Hands-on review: The new MacBook
The new 12” MacBook is one of the biggest design leaps from Apple so far this year. While it mightn’t be everyones cup of warm beverage, I’d wager that its thin and sleek design will be the benchmark that competitors design teams will seek to slavishly emulate throughout 2015 and beyond.
Look and feel
The first thing that struck me when unboxing the new MacBook was that it is very petite. It’s barely larger than a MacBook Air and weighs practically nothing either. Available in Apples traditional silver, the new MacBook also comes in a fruity space grey or gold flavours. It is also recognisably an Apple product thanks to a continuation of Apple design language.
Its most obvious design cue is the Apple logo on the MacBook’s lid. Like the iPad, it’s a polished metal logo rather than one hewn out of plastic. The laptops lid has that subtle lip which makes flipping the screen open less of a chore than with other ultra-books. A curvy wedge-like design is also reminiscent of the similarly sized MacBook Air.
Opening the MacBook up reveals its Apple parentage. Its screen is surrounded by a black glass bezel with a nearly full sized scrabble tile keyboard beneath the screen. The trackpad has also been enlarged. The end result is a product that is recognisably made by Apple.
Bells and whistles
On Paper the new MacBook is an interesting animal. It sports a pin-sharp Retina screen (which manages to look even better than the already impressive display on the MacBook Air). The 12” display sports a 2,304x1,440 resolution and is the thinnest ever built used in a MacBook. It’s also bright (I initially thought Apple had chosen AMOLED as its display technology of choice as the display was that vivid), however this was due to the use of wider apertures for sub-pixels.
The display is complimented by a 256GB SSD drive and 8GB of RAM. In a bid to maximise scarce space Apple has also permanently soldered all components into its tiny custom motherboard and incorporated some clever reduction technologies. The MacBook base spec can also be customised via build-to-order options which allow for a slightly faster CPU as well as a larger SSD and more RAM.
The new MacBook also makes use of Intel's new Core M processor, which balances computing power, energy efficiency and less heat, all of which equates to a fanless quiet, cool running notebook that feels almost iPad like in use.
The Core M managed to wring out just under 11 hours of use. While this mightn’t be as impressive as say the battery life of a MacBook Air, it isn’t exactly shabby either.
The other spec that has attracted attention is the MacBook’s move to a single USB type C port. As far as ports go , it’s pretty versatile, covering nearly all your connection needs. Its uses range from connecting external displays plus peripherals or additional storage through to charging or running the MacBook off of its external power adaptor.
This said, there are downsides. Firstly you’ll need a pile of adaptors to connect everything and secondly you’ll also need a port replicator/hub if you need to simultaneously connect multiple widgets. This said, the single port also probably played a key role in the MacBook’s ultra slim design.
The Force Touch trackpad also has to be used to be believed. Unboxing and powering up the MacBook, I simply assumed it was a standard run of the mill click pad which uses a mechanical action to click when pressed down. No so with the MacBook. Its trackpad is fixed in place and doesn’t move. Having found this out, I had to do a double take as its haptic vibrations so convincingly mimic a mechanical click pads feel.
This magic is worked using four sensors under each corner of trackpad. These can track where to place haptic feedback and how hard the user is pressing. Deep clicks (which are when you press harder) deliver a bunch of handy actions – For example, should you highlight a word and perform long click you’ll get a pop-up definition of the word.
This also works with generating a preview view of a document or file. I was also able to skip forwards or backwards through a video clip in QuickTime, with the FFW or RWW speed depending on how hard I pressed the trackpad. It’s a clever concept that involved a few initially confusing but easily overcome wrinkles. Reflex actions such as dragging and dropping to copy files took a little getting used to. Once I made a conscious effort to control the amount of pressure I put on the trackpad things got a whole lot easier.
The ultra slim design also presented Apple with some interesting keyboard design challenges. The MacBook’s shallow chassis means that its keys have far less room to travel. In use however, you’d be hard pressed (pun intended) to notice. Larger keys and a re-designed butterfly key mechanism ensure that there is plenty of tactile feedback. Touch typing on the MacBook keyboard proved to be a surprisingly pleasant undertaking.
If you’re getting the impression that the MacBook impressed, you’d be right. It is a beautifully designed piece of equipment that seems to pull off the near impossible feat of balancing its ultra-petite form factor with solid usability and decent battery life.
The new MacBook is best suited for knocking out documents, Web surfing, and media consumption. I suspect that it could even force other ultra-book PCs into a trip to weight watchers. It is dead easy to throw in a bag but offers few compromises when it comes to performance and usability. While another USB type C port would have been a handy addition, it is by no means a show stopper.
Display: 12” 2,304x1,440 TFT IPS LCD screen
GPU: 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 5300
CPU: 1.1GHz Intel Core M 5Y31
Memory: 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz
Storage: 256 SSD
Optical drive: -
Networking: 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0
OS: OSX 10.10.2 Yosemite