In 2015 Apple shook up the Macintosh line with the latest incarnation of the MacBook. In 2010, Apple killed the MacBook line in favor for the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. It makes sense because then you have the MacBook name as a way to describe a certain category of products. Apple went a similar route with the iPads by killing the “iPad” and replacing it with the iPad Mini, iPad Air, and iPad Pro so the entire product category could be described as iPad. A fun way to look at it is each product category is its own business. If iPad was its own business, it would still have a larger net profit than most other computer companies. Five years after the “death” of the MacBook, Tim Cook unveiled the new MacBook. I really didn’t care for the idea of having a “regular” MacBook again as I was very
happy with the way the products were named. In my opinion, they did this because while this MacBook very well could have replaced the MacBook Air, they took a very conservative approach to a very radical new laptop. When the MacBook Air launched in 2008 it was “the world’s thinnest notebook.” In 2015, the MacBook is once again the worlds thinnest laptop. So why wasn’t this the next generation MacBook Air? It comes down to the price tag and performance. The MacBook is priced higher than the MacBook Air and the MacBook Air has better performance than the MacBook. At the end of the day, the MacBook Air is a very popular product. It’s the most affordable and portable Macintosh, and it offers very good performance since it’s driven with Intel’s core i series processors. In 2012, when Apple updated the MacBook Pro with its new design, they kept the older models on the Apple Store and titled the new MacBook Pros as “the next generation MacBook Pro.” I’m a little confused as to why they didn’t call this “the next generation MacBook Air” and that will probably always remain as one of the great mysteries of the world.
Form Factor: To start off this review, I will be talking about the form factor of the MacBook. The MacBook has a crazy thin design! Tim Cook wasn’t joking when he said “if you turn it you can’t see it.” It’s crazy thin! I’ve been using this MacBook for a few days as my main machine, but I was able to get my hands on it about a year ago when they launched. Even a year later I can’t believe how thin they are. I keep asking myself, “How is there a computer in there?” And if you have ever seen one of these in person, you would agree with me. To put it in perspective, the MacBook is thinner than a USB-A port; which is one reason it doesn’t have one. The MacBook is just a hair thicker than a 3.5mm headphone port. I can’t emphasize how crazy thin this MacBook is. It weighs just two pounds (0.91kg, thanks Siri!) and feels crazy light when it’s picked up. In comparison, the iPad Pro weighs just a little over one and half pounds (again, thank you Siri). This MacBook also features an all metal unibody enclosure. This is the first MacBook to be completely metal. It feels incredibly well built and is very strong and durable. This MacBook doesn’t get hot. On rare occasions it will get a little warm, but never burning lava hot to where you can’t even pick it up. The magical thing about that is that there is no fan in the MacBook. I will get more in-depth on the temperature factor later in the review. In fact, besides the keyboard and the hinge, there is not a single moving component on this MacBook. There is no optical drive, no hard drive, and no fan. All of these are things are generally why computers become hot and noisy. MacBook stays at room temperature and is completely silent. It’s like an iPad in that sense.
Features: MacBook has plenty of features that make it feel like a high end Mac. First and foremost is the gorgeous Retina Display. The Retina Display on the MacBook is just drop dead amazing. It has 180º viewing angles and stays very bright. This is accompanied by an ambient light sensor so MacBook can dim the display when the room gets dark, but that’s nothing new. Something to think about is that to drive that many pixels in the Retina Display the computer needs pretty beefy graphics. If the computer has low end graphics, system performance may hang on occasion because most of its resources are going into the display. MacBook has a stock configuration of Intel HD Graphics 5300, which is a step up from the 4000 that we generally see in the MacBook Pro’s integrated graphics. With that, there is 1.5GB of dedicated graphics memory.
Design: Looking at the bezel of the MacBook, you will notice that the top portion is a little larger than the sides. The OCD side of me really doesn’t care for it since it’s not completely symmetrical, but I can see why Apple shortened the bezel on the sides (to make it thinner). The top portion has to be extended a little because of the iSight camera. Speaking of the iSight camera, in this MacBook it’s not of the highest of quality. It is only a 480p standard definition (SD) camera. In comparison, the base configuration of the MacBook Air (which is dramatically more affordable) has a 720p HD camera. While you probably won’t be recording video with the MacBook’s camera, you could be doing video calls, and it’s not fair for the other person to be seeing low quality video. Even the iPod touch has a HD iSight camera! I don’t see why they decided to put an SD camera in here. My only thought is it was to keep costs down, but I can’t imagine that it costs that much to make a difference.
