Apple probably makes the best ultraportable laptop in the world. So, not much needs to be changed.
I’ve been using the first-generation 2-pound 12-inch Retina MacBook, released in April of last year, regularly for the last six months. So, when I got my hands on the second-generation 2016 version, I was keen to see what had changed.
It’s faster – on paper: Apple updated the internals with new Intel “Skylake” 6th Generation Core m3 and m5 processors. Apple claims graphics performance is “up to 25 percent faster” and the flash storage is snappier too. (For those keeping track of Intel’s latest technology, Skylake is a new chip design built on the chip-maker’s 14-nanometer manufacturing process.)
Based on my own testing of the least-expensive $1,299 version of the new MacBook, which uses the 1.1GHz m3 chip, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-15 percent faster compared to the original 12-inch MacBook with the older 5th Generation 1.1GHz processor. Did I notice the speed difference? Nope. But that doesn’t mean it’s slow. I also use a Core i5-based 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina, and based on the everyday work-related stuff I do, the new 12-inch MacBook can keep up with the MacBook Pro on many tasks.
Battery life: Apple says it squeezed out another hour of battery life. Whatever the case, it can go for as long as ten hours when doing Web browsing. But that presumes that you turn down the Retina display’s backlight to about 75 percent or less and do light work. I’ve found that if I amp up the brightness (which I prefer), battery life drops off quickly. And do any heavy lifting, such as Photoshop or video editing, and you’ll fall into the battery red zone sooner than you might expect to.
Design and weight: The physical design, thankfully, is the same. This is one beautiful laptop. It’s the new MacBook Air in every respect but name. The aging MacBook Air is now the penultimate exercise in minimalism, with the 12-inch MacBook the ultimate. That minimalism translates to a featherweight design. I like it because it’s as light as an iPad. Oh, and the image quality of the Retina display lives up to Apple’s high standards.
Keyboard: The keyboard stays the same too. Not everyone will take to the keyboard because it has very little travel – which means the keys can be stiff. I like the keyboard and don’t think the typing experience is overly hard on the fingers, but the lack of travel could be a deal-breaker for some people.
Pursuit of perfection – but not there yet
USB-C problems: I’ve found the tiny, single USB-C connector on the MacBook to be less than perfect. First of all, it’s not the the wonderful MagSafe connector that my MacBook Pro has. It’s just a plain USB-C connector. So, pulling the charging cable out of the USB-C connector can be a tug of war sometimes. Maybe that’s the price you must pay for minimalism. I can live with that. But compound that with another USB-C-related problem and the new connector gets a little less easy to live with.
The issue is centered on Apple's USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter ($79). The 3-port adapter allows you to use the single USB-C port on the MacBook to connect the charging cable, another external USB device, and an HDMI monitor simultaneously. Unfortunately, when connecting via HDMI, my monitor will not power down and go to sleep when plugged into Apple’s adapter on the 2016 MacBook.
Ironically, the monitor works just fine when hooked up to a non-Apple USB-C Adapter. And, by the way, the monitor also works perfectly when connected to the the HDMI port on my MacBook Pro.
Price: In addition to the $1,299 version, sporting a 256GB flash drive, which I tested, a 512GB version with a slightly faster 1.2GHz m5 processor is priced at $1,599. And retailers like Best Buy are still selling the first-generation version for as little as $999 new.
All in all, a great laptop. You would have to pry it from my cold, dead hands before I’d give it up.