For as long as I can remember, Iâve been hunting for my dream laptop.
For years â since the advent of the ultrabookÂ â I haveÂ dreamedÂ ofÂ something as light as a magazine to throw in a bag, with a high resolution screen, decent build quality, great battery life, good enough performance and a good trackpad. Is that too much to ask? (Probably).
That perfect laptopÂ has been attempted by computer makers, but manufacturers havenât yet managed to nail down the magic formula. Iâve hadÂ laptops that promised something along those lines, like the HP DV2Â or the MacBook Air, but all of them have had a flaw that ultimatelyÂ made them awful to use.
Apple hasÂ finally delivered my dream machine with the new MacBook, for $1,299. ItâsÂ so closeÂ to perfect that itâs worth thinking about, even if it means getting a first generation product that forces you to make a few compromises.
This thing is ridiculously light, so much so that I kept forgetting it was in my bag when I went out. You can throw it in a backpack and youâll never know itâs there. Itâs so lightÂ to forget itâs there that Iâm worried I might accidentally throw it in the trashÂ when mixed in with magazines on a table.
It probably helps that Iâm coming from twoÂ years usingÂ a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro, which is the bulkiest, heaviest laptop in Appleâs modernÂ line up. I never really had any problemÂ carrying the MacBook Pro, but by comparison it feels like a ton of bricks in a backpack.
The difference between the new MacBook and the MacBook Air is about 397 grams â which happens to be the about the weight of a can of soda. I really likeÂ how easy it is to take everywhere andÂ loveÂ that itâs so thin. It feels like holding a magazine.
To me, it seems like Appleâs created a computer thatâs as small as the iPad Air 2, but with the benefits ofÂ a full desktopÂ operating system.
Itâs hard to describe how enjoyableÂ it is to openÂ something so thin and light, andÂ get the full power of OS X. The only other time Iâve ever felt this way was booting up Windows on the Surface Pro 3 for the first time â it almost doesnât feel like it should be possible on such modestÂ hardware.
I love that Appleâs bringing color back to the MacBook, too. When the black and white MacBooks disappeared a few years ago, I was disappointed that everything looked the same. Apple had taken the fun away from the line-up.
Now you can get gold, gun metal or silver. I was hesitant to try gold at first, but itâs a far less offensive color than initially thought. I came to like it, and suspect that this version will sell like hot cakes â people in cafes, on the tram and in other places approached me to fawn over it and ask where I got it.
For that reason alone Iâm not sure Iâd want the gold for myself, but there are plenty of people out there who will love the attention and are excited to have the colors back. It will be a nice change from the sea of silver at tech events.
The first time you use a Retina display (or high-DPI equivalent), it ruins normal screens for you. After using the MacBook Pro for a few days back in 2013, I found other screens pixelated and low-quality. Now I canât use lower-resolution devices without cringing.
You could call me picky, but Iâm something of a pixel-density enthusiast and itâs something I wonât compromise on. When youÂ spend so much timeÂ staring at screens, itâs one of the most important things in a laptop..
Iâd always dreamt of squashing a high-DPI display into something ultra-small, and had recently started looking to Dellâs new XPS 13 as an alternative asÂ Apple had taken so long to update the Air with a better screen.
TheÂ new MacBookâs display is awesome. Itâs crisp, great at color reproduction and finally brings Appleâs lovelyÂ Retina display to a tiny form factor. Itâs nothing new, but itâs magical to finally get it in a tiny laptop.
The panel is a 12-inch 2304-by-1440 pixelÂ display that works well inÂ most situations â itâs bright enough to use outside, but as with the MacBook Pro lineup, the glossy display makes it pretty difficult to see inÂ direct sunlight.
I have no complaints, but I want Retina everywhere. Now that the new MacBook has one, it makes the Airâs display look dim, crappy and old.
Somehow Apple has squashed impressiveÂ speakers into a tiny laptop. I was expecting fairly crappy music quality when I saw the slim speaker grille along the top, but I was pleasantly surprised by what Appleâs been able to do with it.
For a thin, light computer, this has the best speakers Iâve ever heard â theyâre crisp, loud and have a surprisingly good sound stage. In general, goodÂ for movies, music and other internet videos.