Along the bottom of the display you will notice “MacBook.” This was missing from the current generation MacBook Pro line, but I am glad to see it’s back on this product. Along the top of the keyboard there is one long speaker grill that stretches the entire size of the display hinge. For a product this thin, the speakers are incredible. They are very loud and have a decent bass. I wouldn’t go as far to say I am an audiophile, but I can appreciate higher quality audio.
Moving on to the input device, MacBook has a dramatically redesigned keyboard. Traditional laptops use a scissor mechanism for the keys, while Apple has invented a new butterfly mechanism. This allows the user to strike anywhere on a key and it will register the same. Apple has been rolling out the new butterfly keyboard across all their products throughout this past year. Even the Magic Keyboard and Smart Keyboard have the same key mechanism. It feels great! I feel I can type much more accurately on the newer keyboards, but MacBook’s keyboard is just slightly different than the others. I will still say that the iPad Pro 12.9’s Smart Keyboard is my favorite keyboard to type on to date. MacBook’s keyboard feels like it was run over by a steam roller. Each key’s drive distance is much less than any other keyboard so it definitely feels weird typing at first. I am sure this is something I will get used to later on but for right now it’s just weird, to say the least. I will say that I am getting better with the keyboard and I am almost up to my full typing speed. I like that the keys are bigger, but sometimes it is hard for me to register the difference between keys when I’m speed typing. This is where auto-correct comes in handy! Like all the other MacBooks the keyboard is backlit, making it really nice to type on in the dark. Personally I have never had a computer with a backlit keyboard, so I am amazed every time I use it. One thing that has always bugged me about backlit keyboards is the light bleeding. This is when the backlit light is visible out of the sides of the keys, ruining the illuminated key illusion. MacBook’s ultra-thin keys seem to solve that. There is still a little bleeding, but it is hardly noticeable.
Below the keyboard you’ll find the trackpad. This is one of the best illusions I have ever come across. All the trackpads that have come before have had a diving-board style mechanism meaning that the bottom of the trackpad was much easier to click in than the top. To solve this Apple made the MacBook’s trackpad non-moving. What!? How am I supposed to click the trackpad?? Turning back to when I called this an illusion, the trackpad includes the same haptic engine that is in the Apple Watch and iPhone 6s. This trackpad can also detect force. So when the trackpad detects a user pressing on the trackpad to click, it will provide haptic feedback that feels just the same as a physical moving click. I’m not exaggerating either! It feels exactly like a click and Apple even went the extra step to include a tiny little speaker in the trackpad that plays the click sound along with the haptic feedback. When a user presses deeper it also creates a different haptic feedback and clicking sound to simulate a deeper press (or a Force Touch as Apple likes to refer to it). What’s great about all of this is that it’s driven by software, so if you don’t like the click, you can turn it off. If you don’t like the haptic feedback, you can turn that off as well. If you need a different sensitivity level of force touch, you also can change that in the settings. It’s worth mentioning that this feature is also available on the Magic Trackpad 2 for other Mac computers. What’s really cool is that third party developers can utilize the haptic engine to create some amazing interfaces in their applications. For instance, in GarageBand when you re-arrange instruments it will provide a tiny tap like you were scrolling through a rolodex. Or in Xcode if you’re aligning objects in Interface Builder it will tap you when an object is at center. I would love it if some of my favorite apps like Pixelmator implemented that feature (wink wink nudge nudge).
I mentioned earlier that the MacBook doesn’t have a hard drive. Instead it has solid state storage. Apple soldered the memory chips right to the tiny logic board so this flash storage is wicked fast. It’s so fast that the computer literally boots in 2.3 seconds (yes, I timed it.) Some PC’s wake-from-sleep time is about 15 seconds or more. MacBook comes standard with 256GB of storage and while that doesn’t sound like a whole lot, I’m comfortable with it. Currently I’m running macOS 10.12 Sierra on this MacBook and inside Sierra there is a lot of storage optimization features with iCloud Drive. Right now I am using just under 60GB.
