Apple's new MacBook: What price beauty?

Who else but Apple Computer could make basic black a $200 option?

Much has been made of Apple Computer Inc.'s decision to introduce glossy LCD screens with its new MacBooks and offer the top-end model of its most popular laptop line in black as a $200 option.

Some Mac fans have bemoaned the fact that Apple -- which released the MacBook last month -- took a page from the Windows world, where black laptops with shiny, reflective screens have been de rigueur for years now. (They even started a petition pledging to buy a MacBook if Apple will offer it with a matte screen.) Others are tickled with the changes.

More about the black-is-cool meme in a minute.

The new MacBook in black

The new MacBook in black The bigger debating point about Apple's latest laptop centers on its screen. I was first captivated by glassy-looking LCD screens when they appeared on store shelves a few years back, and I bought a Sony Vaio last fall in large part for the high-resolution screen and vibrant X-Brite technology.

So when Apple offered me a top-of-the-line black MacBook for review purposes last week, I jumped at the chance to eyeball its take on screen sheen. Price of admission if you're buying: $1,499, although the MacBook lineup (in white only) starts at $1,099.

The new widescreen LCD is but one of numerous changes to Apple's consumer laptops, which replace the old G4-based iBooks with a truly modern portable. There's a totally new widescreen form factor, a new keyboard, wicked fast Intel Core Duo processors (at speeds of either 1.83 GHz or 2 GHz), an integrated Web cam, wider TrackPad and a slew of under-the-hood changes.

A MacBook Pro 17-inch model and the new MacBook in black

A MacBook Pro 17-inch model and the new MacBook in black Let's focus first on the 1,280-by-800-pixel screen, which, after all, is what you look at the most. If you like LCD bling, I think you'll be pleased. This is among the best glossy screens I've seen. It offers the same rich colors and sharp contrast of the screens long available on Windows laptops. Better yet, Apple has toned down the shine a bit, so you're not looking at your own reflection while tapping away on that new keyboard.

Todd Benjamin, director of Apple portables worldwide, is understandably proud of the MacBook, and says the glossy screens are aimed at users who spend as much time looking at videos and photos as making them.

"They're watching lots of movies, sharing photos with family and friends and watching online videos," Benjamin said in an interview. "For playing moves, the display is beautiful. It gives you rich color, blacker blacks and better contrast."

He compared the new LCDs to TV screens, many of which also have a shiny coating that brings vibrancy to whatever's showing. The comparison is apt.

When Apple unveiled the new look two weeks ago, I was instantly afraid I'd find it so gorgeous that I'd regret buying a 17-in. MacBook Pro soon after they were released in early May -- particularly since the glossy look is now a free option on Pro lineup (see "Apple adds 17-inch MacBook Pro to laptop line-up" ). As it turns out, I'm still happy with my 17-in. model, matte screen and all. Apple has found something of a happy middle-ground here: If you like sheen, you'll like this look. If you don't, you won't find it obtrusive. And if you want choice, there's always the MacBook Pro line.

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