best Buy likely commissioned iRiver for the task–the latter’s is slightly more refined. The top menu is circular and icon driven, with the current selection magnified in the center.  Digging down into the music menu provides the standard Creative interface hierarchy, with selections sorted by artist, album, genre, and so on. The X20 also has an onboard browser for navigating via folders, if that suits your fancy. Should you get sick of your own music, you can switch over to the FM radio. The tuner offers an autoscan feature with an auto-preset function (up to 20 slots), and you can make recordings here, as well.

In our performance benchmarks, the iRiver X20 performed well overall, though I noticed a few subpar qualities. Voice recordings sounded muffled, video was fairly pixelated, and bass-heavy tracks suffered from distortion on all but the flat EQ setting (other choices include Rock, Jazz, Classical, Pop, and Custom). However, music sounded very good on the whole, even through the included earbuds.  Swapping in a set of Shure SE310s brought out the low-end. Tracks from varying genres sounded clear, rich, and warm. Surprisingly, FM radio quality sounded better than normal on the X20, and reception was great. The screen also provided great contrast and color saturation, and photos looked very good (though there is a screen-door effect). The battery is rated for an adequate 22 hours of juice. (Check back for CNET Labs test results.)  In final analysis, the iRiver X20 is a top-notch MP3 player and should satisfy a variety of users–especially those who crave every feature in the book. And at $160, it’s priced competitively with other players in the 4GB range.

 

Griffin Journi Portable Speakers for iPod

June 27, 2007

What with the iPhone being all the rage right now, we’re just happy to see that accessories makers such as Griffin haven’t decided to leave the iPod in the dust. The company is in the midst of launching three new sound systems for the omnipresent MP3 player: one , and one portable. We got our hands on the portable unit, dubbed Journi, for this review. Right off the bat, we’re digging this $130 speaker’s fabulous design and wealth of features, but the audio quality isn’t so fantastic. Still, if you’re not superpicky about sound, this is one sweet system.

 Superfantastic design
No doubt about it: The
Griffin Journi’s design is awesome. It’s the most unique-looking portable speaker we’ve seen in a while. When fully closed, the unit looks like a datebook or a clutch. This is thanks to what Griffin calls the Wrapstand, a black, leatheresque casing decked out with silver dot detailing. The Wrapstand uses a magnetic closure to keep the speaker fully concealed when not in use–simply pull it out and around and insert its tabbed end into a slot at the bottom edge of the speaker to create a handy stand. Neat!  

The front of the Journi features the standard central iPod dock, but Griffin forgoes the standard dock adapters in favor of an adjustable wheel that allows any docking iPod to sit flush with the speaker. The wheel can be turned from the back of the speaker unit, which also features a magnetic slot for the remote. Returning on the front of the Journi, you have the standard silver speaker grilles on either side of the dock. Hidden behind the grilles are two 50mm high- and midrange drivers and two 64mm passive radiators.

 

The features of sound
The
Griffin Journi offers an impressive array of features for its price point. It comes with a basic remote that includes volume, power, and playback controls. Texturized power and volume buttons can also be found on the right edge of the unit. The left side of the speaker houses a battery button, which activates a set of battery meter LEDs–this innovative extra lets you see the amount of juice left in the internal lithium-ion battery (rated for 10 hours). Griffin also includes a modular cable/power adapter that gives you the choice of charging through either your computer’s USB port or a standard AC wall outlet. Below the battery meter, a rubber flap can be opened to reveal a 30-pin iPod port (for pass-through syncing) and an auxiliary line-input (for connecting non-iPod MP3 players).

 Sweet design and bountiful features notwithstanding, the Griffin Journi’s sound quality fails to impress. Given that the speaker has SRS Wow technology built right in, this came as a bit of a surprise. In our tests with both an iPod and a Creative Zen V, music was far too bright for our taste, lacking the warmth and depth we like to hear. Rap songs in particular sounded hollow. We heard a wee bit of bass, not to mention nice clarity on the high end, and the speakers can pump out the volume with no distortion, but all in all, the Journi’s audio is only about on a par with that of a high-end CD alarm clock radio. So, the Journi’s audio quality is not the best, but it’s also not terrible. Plus, the speaker is superstylish and packed with useful features. In final analysis, we think this speaker is still a good choice for those who want something ultraportable that won’t put a huge dent in their wallets.

 

 

Hercules Mobile DJ MP3

June 27, 2007

When the Hercules Mobile DJ MP3 arrived in our office, we chuckled a little at the package and wrote it off as a bit of a novelty. After taking it out of the box, installing the software, and turning the thing on, we were quite surprised that the Hercules Mobile DJ MP3 is a fairly sophisticated and well-conceived product. It is not a professional DJ solution by any means, but it does provide a surprising range of control over your music and becomes quickly addictive. It packs a lot of amateur DJ fun into a $99 package.