Moving on to battery life, the MacBook has an incredible battery design. Since the bezel of MacBook is extremely thin a traditional battery wouldn’t fit. Apple instead engineered a layered battery that would fit in all the nooks and crevices of the uni-body. In my own testing, I have used MacBook through two days of on and off usage. I am a little under 50% now. It takes a little over an hour to charge from 0% to 100% with the included charger.
Turning the MacBook around the first thing you will notice is that the Apple logo doesn’t light up! Every single portable Macintosh since 2001 has had a glowing Apple logo. I think this was because the product was too thin to include the feature. I actually like the non-glowing logo because I don’t need that extra light coming off the back of the computer when I’m using it in bed. Turning the MacBook on its side you’ll notice on the right side there is an analog headphone/mic jack along with dual microphones. These dual microphones will help with noise cancellation while on a phone call.
On the flip side there is only a single USB-C port. Gasp! Only 1 USB-C port?! Wait, what’s USB-C? USB-C was invented by Intel in collaboration with Apple and Google. I see USB-C really taking off in the next few years. Android handsets are already shipping with USB-C ports as well as with the 4th generation Apple TV. What’s really neat about USB-C is that it can drive power, data, and display out, so it’s the most versatile port yet. The current USB-A port was invented by Intel in the mid-90s, but Apple first implemented it on the iMac in 1998. It was as controversial as Apple switching to the USB-C port today. You have to remember that in the late 90s all the external peripherals were serial based which required the computer to be rebooted when you added a new device. USB was the first interface that dynamically loaded its device’s driver when it was plugged in. Apple and Microsoft both had Plug and Play in the early 90s, but it didn’t really work all that well until USB was implemented. I’m not going to sugar coat this either. It will be a very difficult transition to the new USB interface. Around 95% of computer peripherals are USB-A based. Apple is all about adopting new technologies that they feel are better and if we want to advance on to new technologies we’ll have to say goodbye to the old.
The One Port: Let’s look at what people plug into their computers. Printers, external storage, displays, mice, keyboards, communications, cameras, and miscellaneous proprietary hardware. Most of the time these components no longer need to be plugged in so I don’t really see an issue with there being only one port.
In 2016, if you have to print you can print wirelessly. It’s so much better than plugging something in. Besides, you really shouldn’t be printing all that much. Sorry to be blunt about it, but it’s true. I don’t want to go all eco-green on you but that document is a waste of paper! You may look at that document once and then file it away where it won’t be seen for several decades. Of course, these are my opinions and I am sure you will have different opinions.
The next biggest thing you would plug into a computer is external storage. This includes thumb/flash drives (or whatever the kids are calling them these days), hard drives, and optical drives. In 2016, thumb/flash drives should not be a thing anymore. Many cloud storage providers offer 5GB of free cloud storage and the standard flash drive is 2GB. I personally use iCloud Drive because it’s baked right into Apple’s operating systems, but Microsoft’s OneDrive and Google’s Google Drive are both fantastic products. Flash drives break and
when they hold your only copy of a document then you’re up a creek without a paddle. I work in education and I see it every day. A student’s flash drive will stop working or break and then they come to me saying, “Make work now,” and I will reply, “I can’t recover the data off of it.” Then they have lost all of their hard work. Cloud storage is almost infinitely backed up and is accessible on any device with network access. Instead of searching for that USB port to plug in, you can just log into your cloud storage’s website and retrieve your document.
As mentioned before, MacBook only has 256GB of internal storage (and only about 251GB that’s user accessible) and sometimes that is just not enough. Sometimes it becomes necessary to plug external hard drives into the computer. When you do need that extra boost of storage, you can get an adapter from USB-C to USB-A. While I think Apple should’ve included one in the box, they work just fine. If you have other computers at home, you can plug those hard drives into them and share them on your network, or if you have a router that supports storage sharing you can share that hard drive from there. Since MacBook has 802.11ac gigabit wireless networking, network file transfers are very speedy.
The next things commonly attached to a computer are external displays (monitors). USB-C can also drive a display and you can purchase adapters to drive a VGA or digital display like HDMI. I like this approach more because you have the choice of turning that USB-C port into whatever display out port that you need. Apple sells an adapter that allows you to have a display out, USB-A, and power. While people cringe at having to buy adapters to plug stuff into their computers, how often do you really plug stuff into a laptop? I have been using this MacBook for two days as my weekend at home computer and haven’t had the need to plug a single thing into it.