That controversialÂ keyboard
Apple invented a new mechanism for keys on the MacBook. Â ItÂ both saves space and makes the keys more stable for the thinner frame, but changes the way the keys feel as you type on them.
The new keyboard has been the subject of much debate since Apple launched the device.
App developer Marco Arment labeled the keyboard asÂ ânot goodâ and Gizmodo calledÂ it âuncomfortable.â At first, I absolutely hated it, but after a few weeks it started making old keyboards feel clunky.Â Switching between the two, after a couple of weeks, is a little disorienting.
After a few days riddled with typos and confusion, you get used to the different feel of the keys and maybe even prefer it.
Instead of pushing down on a big chunky key, your fingers feel like theyâre gliding. Thereâs far less âgiveâ than a traditional keyboard, which is odd at first, but enjoyable if youâre a good touch typer.
The keys are a lot closer together, but I found it didnât really make a difference at all.
Ultimately, itÂ still feels like a real keyboard, just different from what youâve used for the last decade. Change isÂ hard, especially one this drastic.
I used the MacBook as my primary device for a few weeks and now secretly wish all keyboards were like this, even though other reviewers seem to disagree.
ThereâsÂ one problem with the new keys, for me: if you use them all day your fingers getÂ reallyÂ tired and sore. I never had this problem with a normal keyboard before, but still get a little worn out after 8-10 hours of usage. The majority of people probably donât type as much as I do, so youâre probably OK, but itâs something to be aware of if youâll be typing on it all day.
My advice on the new keyboard would be this: if thatâs whatâs stopping you from buying the new MacBook, then purchase the laptopÂ and give it a chance.
Use the 14-day return policy to your advantage and try to learn to love it â simply running your fingers over it in an Apple Store doesnât do it justice or give you adequate time to adjust. Itâs good, once you give it a chance.
ThisÂ review was written in its entirety on the new MacBook.
Trackpad / Force Touch
The new trackpad is breaking my brain. I know it doesnât have a physical click, but I could swear it does.
Sure, it feels a little shallower than the MacBook Pro because itâs just a tiny vibration tricking your mind into thinking itâs a physical click, but itâs almostÂ as good as the old trackpad.
Again, itâll take some getting used to, because it doesnât physically move as you click, but itâs not a problem. If anything, the click just isnât as satisfying, kind of like when you move from an old SLR camera to a digital one and the shutter âclunkâ disappears. You eventually forget it was any different.
Force Touch, which allows you to push harder on the trackpad to trigger other actions, is interesting but a hard sell. I dig that you can push hard on a word to get the definition, butÂ I just donât really get it yet.
It feels like a gimmick, with limited reasons to actually use it, but a lot of potential. I just forget itâs there â thereâs no obvious way to know when you can use it and Appleâs built-in apps that do support it donât make it particularly clear.
OS X El Capitan, due out this fall, fixes part of that problem by allowing developers to use Force TouchÂ on the Web and in new ways as part of their apps, but it needs to be clearer what you can actually do with it.
OtherÂ than stabbing at words to find out what they mean, I donât see much use in Force Touch for most peopleÂ in the near term. Apple could do more to help you discover what it can actually do.
One port life
Think about when you use cables these days:
- To charge your iPhone
- To plug in a screen
Thatâs probably about it. Yes, the new MacBook has a single USB-C port, but itâs actually not as much of a problem as I thought.
It was a little frustrating that I had to carry around a dongle to charge my phone, but it seems likelyÂ a future version of the iPhone will offerÂ a USB-C connector, particularly if Apple addsÂ USB-C ports onto its other devices in the coming months.
Docks are starting to become available which allow you to use multiple devices, including screens, from that single port all while charging your MacBook. That kind of future gets me excited, rather than having to connect four cables every time I sit down at my desk, but itâs not quite a reality yet.
USB-C holds a lot of potential, but the lack of devices with cables, like monitors and Appleâs own iPhone cables, makes it a little frustrating right now. I had to carry around a USB and HDMI dongle and repeatedlyÂ forgot them, instead ending up leeching off other peopleâs laptops for power.
