Apple's new MacBook: What price beauty?

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

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Another notable change to Apple's newest laptop is the redesigned keyboard. I'm less wowed by this update. The new keyboard features flat, chicklet-like keys that sit above a recessed base. While its a marked improvement over the old slightly springy iBook-keyboard, the keys feel a bit slippery in use.

Maybe it's because I'm not a touch typist, or because I think the keyboard on the MacBook Pro (and its predecessor, the PowerBook G4) is among the best laptop keyboards out there. But this one feels more plasticky than the one on the Pro models. And it doesn't light up.

Benjamin stressed that the keyboard, like other design changes incorporated in the new MacBook, are as much about form as function. "It's mostly a new design change. It [the keyboard] comes up from the inside, so you lose that sponginess that was there before."

He pointed to other changes: The latch is magnetic, meaning there's no button to push to raise the screen -- just a small indentation that you lift up on. The feet on the bottom are installed from the inside, meaning no more lost nubbies. (The iBook feet were small pencil eraser-sized rubber nubs that could be knocked out.) The small light that glows when the MacBook is asleep has been moved to the right front of the laptop. And the new MacBook is 20% thinner than the model it replaces, but it's a bit heavier -- up from 4.9 pounds for the 12-in. iBook to 5.2 lb. for the MacBook.

Then there's the decision to offer a top-end model in black. Who but Apple could offer its laptop in basic black -- and charge users $200 for the privilege?

Benjamin is clear on this point: Black is cool, and the black-as-coal version is aimed at MacBook fans who want something a little exclusive (and who might miss the now-discontinued diminuitive PowerBook).

"We looked at the user who was buying our 12-in. PowerBook, who wants the smallest laptop Apple makes and wants a professional look," he said. "It is black throughout. There is not one grey accent that got left on there. It's a subtle approach that'll appeal to the professional user. It's kind of the ultimate MacBook."

The matte black finish has a bit of a rubbery feel, and it looks like rubber at first glance. It's not. Like its lesser white brothers, the black MacBook shell is made of polycarbonate plastic. And while black is all too common in the Windows laptop world, Apple hasn't had a black laptop since the days of the PowerBook G3 more than five years ago.

As is usually the case with Apple hardware, looks matter -- and they cost. The black MacBook is $200 more than the midrange model and offers the same hardware specs except for an extra 20GB of hard drive space. (The standard hard drive in the MacBook range is 60GB; the black model gets an 80GB drive, though you can spend $200 more and get a 120GB model if you want).

So is an extra 20GB -- and a dose of exclusivity -- worth the extra money?

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