This review is a bit late, but I think it’s never too late to talk about masterpieces.

When I saw Apple launch this device all the way back in 2015, I thought it was the most unnecessary device, ever.  It was (and still is) small, with a 12-inch display and a footprint smaller than my iPad Air 2.  It had an underpowered processor, and a keyboard that most reviewers at the time said was “terrible”.  Also, the “one-port” fiasco instantly became a meme, and my friends and I had good fun making fun of the device.

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As thin as a pencil…

So how did I end up here, in 2017, typing this review on a 12-inch MacBook?

I’m a student.  It should come as no surprise, then, that I have a capable powerhouse with me all the time that checks all of the following boxes: quality display, comfortable keyboard, fluid trackpad, solid build quality, lengthy battery life, and powerful specs.  At first glance, the 12-inch MacBook can’t check any of those boxes.  But I realized it did.

Before this machine, I was a devoted Windows user.  The start button and random updates and blue screens had been a part of my life since my birth.  I thought it was the best operating system of all (seriously, a Dock and a menu bar?).  MacOS, in my head, was a useless operating system for bloggers.

However, after the 2015 launch of this highly controversial machine, I decided to actually visit an Apple Store for once and see for myself.  And boy oh boy, was that a life-changer.

First impressions: holy sh*t that is sleek.  Space gray?  Mmm…sexy.  Wow look at that display.  Jesus Christ.  Wait, what’s this guy doing?  Three-finger swipe?  Ok…  Holy cow this is a good trackpad!  Keyboard’s actually really clicky too.  http://www.google.com.  Dang, 16-by-10 is nice.  I can see everything on the page at once!  Two finger scroll – no problem.  MacOS looks really good too.  Look at how that window minimizes!

Obviously, I was pretty blown away by everything about the MacBook.  In all honesty, what’s not to love, except for the price tag?  Some reviewers have deemed it the “glorified netbook”, but what it really is is an ultraportable workhorse.

Ultraportable in the Windows world has long been branded by Intel as the “Ultrabook” class.  Ultrabooks must be thin and light, have a good display, run Intel processors, and have great battery life for on-the-go use.  And really, what’s so different about the MacBook?  Sure, it doesn’t have a 360-degree rotating display, nor does it have a touchscreen.  The battery is smaller than many other laptops and it only has one data port.  However, what it brings to the table more than compensates for these deficits.

Keyboard.  The MacBook uses Apple’s first-generation butterfly switches.  These are ultra-thin keyboard switches that rely on steel domes for springiness, instead of rubber.  They may not feel as deep as pressing on a rubber dome switch, but they make a satisfying click noise when you press them and the shorter key travel (the distance the key moves downwards when pressed), along with the large key buttons allows for super-fast typing once you get used to it.  My words-per-minute score boosted from 76 on a rubber-dome keyboard to 86 on the MacBook!  Although I don’t care much for individually lit LED-backlight keys, they are a beautiful touch to this very elegant keyboard.

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Trackpad.  It may not have a touchscreen, but the gestures and functions built into this Force Touch trackpad (more on that later) are accurate and fast.  One finger to move the mouse, two fingers to scroll on pages or go back and forth in a browser, three fingers to switch between fullscreened programs, four fingers to go to the Launchpad (Apple’s edition of the Start menu), and five fingers for…well, Apple hasn’t gotten there yet, but you can customize your own gestures.  I have never experienced a single skip when using the trackpad, and the smooth glass texture takes no fingerprints (thank you!) and allows for friction-less usage.  However, it is Force Touch, which is something I both love and hate.  Force Touch just means that there are no buttons on the trackpad for left-click and right-click, but rather a single vibration motor under the glass that mimics the feeling of clicking a button.  This works due to pressure sensors in the glass.  This allows you to click anywhere on the trackpad, instead of having to use physical buttons.  However, the vibration just doesn’t feel like a physical button to me, and it is actually slower – albeit just a little – than a physical one.  It is more than usable, and saves more battery life than a touchscreen.

Display.  2304×1440 IPS 16:10 goodness.  Not only is it high resolution (QHD), but the color accuracy is relatively high out of the box, and you can view the display from different angles without a problem.  Furthermore, it is the industry’s only 16:10 laptop, meaning you get more vertical pixels than the standard 16:9 widescreen.  It does entail that movies will have black bars on the top and the bottom when watching in fullscreen.

Speakers.  I’m not exaggerating when I say they are the best in the industry.  They’re clear, sound quality is rich, basses and highs do not distort, and in general audio is loud and smooth.  It’s hard to provide an example through text, but I would place it at better than earbuds and equivalent to an external speaker.

Design and Chassis.  Let’s start off with build quality, because that is probably what will surprise most people the most.  Although the device is thin, it is a 100% aluminum chassis, with the exception of a thin plastic strip at the base of the screen to let wireless signals in and out of the device (or else it would be a Faraday cage).  There is zero keyboard flex when typing and just a tiny bit of screen flex.  The hinge is Apple’s specialty – you can open the lid without holding down the rest of the laptop.  That being said, the design is not something I’m a big fan of.  First off, it tapers at the palm rests to make the device thinner.  I would much rather have an ultra-thin rectangular MacBook Pro-like chassis.  Second, the screen bezels are not equal in width and height, and the plastic strip at the bottom of the screen gives the impression of double bezels.  However, they are relatively thin, which I am ok with.  Last, the rubber feet on the bottom of the laptop are too tall.  I know this is nitpicking, but on a fan-less laptop, the baseplate should have as much contact with exterior surfaces so as to increase heat dissipation and prevent overheating.  A thin strip of rubber along the back of the baseplate would help keep the laptop in place whilst increasing contact area.

Performance and Battery Life.  I have the 2016 base model 12-inch MacBook, which features a 1.1 Ghz (Turbo Boost up to 2.2 Ghz) Skylake m3-6Y30, 8GB of DDR3L 1866 Mhz RAM, a 256 GB PCI-e SSD, and a 41 Wh battery.  It may not seem like it, but the device is actually pretty fast.  The processor is on the slow side and begins to deccelerate with around 20 tabs and 2 other windows fullscreened.  However, I rarely find myself lagging, and the fast SSD makes sure programs launch quickly and perform snappily.  Battery life, because of the ultra-low power consumption processor, is superb.  I easily get through my school day with over 65% leftover, which lasts 11 hours with around 4 hours of intense usage.  One complaint though is that the battery charges very slowly, needing around 3 hours to get from 0 to 100%.

Conclusion.  This laptop truly is the perfect fit for me: it’s light, powerful enough, has a great screen and trackpad, and can run on battery for the entire day and more.  However, stay away from purchasing this product if you are anybody who requires serious horsepower.  If you edit videos, sort large Excel data sheets, or are someone who has 100 Chrome tabs open at once, this is not the device for you.  If you use an external display or external drives, I also recommend you look elsewhere.  I would also advise against upgrading this above the base model, because at that point the price will be equal to the base model 2016 MacBook Pro, which has an even better display, keyboard, trackpad, and battery life.

 

5 thoughts on “12-inch MacBook: Apple’s Take On the Ultraportable

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