MacBook Pro Damned With Faint Praise By Apple's Biggest Supporter (AAPL)

| About: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

Walter Mossberg (pictured right), the Wall Street Journal's influential personal technology columnist, is a strong supporter of Apple. He has consistently praised Apple's computers for their ease of use, elegance and immunity to viruses; and he has lavished praise on iTunes and iPhoto, the two computer applications that consumers probably care most about. In contrast, Mr Mossberg has consistently criticised Windows-based PCs for their vulnerability to viruses, inferior photo and music software, and general lack of user-friendliness.

Mr Mossberg's glowing review of the iMac was even quoted by Steve Jobs in keynote addresses to Apple developers.

That means one thing -- when you read a review of a new Apple computer by Mr Mossberg, you should expect it to be good. You know he'll love the software, and you know he'll probably like the design. What's left is lots of room for boundless enthusiasm.

This makes Mr Mossberg's recent review of Apple's most recent Intel-processor-based notebook, the MacBook Pro, surprising. Key quotes:

In my speed tests, the MacBook Pro beat the PowerBook at such tasks as importing photos and music, burning CDs, opening multiple Web sites and launching some programs. But most of the speed gains were slight, and even the biggest gains were nowhere near the 400% speed increases Apple claims. In a few tests, the MacBook Pro was actually slightly slower than the PowerBook.

But the MacBook has fewer ports than the PowerBook did. And it has a new, narrower industry-standard card slot. Unfortunately, almost no cards have been redesigned to fit the slot. "It also has a much larger electrical adapter than the PowerBook, and a slower DVD-burning drive."

The H-P dv5000t I tested has the same-sized screen, the same amount of memory and the same processor as the $1,999 MacBook Pro. It also comes with an across-the-room multimedia interface, called Windows Media Center, and a remote. And it has some features the Apple lacks, including a slot for camera memory cards and an external TV tuner. At $1,659, after rebate, it seems like a bargain compared with the Apple.

But the H-P's hard disk is much smaller, 60 gigabytes versus 80, and a whopping 13.3 gigabytes of that is devoted to special system-recovery software. To get near the Mac's hard-disk capacity, you need a $110 upgrade, which raises the H-P's price to $1,769, or $230 less than the Mac's.

Mr Mossberg concludes his review by recommending the MacBook Pro over the HP notebook he compares it to. But although the final judgement comes down firmly on Apple's side, the enthusiasm seems tepid:

The MacBook Pro isn't revolutionary, but it's a promising start to the era of Intel-powered Apple laptops.

Apple is already contending with customers waiting for software to be ported to the new Intel-compatible operating system. Microsoft Office for the Mac, for example, is still not ready. But now there's a lackluster review of the hardware ("In a few tests, the MacBook Pro was actually slightly slower than the PowerBook.") from the highest-profile Apple supporter.

Surely not good news for MacBook Pro sales. Surely not a "promising start".