When youâre using the dongle to do something, like download from a camera, it feels a little ridiculous that you canât charge at the same time. At least once, I wanted to grab some photos but the MacBook was flat and I had to wait for it to charge enough before I couldÂ do what I wanted.
Youâll only run into it occasionally, but when you do, it makes you remember why early adoption of new port types can be difficult and painful.
A year from now, as USB-C sees more adoption by other manufacturers, thatâll be a different story â Google announced at I/O that Android will use the standard â but for now, itâs in an odd place because itâs simply so new.
Much of the discussion around the new MacBook has focused on the slightly disappointing Intel Core M processor that Apple settled on.
At the low end, youâll get a dual-core 1.1 GHz processor, which can be upgraded to 1.2 GHz; fairly underwhelming. For this review, I used the 1.1 GHz version as my primary machine over a few weeks.
You shouldnât expect anything incredible out of the new MacBook â renderingÂ video is probably not a goodÂ idea â but itâs a good all-round performer. For those, like me, that donât do much on their computers outside of internet, writing, document editing and a little photo editing, itâs great.
In fact, I tried to pushÂ it to the edge and found it was good enoughÂ at most tasks that youâll probably get away with it. I compiled a few apps Iâm working on in XCode, watched HD movies and did my Web development like I normally wouldâ¦ just donât try to do them all at once.
For the masses, I think the MacBookâs performance is more than good enough. I donât think this MacBook is aimed at the technical crowd. Itâs for the executive whoÂ wants an all-day computer for meetings or the university student who wants something easy to carry around with their text books.
Yes, you can hit the edge of the MacBookâs performance if you push it too hard, but itâs not going to happen if youâreÂ the average person who browses the Web and edits documents.
Things you wonât want to do on the new MacBook: play any sort of heavy-graphics game, work on huge Illustrator files or compile complex applications.
Thatâs not your average personÂ anyway â âtech peopleâ will try scare you away from the new MacBook by telling you itâs slow, but in general, itâs more than good enough for your daily life.
Battery life on the MacBook is pretty good. I can get between 5-6 hours on average from it, when using Safari as my browser, which is similar to my 15-inch MacBook. Iâd love to tell you it lasts eight hours, but I wasnât able to squeeze that much out of it in any of my testing.
Appleâs emphasisedÂ on how much space the battery takesÂ inside the laptop during its unveiling, butÂ we really need battery technology to improve before itâll get much better.
OS X 10.11, which is due out this Fall, promises to improve performance and Apple is pushing app developers to build their products with the new MacBook in mind.
One thing thatâs really nice: you wonât hear that familiar fan noise blaring away, ever, because it simply has none. The silence is eerie, but welcome.
This could be the one
If this machine existed when I was still studying it would have been the perfect student laptopÂ â theyÂ weighed at least 2 KG back then. I expect that within the next year the new MacBookÂ will be all over campuses because itâs light, it looks good and feels lovely to use.
For that same reason I think itâll be popular in businesses; the kind of people that are in meetings all day, running around the city or simply want something compact could use the MacBook comfortably.
Yes, the MacBook is expensive in comparison to the plethora of cheaper PCs and Chromebooks, but youâre not going to get this kind of build quality â or OS X â on anything else. Letâs be honest: the peopleÂ that are going to buy this device wouldâve wanted an Apple computer anyway.
Admittedly, the new MacBook isÂ the kind of laptop people buy to get attentionÂ and I think thatâs OK, because itâs greatÂ to use too.
One particular type of person that would love it are those that use theÂ iPad for the majority of the day. Itâs a natural extension of the tablet; light and easy to use with a great display, but with the power of a full computer.
I was expecting to hate the MacBookâs new keyboard and ultimately found I preferred it, despite what others have said.
My only concern right now is that a better version, with an Intel chipset that wouldÂ up the performance to a reasonable levelÂ could be around the corner. Intelâs continually delayed Skylake chipset promises better performance for smaller computers, but we still donât know when itâll actually ship.
You could wait around and see when it gets refreshed, or you could jump in the deep end now â I donât think youâll regret it any time soon.
Photos by Owen Williams /Â TNW