Phil Schiller (left), Apple’s senior marketing VP, talking with NewsWeek’s Steven Levy.

Fifth Avenue Apple Store Press Event Thursday I got to tag along with BusinessWeek's Byte of the Apple columnist Arik Hesseldahl to photograph the Fifth Avenue Apple Store press event. You can see a slideshow of the highlights here.

The store is definitely one sweet bit of retail architecture, complete with a piston-driven platform elevator that runs up the center of a glass spiral staircase. Think the (patented) staircase from the SoHo store, but twirled around a (less tacky) Star Trek transporter bay. I tip my hat to the big glass cube design sitting atop it, which let Apple preserve public park space at the ground level above.

In between grabbing the shots, I got a few moments to check out the very cool new MacBook hands-on. I’ve been laptop-less for some time now, bouncing between dual G5s at the office and home. I would love a compact Mac laptop for “couch time” e-mail, Web surfing, etc. I’ve been holding off on getting anything though, waiting for Apple to spring an Intel-based replacement to the 12-inch PowerBook G4 that would fit the bill. And this laptop is definitely it. Kudos to Apple for not skimping on this one, including a dual core chip at a very competitive price and a beautiful matte black finish to boot. (The white models are still the iconic shiny iBook white.) Very little about the machine feels “budget”. Even the latch-less magnetic lid closes with a satisfying dampened thunk.

The new keyboard design, with each key sticking through its own cutout in the top of the laptop and surrounded by a small amount of space, is actually a plus in my book. I wasn’t sure looking at the pictures earlier in the week how it would hold up, but it’s firm with a nice short key travel distance. It’s probably the most solid Mac laptop keyboard I’ve used yet, aluminum PowerBooks included.

As for the glossy screen, the jury is still out. Using it in the Fifth Avenue store, which is flooded with natural light, I was able to view the screen comfortably though there definitely was glare. I don’t think I’d be doing hours of intense Photoshop work in front of this screen, but really, that’s not what this machine is for. (Though it can be hooked up to a 23-inch Cinema Display. “Lid closed” operation too. Again, Apple, thank you for not skimping.)

Either way, I think I’ll be getting in line to pick one of these new machines up.