Apple MacBook (2016) review: Is port-free still the future? –

The revival of the MacBook range in spring 2015 resulted in one of the most beautiful and portable Apple laptops: the 12-inch MacBook. It was also one of the most controversial, with just a single USB Type-C port handling all the connectivity and charging.

A year later and the Californian company has released an updated version, complete with faster processors and increased battery life. Shown here in its new rose gold coat. Very snazzy.

However, the original design remains, meaning there’s just that single USB-C port. Is this lack of connectivity a sacrifice worth making, or has the world caught up and it’s now just the norm?

If you’re familiar with the 2015 MacBook, you’ll already know how light the device is, weighing just 920g. It’s 13.1mm at the thickest hinge point and just 3.5mm at the tapered edge, making it thinner than an HB pencil and light enough to balance in one hand. This is due to Apple’s decision to do away with an internal fan – instead it distributes heat sideways.

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However, a year is a long time in the tech world, with the competition snapping at Apple’s heels in the design stakes. Although not available just yet, the likes of the Acer Swift 7 – which is even thinner than Apple’s offering – poses an enticing option from the Windows camp.

But back to the Apple. The new rose gold option – added as a colour option to mirror the iPhone, Apple Watch and iPad ranges – is a warm, coppery pink, with a colour-matched metal Apple logo on the rear replacing the glowing logos of old. How likely you are to invest in a pink laptop depends very much on your personal taste, but it’s a shot of interest in a sea of uniform silvers and blacks. Equally, the likes of HP, with its Spectre laptop, are pushing the bling angle with some interesting gold trims.

There is no full-size USB, Display Port or Ethernet to be in the MacBook – it’s all down to the single USB-C. Well, there is a 3.5mm headphone jack on the far right which could be counted as port two – but as that vanished from the recent iPhone 7, we suspect its days on MacBooks are also numbered.

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How annoyed you are by this will come down to how likely you are to be plugging SD card readers or cables into your laptop. You’ll have to buy separately-sold adaptors to plug anything else in, though anyone who is largely planning to just surf the web, use cloud storage for everything, bash out the odd document and watch videos are unlikely to be too troubled.

However, even the competition are delivering laptops with two USB Type-C ports. We think Apple should have done so here, at least it would mean charging and connectivity would be simultaneously possible. Maybe the 3.5mm jack has to go first, we’ll wait and see…

With Apple’s Retina-designated display available on the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro range, its absence in the MacBook Air range has been something of an anomaly. While the Air misses out, yet again, the new MacBook doesn’t, helping to make it stand out in the range.

Of course the term “Retina Display” varies between the company’s products, based on their size. In the MacBook its 2304 x 1440 resolution (that’s three million pixels) is sharp and bright.

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It’s particularly great for watching videos and flicking through pictures, and although it struggles in direct sunlight, you’re probably more likely to be using another device outside anyway.

The MacBook’s screen has a taller ratio than the 11-inch MacBook Air, too, making it more versatile.

The new MacBook sports individually-lit keys which are 17 per cent larger than you’ll find on other, older Apple laptops. But the most standout thing about this keyboard is its use of Apple’s butterfly mechanism, which means the keys don’t feel like they do on a “normal” keyboard.

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To make the device so thin, Apple has had to change the mechanism under the individual keys – as the standard traditional method was too cumbersome for the design. The result is a much punchier, stiffer keyboard for typing, which doesn’t have the same level of individual key travel as previous MacBook outings.

You quickly adapt to these low, shallow keys but initially it feels very strange: like tapping away on little more than a touchscreen.

Moving on to the large glass-fronted trackpad. On the surface it looks the same as any other, but this one uses what Apple calls Force Touch. It contains four sensors to detect your degree of pressure and deliver a haptic response, in a similar way to the Apple Watch and iPhone 7’s new Home button.

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When you press harder, there’s a second “layer” of response for additional control possibilities, called Force Click. For this “deeper” press you’ll swear that not only is the trackpad moving, but that you are pressing it down into a second deeper level. But that’s all in your head: it doesn’t move at all.

What you actually feel are subtle vibrations, rather than a “click” generated by the give of the trackpad. It’s Apple’s way of delivering a familiar, modern user experience while still benefitting from that slim, lightweight body.

It also means that no matter where you press on the trackpad your touch is registered to the same degree.

There are two main configurations for the 2016 MacBook: a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core M3 with 8GB RAM, priced from £1,099; and a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core M5 with 8GB RAM, priced from £1,299.

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We tested the latter, which is in-line with current fanless standards. If, however, you intent to push that processor you will be better off looking to a more powerful model in the range (for a similar price) as the MacBook isn’t the very best device for heavy duty graphics work or gaming – but then you probably knew that already.

The new configuration Apple claims the machine can eke out up to 10-hours worth of battery life. We found a single charge to deliver more than enough to last a day’s worth of work, even with the display on full brightness and using Photoshop and some other dedicated programs. A number of clever Energy Saver Preferences can also help you get that little bit further between charges.


The 12-inch MacBook has divided opinion since day one, having done-away with a full-size USB port for the smaller USB Type-C. A couple of years down the line and this will be a more standard format, but the bigger issue is the MacBook’s persistence to offer just one of these ports for both charging and connectivity.

If you’re a casual or cloud-based user that won’t be a big issue though. Just as we said of the first iteration: the 12-inch MacBook is all about portability; it’s a laptop so thin, so sleek, so light, that everything else has been pushed by the wayside. And the competition won’t have anything as trim and style-focused on the market until almost the end of 2016.

It’s worth keeping in mind that Apple is looking increasingly likely to release a touchscreen laptop at some point in the near future (if patents are anything to go by), while new MacBook Pro and iMac updates are expected soon too. Those points don’t change the MacBook’s proposition for the time being, but if you’re in no rush to buy then pausing for a second might pay off.

Overall, if you’re after a stylish, peppy little laptop, then the 2016 MacBook is approaching just about perfect. It’s bold, it’s available in rose gold, and with all its trackpad and keyboard tech it feels like a futuristic extension of the company’s wider range.


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