First take: Apple's new MacBook offers sleek style, solid performance

It's still encased in white plastic, but it gets new 'unibody' look

If you're looking for the performance of a MacBook Pro without the Pro price, then you're going to like Apple's newly updated MacBook.

The MacBook, unveiled with updates to the iMac and Mini lines last month, is still priced at $999 -- $200 less than the 13-in. aluminum-clad MacBook Pro. But compared to the model it replaces, Apple's latest entry-level portable delivers an updated architecture, a beefier hard drive and a higher-quality screen.

The biggest change from the old model is the redesigned plastic housing, which is created using Apple's "unibody" manufacturing process. While still encased in the shiny white plastic that has been the hallmark of the line for years, Apple's latest MacBook forgoes the boxy look in favor of flowing lines, swooping angles and a precision fit.

The end result is a solid laptop that feels sculpted instead of assembled and has the processing power users need.

New curves, updated hardware

Not only is it curvier, but the MacBook now weighs in at 4.7 pounds -- 0.2 pounds lighter than before. It's still just over an inch thick when closed.

The screen size is the same, 13.3 inches, with a native resolution of 1280 x 800 pixels. But the new model features an LED backlight, improving the picture dramatically. It's brighter and offers a better viewing angle from side to side than its predecessor, minimizing color shift. The contrast ratio is the same as the pricier MacBook Pro, although the Pro screens have a 60% greater color gamut and a glass display.

Speaking of glass, the redesigned MacBook now features the larger glass-coated multi-touch trackpad found in the MacBook Pro and Air models. This trackpad offers support for the two-, three- and four-finger gestures Apple has popularized in its other laptops, and they work just as well here.

MacBook has a brighter LED backlit screen and a glass-coated trackpad
The MacBook has a brighter LED backlit screen and a glass-coated trackpad (photo © Apple Inc.).

The keyboard, too, is virtually the same as the keyboards used in the more expensive Pro and Air models, except that the MacBook's keys are not backlit. Typing feels just as solid as it does on Apple's other models, although I noticed that when the MacBook is in heavy use, you can feel heat rising through the keyboard. (It still doesn't get as warm as my 15-in. MacBook Pro.)

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