Living With the New Apple MacBook – PC Magazine
The 12-inch Apple MacBook is one of those products that test your tolerance for working out of your comfort zone. It’s undoubtedly one of the sleekest, most drool-worthy pieces of tech that the Cupertino-based company has presented to the public in recent years. You won’t necessarily get the envious looks that the original iPad or iPhone got a few years ago, but truly, this laptop is a thing of beauty. I really wanted to love it. But after living with it for a couple of weeks, I’ve found that the reality of being an early adopter isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
At first I was all about the form factor. Wow, it weighs just under two pounds! That’s as light as a large-format tablet! Hey, it’s about a half-inch at its thickest point! After I came down from that initial high, my focus shifted to its real-world usability. The fact of the matter is, it’s a Mac laptop, and a good one at that, but I’m not sure I’m ready to give up on similarly priced alternatives like the 13-inch MacBook with Retina display, or heck, even the 11-inch MacBook Air, which costs $400 less.
In our review, we gave it four out of five stars, but it lost points for having only a USB-C port, which is not Thunderbolt-compatible, with no adapters included. The new keyboard and Force Touch trackpad are also a bit tricky.
The Retina display, which you can also find on the MacBook Pro, lives up to the hype, and then some. It’s really pretty, especially if you have sharp eyes that can appreciate the smooth, jaggie-free text and pictures displayed at native resolution. That said, it’s not worth the $300-$400 price premium you pay over the 13-inch MacBook Pro if all you’re doing is writing TPS reports in Word. If you’re an actuarial worker or a graphics manager, it will have more of an appeal, since you’ll need the extra pixels to display your projects smoothly.
The much-touted butterfly switch keyboard on MacBook is much, much, much better than the non-moving membrane keyboard you find on the Microsoft Surface Touch Cover or Dell XPS 11. However, heavy-handed typists like myself prefer the softer key feel on the MacBook Air 11-inch, or the strong clicky feel of a Das Keyboard over the minimal keystroke on the MacBook. Don’t get me wrong, it works well, but your hands are going to get tired fast if you type more than 1,500 words a day. The MacBook Air and Pro keyboards are so much easier on the fingertips for long-haul typing.
The MacBook’s light weight and slim profile are definitely a boon, especially if you schlep all your stuff around on your daily commute. Carrying the MacBook around is easier than carrying a 13-inch MacBook Air or MacBook Pro (or virtually any ultrabook), but it’s not much different from toting around an 11-inch MacBook Air or a 9- or 10-inch tablet with a slim keyboard case. I was able to slip the MacBook into some laptop bag pockets made for iPads, though the MacBook is a bit longer and sticks out sometimes. Since the MacBook only has one cable attachment, it’s grab-and-go in an instant.
The biggest problem may lie in the MacBook’s single USB-C port. First, you can’t use any of those spare MagSafe chargers you have lying around if you don’t want to carry an AC adapter. You’ll either have to buy another USB-C charger for home, or remember to take it home with you from the office every day. And forget connecting a peripheral or USB flash drive. There are currently few external hard drives out with a USB-C interface, so connecting a USB drive (or any USB device, for that matter) means you’ll have to purchase an adapter cable, like Apple’s USB-C-to-USB adapter ($19) or the pricey USB-C Digital AV Multiport adapter ($79), which lets you plug in a USB device, an HDMI cable, and the USB-C charger. In addition, you’ll also have to unplug the laptop from the AC adapter in order to plug anything else in. Oh, and, just so you know, if you have a Thunderbolt-equipped drive, you won’t be able to plug it in and use it with the MacBook, since there’s no adapter for that.
Battery life is one area where I have no complaints. Thanks to the MacBook’s Intel Core M CPU, and the fact that so much of the laptop’s chassis is taken up with battery packs, you’re likely to get about 14 hours or so of battery life, according to our tests. That’s exactly three more hours than the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro, and an hour and change less than the same-size MacBook Air.
Backup is another story. I like backing up my Mac laptops to Time Machine drives. They are idiot-proof, and work in the background 24/7. Until I get a dock or some manufacturer creates a pass-through charger on an external drive, however, I can’t back up the MacBook unless I unplug it from the wall. Sure, I can set up a share on a Network-Attached Storage (NAS) drive and use wireless Time Machine/Time Capsule to back up over the network, but that’s another layer of complexity that I really don’t want. Restoring from a system crash also involves disconnecting the power in favor of an external drive with an adapter cable.
I really, really want my own MacBook, but the compromises that I’ve have to endure while living with one for a bit means that I plan on waiting for the next iteration to see if some of the issues I’ve encountered have been resolved. For now, I consider the new MacBook as more of an auxiliary Mac laptop, even more so than the first MacBook Air in 2008. Once the USB-C ecosystem catches up, I may get one, but for now I’m happy to wait.