Apple giveth and Apple taketh – again.

FireWire, back on the whole line. First, off, the good news coming out of Apple’s hardware refresh today: FireWire is again on the 13” MacBook, which is now confusingly called the MacBook Pro. It’s a FW800 port, too, which can be nice for fast storage. That means you can get a US$1199 machine with FireWire, a new SD card slot, and a decent if not dazzling NVIDIA 9400M. It seems that Apple heard the loud chorus of people frustrated with the lack of FireWire. My Canon HV20 HDV camera thanks you, Apple.

Good GPUs, still premium. Here’s the bad news: while there’s now a US$1699 MacBook Pro 15”, you still don’t get a really good GPU – the NVIDIA 9600M GT – until you jump up to the US$1999 price point. Given that you can get a pretty nice PC for half that, that means there’s a significant additional investment to go Mac for GPU-dependent visualists.

ExpressCard – 17” only. Adding an SD card slot is nice, though not such a big deal given you can add one via a USB device for about ten bucks. The bad news is that ExpressCard is now available only on the 17” MacBook Pro. Its price is down to US$2499, but that’s little comfort to people who like smaller machines – and could be a good reason to hunt down a used or refurbished 15” model. ExpressCard offers some very nice video capture opportunities. Again, this is standard equipment on cheap PC laptops.

Few ports. You also still need to get a 17” MacBook Pro to get three USB ports; everything else has just two (except for the Air, which has one).

About that battery… Those unibody Macs are gorgeous, but what’s the price? Apple now has a terrific battery that recharges “1000 times” and lasts for 7 hours. The catch here: it’s not user-replceable. I’m not sure where the 1000 number comes from, but that sounds like trouble to me. On the other hand, if it does die, I expect you’ll just cough up the service fee to have someone replace it for you.

Bottom line: pretty as these machines are, the previous models with user-replaceable batteries and ExpressCard slots remain solid workhorses, even back a couple of generations. If you love working with Mac OS, you still get an amazing experience out of your computer. And yes, these machines are damned pretty. You just don’t get a big leap forward with this generation versus the last-generation Macs, and functionality-wise, not that much more than the generation before that.

I happen to like really ugly computers, so I’m going to move on. And yes, choice is good. If you buy a Mac because you think you have to, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. Have a look at the competition, and you’ll be happier with any decision.

MacBook Pro [Apple]

In other Apple news, the iPhone 3GS does look really lovely as a photo and video camera – something devices from makers like Nokia have tried before, but at astronomical prices. So, to my beloved Google Android platform, I have to say – uh, can you get on the ball in the handset department? Please?

If anyone gets a 3GS, I’m sure readers would love to see what kind of photo/video output you get.