What’s it do?
The Hercules Mobile DJ MP3 is a product in three parts. The main component is the
Mobile DJ controller. The controller is an iPod-white chunk of plastic that’s powered by two C-cell batteries and measures 6x7x1.5-inches. It has rounded edges that feel good in your hand and a relatively solid construction that could survive the wear and tear of a rowdy house party. Anyone basically familiar with a DJ mixer will quickly recognize controls such as the crossfader, volume sliders, play/pause, and cue buttons. Hercules also throws in two textured plastic jog wheels for skipping and scratching through your music, as well as a large button on the bottom of the controller labeled Automix (think autopilot). The most impressive feature of the controller is the backlit monochrome LCD that displays the tracks currently playing on your computer and allows you to wirelessly browse your computer’s music database to select and cue the next song.

 The second part of the Hercules Mobile DJ MP3 is the big, dumb plastic USB dongle necessary for authenticating the software license and wirelessly linking your computer to the controller. A USB extension cable is included in case the bulky dongle is too big to fit directly into your computer’s USB port.  Last, and most important, is the MP3 DJ software that’s truly the brains of the operation. The software is Windows-only, but it was a breeze to install and will prompt you if you’d like to import your iTunes library or add music manually. We went the manual route and were pleasantly surprised that we could drag and drop folders of MP3 files directly onto the software playlist (only MP3 and WAV files are supported). The software is a near-identical graphic representation of the hardware controller. There were a few extra features found only on the software that we wish could be controlled by the hardware (filtering, EQ, turntable brake effect), but at a cost of only $99 we were more than happy with what we got. You can also use the software to record your DJ mix in real time to an uncompressed stereo WAV file.

Once your music is loaded into the software and the controller confirms its connection to your computer, you’re off and running and can control the DJ software completely from the controller. The range of the wireless connection is rated around 20 feet, but when we tested it in our office we were able to squeeze about 50 feet of distance between the controller and the receiver before the controller stopped working. Even with the controller out of range, audio playback was never interrupted–only our ability to manipulate the audio using the DJ controller was affected. 

 Who’s it for?
There is a great big world of digital DJ equipment competing for the attention of both amateurs and professionals. The Hercules Mobile DJ MP3 is more of a trickle-down product that takes some of the most fun and intuitive parts of the professional DJ experience and translates them into a product aimed at people who just want a tool for DJing their own party. The key word here is “novelty.” We would not use the Hercules Mobile DJ MP3 at a wedding or any serious event where the music experience is held up to scrutiny. If you’re looking for a more serious product, Hercules does make a much more robust and professional digital DJ controller called the MK2, and companies such as Numark, and M-Audio offer similar pro audio solutions as well.

 

Apple Mac OS X v10.4.6 Tiger

June 26, 2007

Apple has shipped the latest update to its flagship product, Mac Tiger OS, and has included several useful new features, such as Spotlight desktop search, Smart Folders (which add new items to saved searches), and Safari RSS–all features that Microsoft has promised its Windows users in Longhorn, yet so far hasn’t delivered. We think the new Mac Tiger OS is a solid release and is worthwhile for those who skipped Panther or have waited until Tiger’s release to purchase their new Apple hardware. Even casual Mac users will immediately see the difference between 10.4 Tiger and 2003’s 10.3 Panther because of flashy new native utilities, such as Dashboard. In addition to the visible new features, Tiger includes significant overhauls under the hood, debuting a 64-bit architecture to take advantage of more addressable memory space and several core technologies that range from accelerating onscreen graphics to offering new programming interfaces that, if developers take advantage of them, could significantly change how we use computers. If you’re tired of Microsoft’s many promises, or if you’ve been thinking of replacing your PC with a new Mac, Tiger may well be your best incentive to switch. But we’re holding back on our highest honor, our Editors’ Choice designation, until we complete our formal testing. Early indications suggest that Tiger’s a winner, but check back next week for the full story. Also, check out our Tiger slide show to get a sense of the look and feel of Apple’s new OS.

