Apple MacBook (2016) – ComputerShopper.com
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Introduction, Design & Features
Way back in 2008, when Apple first introduced the MacBook Air, it was met with mixed reviews, largely for its single USB port—but also its price. Later, a 2010 MacBook Air redesign turned the Air into one of the best (and most often emulated) hardware designs in the whole history of consumer electronics.
Flash that idea forward to 2015, when Apple announced its redesigned Apple MacBook, a roughly 2-pound laptop that was far thinner and lighter than the Air and…well, also had a single USB port—this time in the form of a cutting-edge USB Type-C connector. It, too, was greeted with a fair bit of criticism for its single port (not counting the audio jack), as well as its input devices that, despite some fancy haptic feedback, seemed to sacrifice comfort and usability for the sake of maximum slimness.
Now here we are in mid-2016, and USB Type-C ports are now far more common, making their way into smartphones, a few tablets, and Windows laptops such as the Dell XPS 13 and Dell XPS 15. In this modern device landscape, USB Type-C is clearly the port of the future, allowing for charging, high-speed data transfer, and shunting around 4K video, all at the same time.
So, what has Apple done with its 2016 MacBook refresh? Well, it has added one of the two things we’d wished for, stepping up to current-generation Intel Core M processors, in the form of a Core m3 chip in the $1,299 entry-level model we tested. This leads to better performance, which is important if you’re going to rely on the MacBook as your main system. The solid-state drive also gets a speed boost, and a Rose Gold chassis (the color you’ll see in our photos) is now an option, along with silver, gold, and Space Gray. But—our key quibble from last time—there is still only a single USB Type-C port, which means that you’ll need an adapter to plug in nearly all existing devices. And if you want to plug anything in while you’re also charging your laptop, you’ll need some kind of hub.
If you’re looking for the slimmest, lightest laptop running Mac OS X (now in “El Capitan” trim), and you don’t do much beyond basic productivity and some light media editing, the 2016 MacBook is still a solid choice, provided you are okay with the shallow keyboard and the touch pad that no longer has a physical click. We’d strongly suggest taking a stroll to your local Apple Store and trying out both input devices before buying.
But the single USB Type-C port is still a pain point. And if you’re at all OS-agnostic, you can easily find a few Windows-based alternatives that are just as thin and light, with larger screens and better keyboards.
Apple still wins hands-down on battery life, though. If you need an extremely light machine that can last about 12 hours between charges, there isn’t much competition. The only other laptop we’ve tested to date that comes even close in this class is Apple’s own late-2015 MacBook Air (the 13-inch-screened version), which turned in a time of nearly 15 hours on our battery test.
There’s no denying the MacBook’s attractive, impressively thin design. Whether it’s sitting dead-center on a roomy desk, or perched on your knees during a cramped commute, the MacBook is about as eye-catching as laptops get.
That’s especially true of the new Rose Gold-hued review unit Apple sent our way for testing. It’s certainly not for everyone; the color on this unit seems to shift depending on the light conditions, looking coppery in dim light and skewing quickly toward pink as the lights go up. But if you’re looking for a premium machine that will stand out at a trendy coffee-shop, this is it—at least until a few other well-heeled caffeine junkies splurge for one as well. It’s available in the more traditional Mac colors of gold, Space Gray, and silver as well.
The MacBook’s dimensions and weight haven’t changed since the 2015 model, but at 0.52 inch at its thickest point and weighing just 2.03 pounds, the 12-inch MacBook is still an impressive feat of engineering. It’s not alone on that front anymore, though, as LG’s Gram line of laptops, which debuted after the 2015 MacBook did, are about as thin and light. That includes, impressively, the LG Gram 15, which is just a few hairs heavier than the MacBook (at 2.16 pounds) despite its much larger 15-inch-class screen. Also, the 13.3-inch Samsung Notebook 9 we reviewed a few weeks before the 2016 MacBook weighs even less, at 1.8 pounds. That makes the 12-inch MacBook a little less impressive than it was a year ago. But make no mistake: It’s still among the thinnest and lightest laptops around.
