Probably the best-looking laptop you’ve laid your eyes on.
Apple recently introduced its second-generation MacBook.
No, it’s not an update to the powerful-yet-portable MacBook Pro, or the highly competent, compact MacBook Air. The latest Apple lappy, fitting to its ~minimalist aesthetic~, is just called “MacBook.”
For the uninitiated, the MacBook is probably the most attractive laptop ever. But it’s for a very specific kind of computer-er (and a very particular kind of budget).
Aside from a new rose gold model (which is really just PINK), the updated 2016 MacBook is superficially the same as last year’s, but there are a few key improvements to its speed and battery life. Apple loaned me a review unit to take its new souped-up MacBook to the limit.
So, should you buy this laptop? Should you buy a laptop at all? Read on.
The MacBook’s new chip is called the Intel Core M3.
It’s faster than the last generation and has itty bitty transistors. Smaller transistors = less energy = less heat + longer battery life.
There’s also a new graphics card called the Intel HD Graphics 515 that delivers 25% faster graphics performance, according to Apple.
*I didn’t get to review the MacBook when it first came out, so I’m going to express more of my feels on the ~MacBook as a concept~ here. If you’re already familiar with the MacBook, skip to the end.
Let’s talk about the MacBook’s biggest feature: how small it is.
At 13-millimeters thick (thin?), the MacBook is the most lightweight computer in Apple’s lineup. Its form factor is best described as sleek and kind of…sexy, which I realize is no way to describe hardware but is pretty undeniable.
The space gray model is hands down my favorite. It’s like the Batman BeginsBatmobile, but a COMPUTER.
The 2016 MacBook is almost nonexistent in comparison. With the lid closed, it’s about the same thickness as a pencil.
The screen is 12 inches diagonally, which is a nostalgic size for me.
My first-ever computer was a 12.1-inch iBook G4 that I mostly used to update my kick-ass Xanga blog (RIP) and feed my Neopets free omelettes from the Tyrannian Plateau.
It was an all-white, 5-pound thing of beauty that rocked a whole six hours of battery life.
Anyhow, I digress.
Despite the fact that the MacBook’s display is 12 inches, you can make it feel like 13 with a simple settings tweak.
Go to System Preferences > Displays, change the Resolution to Scaled, and select More Space.
I know. I have too many tabs open.
The laptop isn’t just physically slim, it’s ridiculously light, too.
Every time I pick it up, I get a strong urge to chuck it across the room as hard as I can — but I won’t because it’s too beaut.
The MacBook weighs a little over 2 pounds (for comparison, the 13-inch Air is nearly 3 pounds, and the 11-inch Air is about 2.5).
It’s quiet as hell.
No fans, just pure, silent bliss.
It can handle processor-intensive applications with ease.
I live in Photoshop for my job. I make GIFs and edit images all day, every day.
My Chrome app, a known memory hog, has 10 open tabs at any given time. If you use this browser, you know: It is not forgiving when you’ve got multiple tabs going on.
Tech managing editor John Paczkowski found Photoshop to be “a little pokey” — so I decided to run some tests.
I opened two browsers, Spotify, QuickTime, an application called GIFBrewery, and, finally Photoshop. I opened a big, high-res photo, and blurred, dodged, then lassoed the heck out of it.
The 1.1GHz processor was more than proficient. Intel says the chip can reach up to 2.2 GHz speeds (what they call “turbo boost”), if the computer’s workload demands it. I didn’t experience *any* lag.
The Retina screen is stunning.
“Retina” is Apple-ese for pixels packed so close together your eye can’t detect them. Text looks smoother, colors look richer, and video looks more high-def.
Currently, all new Macs except for the MacBook Air have Retina screens, including the 13-inch MacBook Pro which, BTW, is the same price as the MacBook.
Here’s what surprised me the most: The speakers sound damn good.
MacBook Airs are notorious for crappy sound systems. This is not that.
I watched the Game of Thrones premiere and blasted Lemonade on the MacBook. I was floored by the loud, full-bodied sound coming out of the speakers. It wowed even my stodgy, hard-to-impress mefo.
There are downsides to downsizing.
Apple had to make some sacrifices for size, including limiting the MacBook’s ports.
The new MacBook has one headphone jack (thank G ) and one USB port, but it’s a weird type of USB, called USB-C, that few other devices use.
USB-C is interesting because it allows you to charge the laptop, connect it to a TV, and sync your phone through the same port (just not all at once).
If you take away only one thing from this review, let it be this: One port is not enough.
