Wait, a laptop for your home?  Yes, when it’s got the horsepower to be all you need for home AND for the road warrior.  This new MacBook Pro (starting at $1,999) from Apple is all that and more.

First, it’s stunningly awesome to behold, with Apple’s typical leading edge, innovative design.  At just an inch thick and weighing in at a relatively svelte 5.6 pounds, it’s not going to put a stain on anyone.  You get all of this with a very bright, best of class 15.4-inch widescreen display with a 1400 x 900 resolution.

On the outside, you’ll notice there’s a slot-loading optical media drive that is a SuperDrive, handling DVD+ and DVD-R/RW as well as CD-RW.  It does NOT have (and I do not know who does) a dual layer drive.  It’s equipped with a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 400 port and the new ExpressCard slot, ready for the future, because there’s nothing important to plug into it . . . yet. That’s Apple for you, making it ready for the inevitable arrival of new things.

For video chat and conferencing with up to three participants, plus YOU, there is a built-in iSight camera at the top of the screen bezel, along with a microphone pinhole.  This is so cool and it works just great. I chatted with someone at home, a colleague and with a friend at the same time, with each of us in our own little windows, looking as if it was a three-sided 3-dimensional display.

Using the FREE Apple iChat AV client, it’s just so easy to do.  Video (and audio) performance was very good (with fast Internet access) exhibiting few dropouts, and with the dedicated 256MB of memory for its ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics card, all other graphics responsibilities should also be handled without a performance hit.

More cool tech is in the design of the power connector. Have you ever tripped over the cord to your computer or an appliance?  I have and I’ll bet most of you have had similar experiences.  Now, there are appliances coming with breakaway cords, magnetically held in place. Apple has taken a cue from these designs and done their own on the MacBook Pro.  Ingenious!

You just have to see this in person, so visit your nearest Apple store to play with it.  Held in magnetically, it stays put unless there is a tug, and then it comes away, cleanly and without damaging the connector OR causing the MacBook Pro to take a tumble.

And then there’s Apple’s Front Row software, installed on all three of the new Macs with Intel processors. Using the supplied remote control (yes, there’s a cute little remote control that comes with your MacBook Pro), a press of the menu button brings up the Front Row interface 9seen in the first photo at the top of the article) no matter what else you’re doing. Navigation is easy to all the areas, Music, Photos, Videos and DVD.  Music allows you to play all your iTunes music and Videos is where you’ll find any downloaded TV shows you get from the iTunes Music Store or your own videos that you’ve put on the computer. The DVD interface is where you’ll control your home theater-on-the-go when you watch a movie on that beautiful screen. By the way, the sound is also excellent.  Finally, you’ll access all your photos and can watch creatively presented slide shows from everything you’ve got in iPhoto. On a Mac, it’s all there, it’s all fun and easy to use and everything is integrated so it all works together, just as it would if you were in charge of making it.

But it gets even better. You can play slideshows, videos and songs from other computers in the house.  The MacBook Pro automatically finds your other networked computers at home, wired or wireless, and allows their treasure trove of entertainment to be shared (if you wish), effortlessly, using Apple’s Bonjour instant networking technology that is, of course, built into every Mac.  It works like magic!

Speaking of networking, of course, again, the MacBook Pro is equipped with Apple’s wireless AirPort card for wireless networking at up to 54Mbps and Bluetooth for synchronizing mobile devices with Apple’s Address Book and Mail programs, also built-in.

And that keyboard!  It’s got an auto sensor to turn on backlighting when it’s needed.  It also feels good under my fingers. I like it very much. I equally like and am getting used to enjoying the Scrolling Trackpad. It’s a larger design than before and with two fingers, you can scroll left and right AND up and down. It operates much more simply and easily than what I’ve experienced on Windows laptops.

But what is it like to use this little powerhouse? There is so much I have not covered, but let me tell you that I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience and I’ll hate to have to send it back in a few weeks.  Easy to set up, easy and fun to use, and FAST, trouble-free (expected, really on any new computer), great industrial design and the usual Apple design and user interface touches, comprehensive software package installed.

