The new MacBook is just that; a new MacBook. But for some reason, most of the reviews about it have been written by oblivious idiots (or "oblidiots") who can't seem to grasp it's simple concept. In it's third iteration, Apple slimmed down the laptop's body, added a retina display, and removed the fan. There's not much else going on with it, but it's come under more scrutiny than other Macs of recent years. Now that I've been using it for almost two months, I'd like to share my thoughts on what makes this a great new laptop and nothing more.
VS the iPad and Air
There are two things the new MacBook keeps getting compared to: an iPad and the MacBook Air. The first is simply asinine.
Folks, these are two different things. Being radically thin and light equates to nothing more than this being a radically thin and light notebook. It runs Mac OS X, has a keyboard, trackpad and offers a complete laptop experience. However, that doesn't seem to stop fools from saying:
"For any MacBook owner who has ever looked jealously at an iPad, Apple has made your dreams a reality."
"...it actually had more in common physically with the iPad lineup than with Apple’s notebooks"
I believe this stems from the same issue people have always had with the iPad, and that is they want to force it to be more than it is. From keyboard cases to external displays, folks can't seem to cope with the fact that their needs might still require a laptop. And now that Apple has made a tiny notebook in different colors, they see this as an answer to their dumb problem. If you're looking for an iPad in this Mac, then prepare to be disappointed. This is totally, and definitively a MacBook.
So how about this Mac compared to the time-tested MacBook Air? Since it's been Apple's coveted, ultra-portable machine since 2008, this one is a choice that comes down to what you value in a notebook. I don't like focusing on the negative, so I'll just dash through the benefits of both machines.
Neat stuff about the new MacBook
- 12" retina display
- No internal fan: it stays silent
- 8GB of RAM and dual-lane (i.e. fast) flash storage
- Features the Force Touch Trackpad and new "butterfly" keyboard*
- Weighs 2lb, has a tiny footprint, and comes in fun colors
I realize that most of the internet is in an uproar over the new keyboard. I'm specifically avoiding it here because it's a stupid thing to be pissed about. It's a simple equation: a thinner notebook means less space which means it's components need to get smaller and the keyboard is no exception. After a 30 second adjustment period, it feels pretty standard. Some will like it and some won't. But that's because it's a thing.
The MacBook Air is still cool because:
- Full powered Core i5 and i7 processors
- Classic keyboard design
- Full array of ports: MagSafe, USB3.0 (x2), and Thunderbolt
- Strong battery life: 10+ hours for the 11" and 12+ hours for the 13"
Now that you have the facts it should be easy to make a decision right? Well, money is always a factor. Every new toy from Apple comes with a price, and the new MacBook is no different starting at $1299 vs the $899 MacBook Air. On paper, you get better specs with the Air while the new Mac gives you a retina display, lighter weight, and smaller footprint. Decisions, decisions.
Force Touch Trackpad
I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the new trackpad technology here. Instead of the laptop's trackpad physically "clicking" in, it remains idle and uses sensors underneath to provide haptic feedback. So when you press it, you feel as if it's moving. It's a neat trick, but that's about it. To me, it feels like every other Apple trackpad and hasn't presented any benefit yet. Additionally, Apple now includes it with the MacBook Pro line so there's no need to touch on it (pardon the pun) as an exclusive here.
People act like the inclusion of only one USB C port on the new MacBook is a radical thing. It's not. At least not from a company that's notorious for slowly phasing out components that they know we won't be using in the near future. I'll agree that one port for both charging and everything else sounds cramped- and it is. But that's not to say you can't get used to it quickly. I soon realized that most of the time I'm sitting with my laptop I don't need to plug anything into it. And because this thing is literally stuffed with batteries, it can easily go 7-9 hours on a single charge. With that kind of juice, it's safe to say you won't be tethered to an outlet.
The funniest concept to me is that Apple is selling a variety of USB C adapters along with the new MacBook that handle everything from video out to full-sized, USB passthrough. To me, that's like saying, "This machine is the future of notebooks and you only need one port to do everything you need... but just in case we're wrong, buy these adapters."
But hey, when the MacBook Pro was revamped in 2012, all our ethernet, firewire and video needs called for adapters. It's the natural evolution of the Mac so don't get too hung up on it. If you want this Mac and need to plug things into it, buy the adapters.
Intel's Core M processor is used to power the new MacBook. You can read all the nerdy details about it here, but essentially it's an incredibly low voltage, dual-core CPU that only draws 5 watts of power. It's because of this chip's efficiency that Apple was able to create a Mac without a cooling fan.
It works surprisingly well. In the month I used it, I relied on it to power my desktop setup which includes dual displays, external hard drives, and other peripherals.
I ran everything from Microsoft Office to Parallels Desktop on it with fairly solid results. All the while the Mac never reached a temperature that felt too hot, which impressed me due to the whole no fan thing. But it's the same fan-less concept that slows things down under heavy load.
This is where we need to revisit the meaning of "compromise". Here are some things I've read from other's who have written about this machine:
- "This Mac has trouble running modern games..."
- "Don't expect much in terms of raw performance..."
- "When it comes to editing 4K video, my $6000 Mac Pro is much faster!"
That last one cracks me up every time. What is wrong with people? I was surprised that this Mac was able to even launch my virtual machines. I certainly wasn't expecting raw horsepower, and that's why I'm not writing about it's poor performance. I also wouldn't fault a professional, workstation-class, desktop-replacement for being too heavy. As my wife always says about technology , "it has to weigh something". You want a laptop with a retina display, no cooling fan, and is so thin you can barely see it? Well then guess what- it's probably not going to be that powerful now, is it!
The truth is that like every laptop, performance all comes down to the use case. If you're in need of a machine that can blaze through Final Cut Pro projects then you're going to be better suited with a MacBook Pro. For web browsing, office tasks and everyday computing needs, the new MacBook is great. And if you're willing to deal with low to mid settings, you can even play a few games on this thing.
What to expect
In closing, I keep thinking about this one statement: every product doesn't have to be for everyone. This is a new laptop from Apple. They didn't suddenly discontinue everything else they make and force you to buy this. It's aimed at middle-of-the-road use. Don't try to edit movies on it. Don't use it as a Handbrake encoder. That's stupid.
If you're considering the new MacBook, my advice would be to check it out in person. If you like it, buy it. If not, then pick another laptop.