I really wanted to love Apple’s new MacBook. But I just can’t.
When I heard that Apple was coming out with a computer that’s lighter than my new MacBook Air and has a sharper screen, I immediately regretted the fact that I hadn’t waited a few more months before buying my latest laptop. After using the MacBook, however, I no longer regret my decision.
Apple’s taken its obsession with thinness a step too far for my taste. I like how thin and light the new computer is, but I don’t appreciate the trade-offs, which make the MacBook impractical and uncomfortable to use.
The MacBook represents the next step in Apple’s minimalist attitude toward computer hardware. At 2 pounds and half an inch thick at its fattest point, it’s a featherweight. Compared to my lunky work-issued laptop and even my own MacBook Air, the new MacBook was a joy to carry around, barely noticeable in a backpack. At that weight, it also rests easy on your lap.
Despite being so light, the MacBook feels sturdy, because Apple has encased it in an aluminum enclosure similar to the ones used with its other laptops. And despite its size, the computer has a full-sized keyboard and a screen that, while it isn’t giant, is of decent size and is larger than that on the entry-level MacBook Air.
Apple also packed a relatively long-lasting battery into that tight space. The company says the MacBook will endure about 10 hours of active use before it needs to be plugged in. I didn’t test that precisely, but did find that I was able to use it for much of a business day without needing to recharge it.
Besides the MacBook’s size and weight, its other standout feature is its screen, which is a high-resolution “Retina” display. This marks the first time that Apple has put such a screen, which purports to have pixels so tiny that they can’t be distinguished by the average human eye at normal distances, in one of its consumer-oriented laptops. If you are familiar with such screens from Apple’s iPhones, iPads and other Macs, it’s just as sharp as you’d expect: Text, graphics and pictures look great on it.
But these advantages are outweighed by the MacBook’s shortcomings.
Part of the problem with the new machine is that in its quest to make the device super-thin, Apple eliminated a bunch of ports. The only ones you’ll find on the new MacBook are a USB-C port and a headphone jack. The USB-C port also doubles as the place where you plug in your power adapter, so when you’re charging your computer, you can’t directly plug anything else into it. Unless you have some kind of adapter, you have to choose between power and accessories.
In announcing the MacBook, Apple touted the idea that owners would just rely on wireless technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi instead of physical plugs. But that just simply ignores reality. There are lots of things that consumers plug into their computers that typically can’t connect wirelessly, from external hard drives to memory cards to external monitors.
What that means is that in order to plug anything into the device besides your headphones, you’re almost certainly going to have to carry around a handful of adapters, either to convert older USB devices to USB-C or to give you more than one port. At least for now, those adapters are fairly pricey. Apple, for example, is charging $80 for a dongle that will let you connect your power cord, an older USB device and an external monitor to the MacBook at the same time.
The other big problem with the MacBook is an ergonomic one. In its zeal to slim down the notebook, Apple created a thinner keyboard and trackpad for the new device. Apple touts the new design as being more responsive and stable, thanks to a new mechanism it created that underlies each key.
But the result of the redesign is that the keys depress very little. If you’re a touch typist like me who is used to working on keyboards that depress a lot more, it’s easy to strike the MacBook’s keys too hard, expecting they’ll absorb the impact. I found the keyboard almost painful to use.
I had a similar experience using the touchpad, which has a similarly shallow depth. It just doesn’t have the same satisfying click I’m used too.
I also found myself mistyping a lot more than normal. I think that was because the keys are crammed much closer together than on a typical keyboard. And don’t get me started on trying to use the new arrow keys. The new up and down arrows are also positioned much closer together than normal, making it difficult to tell which one you are using unless you actually look down at them.
A final turnoff about the new MacBook is its price. At $1,300 for the base model, it costs as much as Apple’s MacBook Pro, which has a larger display and a much more powerful processor. It’s also $400 more than the entry-level MacBook Air.
As much as I was lusting after the new MacBook when I first heard about it, my ardor has cooled after actually using it. My trusty MacBook Air isn’t looking like such a bad device after all.
What: Apple MacBook laptop computer
Likes: High-resolution “Retina” display; easily portable due to its super-thin and light design; relatively long battery life; easy-to-use OS X operating system.
Dislikes: Pricey; lack of ports makes it difficult to plug in external devices; choice of USB-C for the only data port — which doubles as the power plug — means you’ll need to buy multiple adapters and dongles; extra-thin keyboard and trackpad are uncomfortable to use.
Specs: Dual-core Intel Core M processor; 8GB memory; 12-inch 2304 x 1440 pixel display.
Price: $1,300 for model with 1.1 GHz processor and 256GB flash drive; $1,600 for model with 1.2 GHz processor and 512GB flash drive.