I’ve loaded lots of photos and music and enjoyed watching DVDs through Front Row, easily finishing movies over two hours in length with battery life to spare.

I’ve tried to use it as both a desktop replacement and as a portable. I was successful and pleased with both experiences. As a desktop replacement, I even connected (easily) an external monitor – our 19-inch LG Flatron.  With the top suspended in a nearly closed position and an external keyboard and mouse attached it feels like it is a desktop computer.

Under the hood, this is Apple’s first portable to feature the Intel Core Duo processor, a total departure for the company. This change is on track for the entire product line to get the changeover. So far the new iMac and Mac mini also have Intel processors inside.  The MacBook Pro’s Core Duo processor, according to Apple is four times faster than the fastest PowerBook with its G4 processor inside.

I only have praise for the speed. I can’t say how much faster it is than another, but I’m impressed and very pleased with performance in all regards.  I’m running programs both native to the new Intel architecture and also in what Apple calls Rosetta, their emulation software that allows the old to run on the new. In most cases, use is transparent. Even running Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac in Rosetta is pretty much a no-brainer. It just runs, and I notice no performance hit at all.

The only misstep that average users might encounter as I did is that Microsoft has not provided the browser plug-in or stand alone application for their Windows Media Player.  This means that on the new Intel Macs, you’ll get nowhere if you try anything requiring Windows Media. However, a temporary workaround, if you feel so inclined, is to set the Safari browser to run in Rosetta and then the plug-in will work.  If that’s too much geek-like info, write to me and I can tell you how to do it in about 10 seconds.  Hey, it’s a Mac!

And, there is also no Universal Binary version (that runs on new and old Macs) of other key applications, most of which will not be of interest to most consumers.  These include FileMaker Pro 8 (runs fine in Rosetta), PhotoShop and PhotoShop Elements 3 and 4 (all run acceptably in Rosetta) and some others. The fact is that software publishers are hard at work to feed the pipeline with applications that have code to run on new and not-so-new Macs, and that’s great news.

As with all Macs, I also like the integration among all the so-called iApps in the included iLife suite – iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie HD and iDVD. These are the applications most of us want and use, along with either Apple’s own Mail program or Microsoft’s more robust Office suite which includes Entourage for email), iCal, Address Book and iChat, plus the Safari browser.

I use the built-in Bluetooth to sync my phone with Address Book and I can dial my Bluetooth-connected mobile phone by clicking on the contact’s phone number in Address Book, too.  iTunes follows me everywhere though automatic synchronization with my iPod.

It took me about one minute to “discover” both of our networked and two other shared printers around here. Now, the MacBook Pro can print to any of them. I’ve tried to do the same on Windows PCs, and it’s not nearly intuitive or easy.

So now, for as long as they’ll let me, I have the power of a desktop in a portable, and I can roam around anywhere in Gadget Central or on the road, secure in the knowledge that I have with me all the performance needed. Some of you will save a lot of desktop space by selecting one of these as your one and only computer. With the Mac’s traditional rock-solid operating system and reliability, you can be confident that a MacBook Pro is the way to go for anyone looking for a reliable traveling computer that doubles as your main desktop computer.  There’s nothing not to love here.

Thanks, Apple!

Learn more at www.apple.com/macbookpro and click on the links to explore this product. For purchase, check out the Apple Store nearest you or online, and don’t forget to go for education pricing if you qualify as it will save some dough.  Once you click on the online store link above, look to the right of the window for a link to Education and click through to get the discounted pricing.

NEW! Update 4.5.06 – Apple announced TODAY the availability of Boot Camp. This is software that allows Intel-based Macs to run Windows XP.  That’s HUGE.  For all of us that need or want Windows, we will be able to boot up our Macs an simply choose at startup, the Mac OS or Windows XP. Of course, you supply the Windows software, a full version of XP Home or Pro, SP2 or later.  Boot Camp is to be a built-in part of Apple’s next generation operating system known as Leopard, due out in 2007, I believe. I’m going to try it when I get a little break from the road, hopefully next week and I’ll update you further.

SEE New Intel Macs Do Windows, Too! for the rest of the story.

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