avatarby Nirave GondhiaMay 13, 20172 comments
8.3

12-inch Macbook 2016: The Bottom Line

Tablets may attempt to masquerade as a portable computing machine - and Apple's iPad Pro is certainly no stranger to this - but the 12-inch Macbook delivers the power of a computer in the form factor and weight of a tablet. It's exactly what the mobile professional world has been crying out for, but it has its compromises.

Positives

Incredibly light & thin
Full size keyboard
Excellent trackpad
Stunning display
Good battery life

Negatives

Performance isn't quite up to other Macs
Battery life not as good as other Macs
Expensive for what you get

Remember the days when laptops were cumbersome and required being tethered to the wall for most of the day? The advancements in smartphone and general technology have inevitably made their way to the PC market and Apple’s Macbook 12 is just one of the new breed of ultrabooks helping to redefine a traditionally-grandfathered industry.

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Yet, like many Apple products, the 12-inch Macbook 2016 has its shortcomings and the question still remains about whether it really is all conquering. Apple’s updated 12-inch Macbook for 2016 brings a faster processor and better storage performance, extra battery life and an impossibly-thin design but is this enough to justify it’s high price and obvious compromises? Or should you go for the redesigned Macbook Pro, which brings a lot more power and a new touch bar, while being slimmer and more portable than previous versions of the Macbook Pro.

Let’s find out in this, our Apple 12-inch Macbook 2016 review.

Buy the 12-inch Macbook 2016 now

Design

12-inch Macbook 2016 review TabTimes

For Apple, the company finds itself in an impossible-situation, having cast its midas touch over the laptop, smartphone and tablet in spectacular fashion. While innovation does eventually stagnate, consumers still expect a new hero product ever year and while only offering a few minor upgrades in the 12-inch Macbook 2016, the company must live up to the inevitable hype.

Our Space Grey review model definitely looks the part and is very much a Macbook through-and-through and there’s no denying that this is one stylish and beautiful product. Instead, it’s the 12-inch Macbook 2016’s limitations that stand out with the lone USB-C port the most obvious of these.

12-inch Macbook 2016 review TabTimes

Like the original 12-inch Macbook of last year, this year’s model does come with some compromises but for the right type of user, these may not seem like compromises. The original Macbook Air offered only a single port – before Apple eventually added a second – and the 12-inch Macbook does the same with its lone USB-C port.

In order to create a supremely thin machine, Apple opted to drop its patented MagSafe power connector, USB ports and the memory card reader in favour of USB Type-C – which it has had a hand in developing – for both power and connectivity. With just one port however, you’re definitely going to need an adapter – the Huawei MateDock pictured below is definitely a great option – if you want to simultaneously charge and connect a single peripheral.

12-inch Macbook 2016 with Huawei MateDock adapter

Macbook with Huawei MateDock adapter

You'll need to watch your footing or your precious Mac may end up in a heap on the floor

All Mac users appreciate MagSafe as tripping over the charging cable didn’t mean your Mac would take a tumble; instead, the connector would just disconnect from your Mac. With the Macbook 12 however, the USB-C plug is a very snug fit and, unless it loosens up over time, the cable won’t come out inadvertently meaning you’ll need to watch your footing or your precious Mac may end up in a heap on the floor.

With all that being said, it’s worth remembering one thing – if you need to connect multiple displays and lots of peripherals, you probably won’t be looking at the 12-inch Macbook 2016 anyway. However, if you’re a traveller or need to work on the move, this could be the perfect machine for you.

12-inch Macbook 2016 review TabTimes

After the USB Type-C the second feature that polarises opinion is the Macbook’s keyboard, which is super-shallow thanks to the Macbook’s design., despite its firm keys that offer tactile feedback. Apple has designed butterfly switches that are thinner and firmer than the scissor switches used in other Macbook keyboards and the typing experience is certainly a bit of an acquired taste.

Adjusting to the keyboard will definitely be difficult for most Mac users but if you’ve used the new Magic Keyboard 2, you’ll find the experience a lot easier to transition to. The reduced travel makes the keys less accurate to use and the keys themselves sound very different to the keys we’re used to with the Macbook, no doubt due to the different type of key being used.

12-inch Macbook 2016 review TabTimes

While it may be polarising, Apple deserves a lot of credit for being able to cram a full-size keyboard onto a laptop that’s just over 11 inches wide, and in doing so, also offer larger keys than any other Macbook. With little space between the keys however, you can often find yourself mishitting or entirely missing keys as it becomes difficult to discern between individual letters.

The more we used this machine, the more we acclimatised with the new keyboard and after a few hours of typing, the words definitely flow

The more we used this machine, the more we acclimatised with the new keyboard and after a few hours of typing, the words definitely flow. Now while other journalists have claimed that touch typing isn’t the same, I personally found that after a few weeks of use, speed, accuracy and all-round typing feel as good as the Macbook Pro 15 with Retina Display. Having used Apple’s Magic Keyboard 2 for the past few months, the keyboard on the 12-inch Macbook is definitely easier to get used to than if I had been using the Macbook Pro keyboard so your exact experience will depend largely upon what you use at the moment.

