The new MacBook is most definitely not for everyone. But I absolutely love it. If you need portability more than maximum power, if your need is for a small, excellent quality display with a great keyboard and a beautiful design, it shows the way forward.
I do not generally use a laptop for really heavy duty work; projects such as video or fancy Photoshop work will more likely be done on an iMac desktop. My OS X mobile choice has been an aging, banged up MacBook Air. The processor was slow under Yosemite and the quality of the pre-Retina Display was less than great.
Some of the major mechanical problems had been less than ideal on the Air. The big one was a marginally adequate scissors-designed keyboard that was too shallow. These are less than ideal on laptops and hurt more as units got thinner. The spacebar also frequently missed on the Air, leaving out breaks between words. The touchpad was OK but not great.
My MacBook makes all that change for me. The 12” display, while just halfway between the 11” and 13”, is a 2304×1440 fabulous screen, a view in which my aging eyes can read the text better than in the 1440×900 of the bigger Air. It’s a big gain of usability (and very good for video and photos too).
The keyboard is also a winner. The “butterfly” key design uses only shallow depressions—the extremely shallow design of the case leaves very little room—but much better typing than the Air. Despite a significantly smaller case than the 13” Air, the keyboard is about the same width by extending out to the very edge, with each key just a bit larger. Key tops are illuminated. It’s hard to see it gets better.
What goes with it is the much-improved touchpad, which is both larger than on the Air and considerably more capable. The Force Touch system is designed to take the same touch effect anywhere across the surface and it is designed to respond to differences in pressure. It also has haptic return to taps. It’s good now, but it is likely to get new features when the El Capitan version of OS X comes out around the end of summer.
The design of the MacBook, a bit of a quaint name for the model, is aimed at an ultimate portable that will travel around as an undersized, underweight model. The model weighs just two pounds, not a lot more than an iPad, and is just 11×7.7 inches across and under a half an inch thick at its thickest end. It’s hard to find carrying it with you a problem.
Design imposes some differences and makes the MacBook more like an iPad than a traditional laptop. The most obvious is only two external connections, a 3.5 mm audio connection and an everything connection, a tiny USB-C socket for power and anything else. It’s disappointing to go without a second USB-C or standard USB, though easy to see how hard it would be to fit one in. (A standard USB-C to USB cable that ought to be thrown is a $19 addition; a multiport cable is a staggering $79.)
The thinking is the MacBook doesn’t need connection most of the time. The interior of the case consists almost exclusively of batteries, giving an easy unplugged working time of eight hours or so. The connection to the network will of course be on Wi-Fi, providing mail, the internet, and cloud storage from an extra disk facility in your home or office or services such as Dropbox or OneDrive (yes, a Microsoft service works fine with a Mac). It seems a bit odd to those of us whose use of a laptop required cables forever, but it hasn’t been needed for a long time.
Another key design feature is the absence of a fan, keeping the unit both tiny and silent. The trick is the use of an Intel Core M processor with 1.3 GHz operation with up to 2.9 GHz at extra need. It’s not the fastest thing out there; you can get a four-quad 2.5 GHz i7 on a MacBook Pro. That’s great if you need it on a superfast mobile unit. I don’t.
One obvious drawback to the MacBook is the cost. The minimum cost is $1,299, compared to $999 for the base Mac Air laptop. I chose to go all the way, $1,599 for model with a faster processor and, more important from my point of view, 512GB of flash storage. The speed and storage are more than up the task.
Apple can charge that kind of price on a system aimed at the top-end customers looking for something special. But look for a number of the MacBook features to take their place on a number of other Mac laptops: the keyboard, the touchpad with Force Touch, the smaller case for the current size. If you are looking for a small, light, and capable laptop, you cannot beat the MacBook.
Just a note: I usually write columns on my iMac, but this was done entirely on MacBook, most of it while the unit sat on my lap for work. I also did all the photo work in Photoshop on the MacBook. I still like the desktop when it’s available, but the MacBook was more than adequate.