Speaking of the 12-inch screen, the combination of edge-to-edge glass, a 2,304×1,440 native resolution, and IPS technology for excellent viewing angles come together as one of the MacBook’s best features. The bezels are also fairly slim, without having to relocate the Webcam from its top-of-the-bezel perch, as Dell did with its Dell XPS 13. Still, we’d like to see something better than a 480p camera for FaceTime chats on a laptop that starts at $1,299.
Beyond that are the much-talked-about input devices, which are also the same as on last year’s model. The “Force Touch” trackpad incorporates pressure sensors and haptic feedback, forgoing an actual physical click. This takes some getting used to, but it’s at least a decent alternative to the typical touch pad. Plus, you get the benefit of Apple’s Mac OS-specific pressure sensitivity, which lets you tap or press to select an item, then press harder to trigger a second action. For example, force-clicking on a document in Finder opens a preview of it, or on an address in Safari brings up a map. Or you can press harder or softer to adjust forward or rewind speed in music or movies in QuickTime.
It takes some practice to learn not to press too hard when selecting an item (i.e., to avoid force-clicking by mistake), but once you get the hang of it, it’s clever and convenient. And in a general sense, cursor control is as spot-on here as ever, feeling smoother and more precise than on pretty much any Windows-based laptop’s pad.
Using the backlit keyboard is a unique experience, in that key travel is very shallow, but the feedback is pleasingly tactile. Keys depress with a satisfying feel and sound, and there’s no keyboard flex. The travel in particular (or lack of it) feels off-putting at first, but the unique feel makes you want to keep typing. After a while, we got used to it, though we never learned to love it. It’s worlds better than typing on a touch screen or the cramped keys on a typical 10-inch 2-in-1 convertible. But we much preferred the more traditional keyboard feel of Samsung’s Notebook 9, or for that matter, the 13-inch MacBook Air. In the case of the Notebook 9, that laptop is larger, so there’s more room for an expanded key layout. But it’s just as slim as the 2016 MacBook is, so we know that better travel is possible in a half-inch-thick laptop.
As noted earlier, the MacBook has a single USB Type-C port, housed on the left edge, near the back. This also doubles as the power jack, which means you can’t charge the MacBook and use a wired peripheral or external storage at the same time without some kind of adapter. Apple will be happy to sell these adapters to you, but they aren’t included in the box. USB Type-C is far more common today than it was a year ago, but it’s still nascent on the peripherals front; most stuff ships with an ordinary USB Type-A connector. We don’t want Apple to ditch the port altogether, by any means, but considering that the power pack also uses this connector, it’s cumbersome in practice that the company didn’t see fit to add a second USB Type-C in this refresh. HP, in contrast, will include three in its upcoming HP Spectre 13.
One place where the physical ports haven’t been compromised for thinness is in audio. You still get a standard headphone jack on the right edge, also near the back. So, at least, you won’t have to resort to Bluetooth headphones or speakers.
Components & Options
Apple sent us the $1,299 entry-level MacBook for review, which is built around a dual-core, 6th-Generation “Skylake” Intel Core m3 processor. That chip has a 1.1GHz base clock (and can boost as high as 2.2GHz for short periods), and comes backed by 8GB of RAM. Also under the Rose Gold hood is a 256GB PCI Express-bus-based solid-state drive, which Apple says also gets a speed boost over last year’s model.
We don’t have oranges-to-oranges drive-performance numbers to compare, but using the Black Magic drive testing app on our 2016 MacBook, we saw sequential-read speeds of about 930MB per second and sequential writes of about 670MB per second. That’s speedy compared to most boot drives, even if we’ve seen much faster performance from the fastest internal drives. Samsung’s SSD 950 Pro, for instance, is an M.2 SSD that roughly doubled those speed numbers in our testing.
If you want more in the way of performance and storage, you can also opt for a Core m5 model of the MacBook, with a 512GB SSD, that sells for $1,599. And you can step up to a Core m7 processor atop that model for an extra $150 (total: $1,749). Unless you need lots of space for programs and media, the $1,299 model will be the best fit for most users, and should be sufficient for general productivity and media playback. We applaud Apple for not stepping down to 4GB of RAM.
Still, $1,299 is a tad expensive for what you get. Unless you place a serious premium on the pixel-dense screen, you can get better general performance from a MacBook Air or light Windows laptops like Samsung’s Notebook 9, both at around $1,000.
Apple MacBook (2016) – ComputerShopper.com