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NOTEBOOK BUYERS' GUIDE
9 ARE THE KEYBOARD AND TOUCHPAD UP TO PAR?
The decision to purchase a Mac or PC isn't as cut and dry as it
once was. Windows is more secure than ever, and Windows 7 is
much more user friendly than Vista. On the other hand, Apple's
MacBook line offers an even more intuitive Snow Leopard OS,
superior designs, and a great combination of performance
and battery life. Bottom line: There are good machines on both
sides of the aisle, and the operating systems each have their
pros and cons. So which is right for you?
There's a much bigger world of notebooks to choose from on
the PC side, since Apple produces only five MacBook models:
the 13-inch MacBook and MacBook Air, and the aluminum-clad
MacBook Pro 13, 15, and 17. There's nothing below the 13-incher
on the Mac side, though the MacBook Air is incredibly thin and
light. On the Windows side, you'll find a range of sizes, colors,
and finishes to choose from, but quality also varies widely.
Price and Value
The lowest priced MacBook model starts at $999 and the highest
price tops out around$2,700. Refurbished models are often avail-
able for less, but consumers should expect to pay at least $750
there as well. Windows machines range from netbooks as low
as $299 to budget notebooks around $500. You'll also find plenty
of well-equipped Windows laptops for under $700. Traditionally,
premium PC notebooks still came in below Mac prices, but in
the past year the so-called Apple Tax has shrunk.
OS and Software
Windows 7 and Mac OS X Snow Leopard have many
similarities---it's the differences that earn one or the other
loyalty from users. Snow Leopard's strengths lie in its intui-
tive and f luid interface. The MacBook's large glass clickpad
makes navigating and manipulating the interface easy and
elegant, whether you're word processing or editing a movie.
However, OS X is still catching up when it comes to available
software, especially games.
The keyboard and touchpad are the
areas of a notebook where you'll have
the most contact with the system, so it's
important that these two features are
comfortable to use.
First off, take a look at the size of the
keyboard. How big is it? With your fin-
gers on the home row, are your hands
comfortable? How closely are the keys
packed together? Is the right Shift key
full-size? Are any keys not where they
Push down on the keyboard. Does the
whole thing f lex? If so, that's not a good
sign. The best way to find out if you'll like
a keyboard is to practice typing on the
keys, seeing if you can tap out sentences
easily. Keys should spring back quickly
and two-finger scrolling. It's important
to make sure these gestures are easy
to execute, and are adjustable via the
When it comes to mouse buttons,
two are always better than one. More
often than not, a single mouse bar will
be undersized and stiff, making it hard
to press and hold with your thumb while
selecting text with your fingers.
While they allow for a larger sur-
face and look sleeker, touchpads with
integrated mouse buttons can be an iffy
proposition. In some instances we've
fou nd these touchpads to be erratic,
and in others they often cause unwanted
cursor movement. The MacBook line
remains the gold standard, but some
Windows machines with clickpads work
fairly well, such as the HP Envy 14.
and not feel mushy when pressed.
Increasingly, manufacturers are
using island-style, or chiclet, keyboards,
meaning there's space arou nd each
key. Whether you like that or not is a
Finally, if you can spring for it, get a
backlit keyboard---they're much easier
to use on a plane or in a dimly lit room.
Generally, the larger the touchpad, the
better the experience. Just as important,
look for a touchpad surface that doesn't
have friction, so your finger can glide
over it smoothly. Be wary of notebooks
with glossy touchpads; they tend to be
more difficult to manipulate.
Many touchpads now support multi-
touch gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom
Windows 7 is no slouch in the interface department.
Features such as Aero Peek and Snap help users manage a
messy desktop. Though not all PC notebooks feature advanced
multitouch gestures, Windows still helps users switch between
programs with ease. Still, Microsoft's offering doesn't quite
match the intuitiveness of Mac OS. Plus, on our tests, Snow
Leopard proved speedier and slightly more stable.
Beyond the operating systems, there are more applications
available for Windows than for Mac OS X. Those who go the
Mac route will be able to find most common programs, but
users should investigate whether the software they can't live
without is available for the OS before making the switch.
If you have the money for a MacBook or MacBook Pro, there
aren't many reasons not to buy one. The interface is a cinch to
learn, and Apple even offers one-on-one classes for would-be
switchers. We also love Apple's tech support, as the company
consistently wins our annual showdown. Still, the Windows
camp offers a lot more choices--- especially for those on a tight
budget---and Windows 7 is a very good operating system.
You just have to do more homework to select just the right
combination of features for your needs.
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