 Setup and interface of Apple Mac OS X v10.4.6 TigerMac Tiger OS ships by default on DVD, although those with older Macs that lack a DVD drive can get a set of CD-ROM install discs for $9.95 through Apple’s Media Exchange program. Installing Mac Tiger OS is easy: Load the Tiger disc, click an installer icon, and, with the disc still in the drive, the computer automatically reboots into the Tiger installer.As with previous versions of Mac OS X, the installer offers three options: upgrade from a previous version of Mac OS X (this saves all your data and settings); erase and install if you want to eradicate all data on the computer’s hard drive; or archive and install, which saves all of your system data to a special folder and puts a clean install of Tiger on your computer (you can copy all of your settings and data from that folder into the new system). After another reboot, Tiger presents a professionally produced welcoming video that leads you through an optional registration process, then you’re done. It’s at this point that Tiger starts indexing all of the file data and metadata on your hard drive for later use in Spotlight searches. The whole process takes between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the contents of your hard drive. If you’re not only migrating to Mac Tiger OS but also moving to a new Mac, the Mac OS X Tiger Setup Assistant makes this task, thankfully, much easier than it was in the past. Simply connect the two Macs with a FireWire cable, and the Assistant will transfer all of your personal data, settings, and files. Features of Apple Mac OS X v10.4.6 TigerApple lists more than 200 new features for Tiger, but the list includes many items that aren’t really that new, in our opinion. The truly notable changes fall into two distinct categories: user enhancements and technological changes.The former is what most users will notice, and with good reason. Spotlight, an embedded desktop search feature, indexes your entire hard drive for file data and metadata. This means that you can search for content, editing history, format, size, and more, and not just search text files but also images, calendar events, contacts, e-mail, images, and PDFs. An even more powerful feature enabled by Spotlight is Smart Folders. These are basically saved Spotlight searches; that is, you can create a folder that lists all of the elements on your computer that meet certain criteria, and this folder updates automatically whenever you make changes to the file system. For example, you can have a Smart Folder that shows all items related to Tiger, and when new e-mail arrives that mentions Tiger, the Smart Folder displays a link to that e-mail.  Also new and prominent is Dashboard, a flashy interface accessed via hot key and populated by widgets, which are single-purpose mini applications, such as a dictionary or a weather chart. Seizing Apple’s command of desktop graphics, the widgets appear to fly onto the screen with the touch of a hot key, then they fly off when you tap the key again or click elsewhere on the screen. Widgets can be useful for quick glances at utilities, but longtime Apple users will note that almost every element of this feature clashes with the standardized UI guidelines Apple so carefully built up over the years. 

Tiger also includes updated versions of iChat AV, which gains support for the Jabber instant-message protocol and expands iChat’s videoconferencing and audioconferencing capabilities. QuickTime 7.0 gains the support for the H.264 video codec for high-definition video. However, current owners of QuickTime Pro license keys will have to pay for the new version, which doesn’t seem fair. Safari RSS adds a built-in Real Simple Syndication (RSS) reader to the Web browsing application. This one change makes Safari stand out in the field of Web browsers; that it works well and is elegantly implemented is icing on the cake. Safari RSS also gains a new JavaScript engine and renders pages much faster than the previous version.New is Automator, a standalone application targeted at software developers that offers visual scripting of almost any application and of the OS itself. Though to use it, one must have a grasp of how to manage a step-by-step process that lends itself to automation, the drag-and-drop process offered by Automator will probably open up scripting to millions of new users. Even more powerful is the fact that these scripts, called

Workflows, can be saved and shared, potentially opening up a new cottage industry. However, the market will be made up of only Tiger owners; Automator is not compatible with prior versions of Mac OS X.  What’s under the Mac Tiger OS hood, however, is potentially even more powerful. Tiger has been called by some a “developer’s release,” and that’s especially evident in two new central technologies: Core Image and Core Data.Core Image is a framework open to all developers; it gives all applications easy access to fast, OpenGL-based visual effects, such as sharpening, blurs, and more. As a result, it could be easy to incorporate Photoshop-like capabilities in every shareware application. In addition, Core Image takes advantage of your computer’s graphics card (if it is modern enough), serving to accelerate user interface effects.Core Data, another framework, allows developers to let the operating system manage data objects and models. This means that instead of every application requiring the developer to build a data model from scratch–and all applications need a data model–developers can have Core Data do the work for them and rapidly design and test applications for the Mac Tiger OS. Together, these developments, plus a similar Core Audio framework, can help deliver the promise of rapid application deployment on this and future versions of Mac OS X.

 

Apple MacBook (Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz)

June 26, 2007

Now that the high-end MacBook Pro has Intel’s Core 2 Duo CPU, it’s high time the latest processor technology filtered down to Apple‘s more consumer-friendly MacBook line. There are three MacBook models, one with a 1.83GHz CPU and two with 2.0GHz CPUs. The MacBook starts at a mere $1,099, but our review unit is the most tricked-out of the three, offering the faster CPU and a larger hard drive for a still palatable $1,499. These 13.3-inch notebooks, available in the standard Apple colors of black and white, are nearly as powerful as their 15- and 17-inch Pro cousins, and they include a lot of the same features, such as the built-in iSight camera and Front Row remote. If the handful of compromises vs. the Pro model, such as the screen size and the lack of discrete graphics, isn’t a deal breaker, the MacBook is a no-brainer for anyone who wants to step up to an Apple laptop or upgrade their older MacBook.