12-inch Macbook 2016 review TabTimes with MateDock

Alongside a full size keyboard in a tiny form factor, Apple has managed to cram in a large trackpad that occupies most of the space beneath the keyboard. Much like last year’s Macbook, it is a Force Touch trackpad that doesn’t actually click but gives the simulation of doing so.

To keep the Macbook as thin as possible, the trackpad uses electrical pulses to provide vibration feedback that tricks your brain into feeling a click. The Force Touch trackpad also lets you press a little harder to register a deep click that offers different features in different apps; from adding calendar entries and dropping a pin in maps to pop up dictionary definitions and previewing links in Safari, there’s a lot you can do with the additional deep click.

The trackpad is large and an absolute pleasure to use; despite being completely different to the traditional trackpad offered by Apple, the experience is quintessentially one and the same: the most responsive and pleasing trackpad available on any laptop.

Overall, it’s clear that Apple had to make some changes in order to achieve the ultra-slim profile of the 12-inch Macbook 2016 and the question of whether this is for you very much depends on how you use your Mac. For the power-user, the compromises in hardware ports and processor are likely to be too much to use the Macbook 2016 as a daily driver but for the average user, this could yet be the perfect machine.

And if you travel, this is probably the ultimate portable form; having travelled with the 12-inch Macbook 2016 for four weeks, I can say with conviction that this machine was made for working on the move.

Display

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What differentiates the 12-inch Macbook 2016 from the Macbook Air range is the display: it’s incredible. It comes with Apple’s Retina Display – which is no surprise given it’s been around for years on the iPhone – and goes a long way to explain why Apple hasn’t bought the Retina Display to the Macbook Air range.

At the moment, the Macbook with Retina Display is only available in a 12-inch model that offers 2340×1440 pixels resolution at a density of 226 pixels per inch. Compared to the 227ppi and 220ppi of the Macbook Air and Macbook Pro respectively, the 12-inch Macbook 2016 display seems to be as sharp – if not sharper – and offers outstanding colours with excellent backlight brightness.

In particular, the auto-adjusting backlight – which is unique to the Macbook – is very accurate and manually tweaking the brightness isn’t needed anywhere near as often as on Apple’s other laptops. Like other MacBooks, you’re able to adjust the resolution and opting for the ‘More Scaled’ option allows you to cram even more into the tiny screen of the 12-inch Macbook.

Overall, the Macbook display is definitely one of the reasons to buy this over something like the Macbook Air and while it looks better than the latter, we’d have liked to have seen Apple push the boundaries by creating something that’s actually bezel-less like Dell have with the XPS 13. This minor gripe – although you can’t really call it that – aside, the Macbook display is fantastic and an absolute joy to use.

Performance

12-inch Macbook 2016The headphone jack is the only other port on the 12-inch Macbook 2016

There’s two base models available for the 12-inch Macbook and we’re using the upper of these two, which comes equipped with a 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m5 processor, 512GB on-board flash storage and 8GB of DDR3 RAM as standard. The lower model drops the processor and storage to a 1.1GHz Core m3 and 256GB SSD respectively. Running on OSX El Capitan out of the box with an upgrade to macOS Sierra incoming, it offers the familiar Mac experience that is the same across all other current Macs.

12-inch-macbook-review-TabTimes-about-this-mac

On paper, these specs certainly don’t stand up the power house processors used inside the Macbook Pro range but like the rest of the Macbook, it’s best not to judge it too quickly. Most people (tech journalists included) do not need all the power offered by the Macbook Pro range – there are exceptions to this, for example, if you do a lot of video editing – and while the 12-inch Macbook may seem limited on paper, it’s more than capable of providing a day’s usage for most users.

The first Macbook to ship with Intel’s new ‘Skylake’ processor, the 12-inch Macbook 2016 definitely makes the most of the improved performance and battery life offered by the latest chipset. With no moving parts – and hence, no need for a fan – the processor helps to prevent the Macbook from overheating and you’ll only find it gets warm, when left to charge on a soft surface, such as a sofa or a bed.

12-inch-macbook-review-TabTimes-geekbench-3-benchmark

Running the Core m5 processor through GeekBench 3, we get a single core score of 2834 and a multi-core score of 5790. By way of comparison, the Macbook Pro 15 scores 3888 and 14027, while the Macbook Air 3233 and 6870 respectively. There’s no denying that the Macbook Pro far outweighs the 12-inch Macbook but the comparison against the Air shows the performance differences are minimal at best. Compared to the scores of 2642 and 4465 for last year’s Macbook, it’s clear that this year’s model is definitely a welcome improvement.