Because the updated 2016 MacBook is super fast, I was intent on making it my main work computer — and so began my journey into the dizzying world of adapters and cables.
My job requires a lot of multitasking, and I rely on an external monitor to see all of my open windows at once. I managed to find a DisplayPort to USB-C cable — but because I didn’t think things through, I couldn’t charge my laptop and plug it into the monitor simultaneously.
This is the craziness that my setup now looks like, *not* including my extra USB mini-hub + SD card reader.
Everywhere my laptop goes, so does this small army of cables and adapters. If USB-C is the future of Macs/computing, then I guess the future of computing looks a lot like a…cable monster?
I initially ordered this $35 Belkin hub with two USB-C and two regular USB ports. Belkin is a great brand, and I thought I was in the clear. Turns out, this piece of crap DOESN’T SUPPORT PASSTHROUGH CHARGING. I left a 1-star review and returned it the same day.
Determined not to be fooled by the myriad of cheapish hubs on Amazon again, I begrudgingly went to the Apple Store and bought an official $80 (!!) multiport adapter, plus a new HDMI cable to plug into my external, so I am now $106 down. 🙁
It’s a shame, because now that the MacBook is actually powerful enough to do real work, it’s not set up to handle a real work environment.
Apple designers also had to slim down the keyboard so that it’s nearly flush with the laptop.
This may just take some getting used to, but I type words all day and am very picky about keyboards.
The keys are shallow and a little sticky. It feels more like banging on a tablet screen or using a stubborn old PC keyboard with too many Cheetos crumbs stuck in its crevices. If you like bouncier keys that give a lot of feedback, you might not like this keyboard.
This is more a matter of personal preference, but if you have F.lux installed on this Mac (or any Mac with Retina) you’ll get reduced battery life.
F.lux is a program that reduces the blue light on your screen when it detects the sun has set in your location. Some studies show that blue light harms our sleep, which is why Apple introduced Night Shift mode on iOS.
A word of caution if you love F.lux and live an untethered life: The problem with F.lux on Retina screens is that it’s a real battery drain. Instead of the roughly nine and a half hours I got without it, the laptop lasted barely six.
*F.lux told me that the most recent 10.11 update broke f.lux, but a fix is on the way. The bug seems to be fixed in the latest 10.11.15 beta.
But if you plan on using the MacBook at your desk, you should be fine.
This computer wants us to live wire-free, and if you use your laptop as just a laptop, then a single USB-C port is fine.
It imagines a world where we AirDrop all of our photos, connect our keyboards and mice via Bluetooth, and automatically back up our phones to iCloud. It doesn’t want to be a home for our photos or our backups.
Cables, pfft. Who needs ‘em!
But the truth is, the MacBook is not ergonomic. No laptop is. And if you’re hoping to save your craning neck from inevitable pain, you’re going to need a monitor or at least a good laptop stand.
And a monitor is a peripheral that — at least for now — needs a cable.
And if you take pictures with a point-and-shoot or DSLR, you’re going to need some extra accessories to upload those photos, too.
What about the Air?
The MacBook Air is significantly cheaper than the MacBook, which starts at $1,299, while the 13-inch Air starts at $999 (and $899 for the 11 inch).
The 13-inch MacBook Air is thicker by just a hair, but because its screen is bigger, it’s heavier by half a pound. The Air is still a very good computer. (I’ve used one since 2010 and have never missed the CD drive.) Both laptops ship with 8 GB of memory and 512 GB of flash storage.
The Air is, quite frankly, due for an update any day now. It’s running an older chip and graphics card. It doesn’t have the new Retina display. But it does have the longest battery life of the bunch.
If you’re due for an upgrade and think an Air is your pick, then WAIT. There may be new models announced in June. Previous generations will probably get a price drop and the new Airs will probably get some powerful new tech.
If you want an extremely portable, proficient computer, the MacBook is a good bet.
For the first few days with the laptop, I kept thinking I accidentally left it at home because my backpack weighed nothing. It also fits in all of my purses, which is not a thing I need in my life right now, but if I ever stop biking to work, then I probably will in the future. Plus, it’s legitimately the most beautiful computer I’ve laid my eyes on.
If the iPad isn’t powerful enough and you don’t need something as performant as the MacBook Pro (or you really love pink), go for the MacBook. If you want to save $300, go for the Air.
There are also some great PCs with similar portability and power — but a significantly lower price tag, like the hybrid HP Pavilion 12-b096ms ($549) and the slightly heavierASUS ZenBook UX305CA-UHM1 ($599) or Dell XPS 13 ($800).