In 2016, you probably are just using the mouse/trackpad and keyboard built into the laptop and if not you are probably using Bluetooth devices. Some older computers do not have communications built in like wireless networking or Bluetooth so users will add them via USB. Over time this problem will solve itself. For cameras and other miscellaneous hardware, there are adapters. It’s as simple as that. Over time, the industry will adopt the new port and there won’t be a need for adapters. But, for the next couple of years, we will have to live in limbo as hardware manufacturers update their products with the new port and the consumers update their hardware. I think it was a bold move for Apple to include the USB-C port as the only port, but I feel it’ll become mainstream before we know it and it will be a non-issue. My problem with USB-C is that it replaces MagSafe, Apple’s magnetic charging solution. MagSafe was great because you could just gently tug on the wire and it would disconnect. This was very useful if you ever had your laptop charging on a table and you walked by, tripped on the wire, and your computer didn’t go flying. MacBook doesn’t have the MagSafe so it is prone to more accidents. I hope Apple can figure out a good solution in the near future.
Performance: MacBook has a 1.1GHz Intel Core M CPU. This is a very low powered chip, but it allows the MacBook to have its incredible battery life with no fan. MacBook also has 8GB of super-fast RAM. Like I mentioned earlier, MacBook has a Retina Display and 1.5GB of graphics memory. Between the blazing fast solid state storage and the graphics memory I don’t really see too much of a performance issue. I have seen people render 4K video in Final Cut Pro on the MacBook with no trouble. I have even played games such as Minecraft on this MacBook and I have only experienced smooth gameplay at 60fps. Not bad for a computer with such a low end CPU. At the end of the day this is not a high powered laptop, but it’s a speedy one that can take what you throw at it. The only time I saw performance issues was when running Adobe Flash. Personally though I think it’s time to kill Flash or reinvent it. While I was writing this review, I had AirPlay on and put a Safari window on my TV with a flash video playing. I did notice some pretty bad hang-ups every once in a while, but it still seemed to handle it for the bulk of my usage. To put this in perspective iPad Pro 12.9” has a higher resolution display, a larger display, and the Apple A9x CPU with 4GB of RAM. According to GeekBench scores, the iPad Pro scores better than the MacBook. This makes me wonder why iOS is so limited on the iPad Pro when in reality it could probably handle Final Cut Pro, but that’s a conversation for a different day.
Conclusion: This MacBook is essentially a MacBook and an iPad come together. It has the portability of an iPad with the sophistication of a Mac. If you’re looking at an iPad and wanting just a tad bit more without sacrificing any of that great portability, then this is really nice option for you. The MacBook Air is more affordable, has a higher performance CPU and, in some models, a larger display with two USB-A ports. Why would you want a laptop that is more expensive and has lower performance than the iPad Pro? This is one of the world’s thinnest laptops and you are paying for that. The MacBook Air in today’s terms is getting bulky. The MacBook is as thin as the thickest point on the MacBook Air. MacBook also gets dramatically better battery life. The MacBook’s storage is faster than the Air’s and offers a better quality display. MacBook Air is the only Mac that does not have a Retina Display. It is old technology and that’s why it is offered at the lower price point. MacBook is definitely the future of Apple’s consumer portable Mac line, but right now it’s just not to the point where it can outperform the MacBook Air. It’s not to the point where the components are as affordable as the MacBook Air’s either. This is partly Intel’s fault because they don’t have a processor that can perform as well as an i5 that doesn’t require a huge heatsink and a fan. The Core M CPU can perform pretty well for being without a huge heatsink and fan. It’s also Apple’s fault because they want to build thin products without fans.
In time technology will evolve and Apple will be able to have its cake and eat it too. In the meantime, MacBook is an incredible computer and I have enjoyed every moment with it. It does everything I need a laptop to do without any of the baggage of the MacBook Pro (like the weight, bulk, and heat). Let me know what you think about the MacBook in the comment section below. Do you agree with my opinions, or am I just a crazy Apple fanboy that doesn’t know anything about computers? Let us know!