Overall Design

Macbook Review: After spending some quality time with a new Apple MacBook sent over by the pros at B&H Photo Video, I have a new appreciation for the svelte portability of this super-thin Mac. At the same time, the new MacBook is best for a person who wants ultimate portability with Apple’s sharp Retina display.

In fact, the MacBook is packed with pros and cons — like storage that starts at 256GB and the 1.1 GHz Intel Core M processor, both features of which lead to this question: Is the MacBook right for you?

Let’s find out.

Inside the New MacBook

Apple’s new MacBook is all about being thin and ultralight — which has consequences in the overall design. For instance, the 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor runs on just 5 watts of power, which means it runs cool and doesn’t need a fan. The benefit is that it runs silently and can be crammed into a smaller, thinner space.

The downside is that the processors currently available in the MacBook aren’t particularly powerful, which in turn raises a whole new question: How much “power” is enough for most people?

If you’re doing email, web browsing, writing, as well as some light photo or video editing, you’ll be fine. Which also means that most people will be able to work just fine on the little MacBook. (If you’re working with large photo or video files and doing a bunch of editing, the MacBook is hard to recommend — but still, it can edit large photos and it can edit videos.)

Fortunately, the MacBook performance isn’t all about the processor — Apple includes 8GB of memory in the base model, which definitely helps your overall experience when you’re multitasking between common apps. And the storage? You get 256GB rather than the paltry 128GB that can hold back the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

So that’s all good.

Enter the Force Touch Trackpad

Apple’s new Force Touch trackpad can detect how much pressure you apply, letting the trackpad act as a new sort of input device. For instance, if you click and continue to press on the trackpad, you can preview files. A Force Click over a date inside of an email might launch a calendar window showing you that day on your calendar. All of this is pretty cool, but not exactly necessary to a great Mac experience — not yet, anyway. Apple’s mechanical and software innovation with pressure and haptic feedback are clearly a nod to the future direction of how Apple will let you interact with its devices moving forward.

So why does this matter right now? Apple’s predecessor thin-and-light MacBook Air does not have the Force Touch trackpad, so if you want super light with the latest features, you’ll have to look at the new MacBook.

On Retina Displays

The 12-inch Retina display looks fantastic, particularly when you’re working with text, which appears laser sharp, even in smaller font sizes. If you’re a writer — or spend a lot of time with text — the Retina experience is just glorious. In fact, the Retina display is a primary reason for buying the new MacBook. The text and icons in Mac OS X on a MacBook are just sharper and more vibrant.

Better yet, I think the usability experience with a Retina display is easier on your eyes over long periods of time.

Speaking of screens, can you attach an external monitor to the new MacBook?

Yes — up to 4K (3840 x 2160). The MacBook is also graphically savvy enough to power the built-in display while also powering the 4K monitor simultaneously.

The New MacBook Keyboard

I’ll get this out of the way right now: I’m not a fan of the new Apple MacBook keyboard. It’s full of fancy engineering, and it works, but I’ve got to say, it lacks an enjoyable tactile sort of feedback, primarily due to the shorter key travel. Or maybe that’s only part of it. Because the new keyboard is more precise, the keys don’t rock when you strike them with your fingers: If you press it down, it goes straight down. You might think this is somehow better, but I’m not convinced that it is. Why? The older MacBook Pro and Air keyboards, for example, are actually less precise in that their buttons can be depressed at a variety of subtle angles, which provide more feedback to your finger tips. If there’s not appreciably more feedback going on here, maybe the less stable key strikes provide more personality.

That said, if you care about your typing experience, plan on taking a week or more to get used to the new MacBook keyboard — and it might take you even longer before you come to enjoy it.

If you don’t think much about keyboards, the MacBook keyboard will feel sort of flat at first, but it will be fine. Think of it like different steering wheels in different cars — you might have a favorite, but the steering wheel won’t stop you from getting to your destination.

Gorgeous Design

Part of the reason people buy Macs is because of their sturdy-yet-elegant design. The new MacBook looks and feels fantastic. It’s crazy light — just 2.03 pounds. Its thickest point is 13.1 millimeters, which is just half an inch. The curves and angles are sexy as all get out, and the Gold edition is understated enough that I actually like it.

In Apple’s never-ending goal to make devices thinner, Apple has included just one port in the MacBook — a new USB-C port, which, with the right accessories, can connect to external monitors, hubs, and storage. In addition, this single USB-C port also powers and charges the MacBook. The USB-C cable is small and can be inserted in any orientation, which is refreshing compared to older USB ports.

There are two downsides: The first is that USB-C peripherals and accessories are not yet available, which means you’ll have to buy adapters in order to do simple things like use your friend’s USB thumb drive. The second is that there is no magnetic MagSafe connection to the new MacBook, meaning if someone trips over your power cord, your MacBook might go flying out of your lap.

MacBook Review: Best for Ultralight Retina Display Lovers

All-in-all, the new MacBook is a finely engineered wonder, but like most Apple devices, it’s carefully created to not quite compete directly with Apple’s other MacBooks. For instance, the MacBook Air tends to be a bit more powerful and has more ports, but it does not have a Force Touch trackpad, USB-C, or a Retina display — but the Air is several hundred dollars less than the MacBook. Meanwhile, the similarly priced 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display has Force Touch and far more processing power . . . but it’s quite a bit heavier and thicker.

So where does this leave the discerning MacBook buyer? What’s the key recommendation?

If you want the newest Apple MacBook with the slimmest, sexiest form factor — and if a sharp, vibrant Retina display is a big deal to you — the new MacBook is right for you.

Get the Gear:

B&H Photo Video offers free 2-day shipping with most orders over $50, plus does not collect sales tax outside of NY. Oh, one more note: Apple updated the 12-inch MacBook in 2016, which means you might find two different models. The 2016 models are very slightly faster and have 1 extra hour of battery life. If an Early 2015 model is more than $100 less, I recommend Early 2015 over the 2016 version, unless you want the new pinkish “Rose Gold” color.

About the author

Chris Maxcer

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I've been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and I still remember the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. I'm a big fan of elegant gear and great tech, but there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. Online I like to call out cool stuff on Wicked Cool Bite and blog with my buddies at Man Makes Fire. To catch me, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at the url of this site.