While the entry-level MacBook is available only in white, when you move up to the 2.0GHz version, black is also an option. Our black MacBook isn’t quite as sharp as the metallic MacBook Pro we looked at recently, but it still has a very distinctive look, with rounded edges and a boxy iPod-like design. The matte black surface is nice to run your hands over and is largely fingerprint resistant. The white 2.0GHz model is $200 cheaper and starts with a smaller hard drive, but it can be upgraded to an identical configuration.

Measuring about 1 inch thick, 12.8 inches wide, and 9 inches deep, the MacBook is small enough to carry around every day and just big enough to comfortably function as your everyday computer. It weighs in at 5.1 pounds (5.7 pounds with the AC adapter), and while the difference is only about half a pound, it feels considerably lighter than the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Opening the lid, you’ll find a minimalist setup, including a power button, a full-size keyboard, a sizable touch pad with a single mouse button, and a built-in iSight camera that sits above the display. If you miss the scroll bar present on many Windows laptops, you’ll find that the two-finger scroll option works well (run two fingers down the touch pad, and it scrolls like a mouse wheel). The keyboard has totally flat keys (a touch we also liked on the Sony VAIO C150P/B), instead of the slightly concave keys you may be used to. It’s matter of personal preference, but we like the cleaner look of flat keys.

The MacBook supplies you with two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 400 port (the MacBook Pro adds a FireWire 800 port), a mini-DVI port (an adapter is required for hooking up a regular monitor), and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner. You won’t find a media card reader, however, which has become a common feature on many laptops. Unlike the MacBook Pro, there’s no ExpressCard slot for adding components later. An Ethernet port, an Airport Extreme 802.11a/b/g wireless card, and the built-in Bluetooth take care of the networking.

At a resolution of 1,280×800, the 13.3-inch wide-screen display is easy to read and offers enough screen real estate for anything short of high-res Photoshop sessions. With a 15-inch MacBook Pro, you’d jump up to 1,440×900, but the difference is minimal to the naked eye. Movie-watching is best as a one-person experience on the 13.3-inch screen vs. the more sharable 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pro models.

Our review unit came with 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive. You can double the RAM to 2GB for $175, which seems like a smart investment for future-proofing your machine, and you can ramp up the hard drive to 160GB or 200GB models for $100 and $200, respectively. Other than that, the MacBook configurations are mostly fixed, although Apple is happy to sell you a variety of external accessories, such as a USB modem jack ($49) or a mini-DVI-to-VGA adapter ($19).

Apple claims significant performance boosts, up to 25 percent from the move to Core 2 Duo CPUs. In CNET Labs’ Photoshop CS2 and iTunes encoding tests, we found that the new MacBook, with a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and 1GB of RAM, performed admirably, coming in behind the 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro model, but not by huge margins. That’s even more impressive when you consider the MacBook Pro we tested had a whopping 3GB of RAM. As expected, both Core 2 Duo systems easily outclassed an older Core Duo MacBook Pro from earlier this year. We have updated our benchmarks recently, so we can’t compare these scores directly against the last round of Core Duo MacBooks, but the new Core 2 Duo MacBook did show a 26 percent boost over the older Core Duo MacBook Pro, well in line with Apple’s claims.

In many areas, the new MacBook Pro and MacBook systems are very similar, with design, price, and screen size as the major points of differentiation. One important difference to note is in the graphics subsystem. The MacBook Pro has an ATI Mobility Radeon X1600, while the MacBooks are stuck with Intel GMA 950 graphics. So if gaming is important to you, either Windows gaming through Boot Camp or Mac native gaming, you’ll want to step up to the Pro model.

In our battery tests, we got an impressive 3 hours, 30 minutes out of the MacBook–beating the 15-inch MacBook Pro by half an hour. That’s about what you’d expect from a thin-and-light notebook and more than enough for a movie or two or any flight shorter than a coast-to-coast run. If you are bicoastal, Apple has offers a $59 airline power adapter, called the MagSafe Airline Adapter, as an option. It has two different plugs for working with the power ports on different airlines.

The MacBook’s AC adapter–both Airline and normal models–connects magnetically to the laptop, so if you accidentally trip over the cord, it will simply detach instead of sending your new purchase crashing to the floor. You additionally get Apple’s tiny Front Row remote–the same as the one that comes with the iMac; it controls Apple’s Front Row software for playing back movies, music, and photos from a home-theater-style 10-foot interface.

Many people prefer Apple systems specifically for the bundled suite of proprietary software, iLife ’06, which includes intuitive tools for building Web sites, creating DVDs, composing music, and working with photos.

 The default warranty for the MacBook is one year of coverage for parts and labor, but toll-free telephone support is limited to a mere 90 days–well short of what you’d typically find on the PC side–unless you purchase the $249 AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends phone support and repair coverage to three years.