In actual day-to-day usage, the machine is agile and nimble in almost all tasks but does slow down somewhat when multiple Chrome tabs are open. Google’s browser is known for being a battery hog on macOS and we’d personally recommend using Safari to eek out the extra battery life when you need it. Where you notice a sharp drop in battery life is with video editing and gaming but if you need either of these on a daily basis, you’re unlikely to be looking at the 12-inch Macbook anyway.

Battery Life

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One of the key reasons to buy the 12-inch Macbook 2016 (or even the Macbook Air for that matter) is battery life and with every announcement, Apple goes to great lengths to focus on just how long the battery can last.

When using Safari, the battery life is around 7 to 8 hours while using Chrome knocks off about 2 to 3 hours from this claim.

The company claims that this year’s model offers 10 hours battery when web browsing (no doubt thanks to the better battery consumption offered by the Intel Skylake CPU) and for the most part, it delivers on this claim. When using Safari, the battery life is around 7 to 8 hours while using Chrome knocks off about 2 to 3 hours from this claim.

Most of the time, the battery will last a whole working day without needing a charge, including having applications such as Mail, Slack and Google Drive open. Where the 12-inch Macbook 2016 does begin to struggle is when opening multiple tabs on Chrome which – alongside video editing or gaming – is one of the reasons the battery life will reduce sharply.

MacBook 3

For almost all users, the Macbook is perfect for general daily work needs and unless video editing and gaming are an absolute necessity, the Macbook is perfect. Whether it’s for every day use either in your office or on the move, while on a long flight or when travelling, the battery life offered by the Macbook should be good enough for almost all users.

Of course, if 10 hours doesn’t quite cut it for you then you’ll probably want the 15 hours battery life offered by the Macbook Air but to do so would mean you wouldn’t get quite the same profile and style offered by the 12-inch Macbook. Instead, we’d recommend carrying the charger around as Apple has made a very welcome improvement here; the switch to USB-C means you longer have the bulky MagSafe charger in the box and instead have a USB-C plug that’s about the size of the iPad charger alongside a separate USB cable. As such, carrying the charger for your Macbook no longer requires a lot of space.

Price

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The 12-inch Macbook 2016 is available in two base model, with the chief differences being in the amount of storage and type of processor. Like most Apple computers, there are optional extras you can upgrade to – including a 1.2GHz Intel Core m7 processor – but these are limited and only available from Apple. The base models are:

Price$1,299 / £1,049 / CA$1549 / €1,449$1,599 / £1,299 / CA$1549 / €1,799
Processor: TypeIntel Core m3 (Dual-Core)Intel Core m5 (Dual-Core)
Processor: Speed1.10GHz1.20GHz
Storage:256GB PCIe-based flash512GB PCIe-based flash
Upgrades:Optional Upgrade to 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core m7
RAM:8GB (1866MHz) LPDDR3
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 515
Colors:Space Grey, Silver, Gold, Rose Gold

On paper, the specifications are not the best on the market but to judge the Macbook on its price would be to forget a key factor: this is an incredible feat of laptop engineering that weighs as much as a tablet does. In fact, on more than one occasion, I’ve had to recheck my backpack because I couldn’t feel the traditional weight of a laptop: it’s that light!

Conclusion

As a Mac user of many years, the 12-inch Macbook definitely requires a compromise in the way I work. For example, my 15-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display powers a two screen set up and the Macbook 2016 is incapable of doing that, especially as none of Apple’s official adapters currently offer DisplayPort functionality. Ironically, Google makes a USB Type-C to DisplayPort adapter that is perfect for this task, but with the limitations of a single port, the Macbook doesn’t stack up to my particular usage.

Yet, I love the 12-inch Macbook 2016 a lot more than I expected to.

Yet, I love the 12-inch Macbook 2016 a lot more than I expected to. While I adore my Macbook Pro for all the prowess it offers, it’s large and cumbersome and I’ve been waiting for a capable-yet-portable Macbook for years. Would I use the 12-inch Macbook during a major trade show? Considering I’ll probably need to edit video, then no. This one use case aside, the 12-inch Macbook is the machine I take with me almost everywhere I go.

However, with Apple now introducing slimmer, more portable Macbook Pros that offer more flexibility with the number of ports and more power than this ultraportable, it’s difficult to recommend the 12-inch Macbook 2016, but it’s worth keeping in mind that you’ll need a hefty budget to be able to afford the new Macbook Pros.

Tablets may attempt to masquerade as a portable computing machine – and Apple’s iPad Pro is certainly no stranger to this – but the 12-inch Macbook delivers the power of a computer in the form factor and weight of a tablet. It’s exactly what the mobile professional world has been crying out for.

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What do you think about the Apple Macbook 2016 and is this the Mac you’ve been waiting for, or is the refreshed Macbook Pro more your style?? Give us your vote in the poll and let us know your views in the comments below! Stay tuned as we have plenty of other Macbook coverage coming up, including comparisons against some of the latest Windows-powered ultrabooks to hit the market!

Buy the 12-inch Macbook 2016 now
  • Viswanath_M

    Awesome Gr8 review……Thanks

  • Great review !!