Remember the days when laptops of all kinds were cumbersome, difficult to transport, and required being next to a wall plug for most of the day? With the advancements in smartphone and general technology design, it was inevitable that the PC market would follow and Apple’s Macbook 12 is just one of the devices helping to redefine a traditionally-grandfathered industry.
Yet, like many Apple products, it does have its shortcomings and the question still remains about whether the 12-inch Macbook really is all conquering, or whether the Macbook Pro refresh that’s rumoured to come later this year is the one to wait for. Is style and design worth the compromise in specs or will the rumoured refresh bring a streamlined Macbook Pro that offers the design of the Macbook with the specs of the Pro?
As a Macbook Pro user of 5 years, these are the questions I’m setting out to answer in the full review in a couple of weeks, but ahead of this, let’s take a look at some first impressions of this sleek and svelte machine.
There’s no denying one thing – the design of the Macbook is simply outstanding. The Macbook range has traditionally been well designed but the 12-inch Macbook is undoubtedly the best of the bunch. In recent years, the choice for would-be Mac users has been between the under-powered but graceful Macbook Air, and the Macbook Pro, which offers premium specs but in a more generous profile.
My first Mac was an 11-inch air and through the years, I moved up to the 13-inch Macbook Pro, then the Retina version of the same until finally, the 2015 Macbook Pro 15 with Retina Display. I expected to find the 12-inch Macbook a drop down but actually, the reduced size coupled with a Retina Display seems to fix the biggest issue with the Macbook Air: the display, which had never received the Retina treatment.
Force Touch trackpad and keyboard
With a large reduction in size, there are some major changes and these kick off with the keyboard. The new keyboard is a lot more compact, there’s very little spacing between the keys, and very little travel. The Macbook Pro offers an almost majestic typing experience and my biggest concern was that the smaller Macbook keyboard wouldn’t live up to the same standards.
As it turns out, it takes a lot of getting used to but it actually does, at least for me. Whether you can adjust to the Macbook keyboard will very much depend on you but I can safely say that, having typed this entire piece on the new keyboard, at the same speed as (if not faster than) on my Macbook, it’s most certainly not a problem for me.
The reason that Apple have been able to make the Macbook so impossibly thin is the pressure-sensitive Force Touch trackpad, which simulates the clicking motion of a regular trackpad using micro vibration motors but doesn’t actually move.
The Force Touch trackpad also brings a host of new features, including:
- Rename labels on apps and files
- Preview files and calendar dates
- Click on any date, email or phone number to create a new event or contact
- Pressure sensitive zoom in Maps
- Look up the definition of any word
- Show all windows from an app on the dock
- Preview web page for a link (only available on Safari)
- Reveal contact details in FaceTime or Message
- Pressure sensitive drawing
Is the Force Touch trackpad a force to be reckoned with? It’s a pretty simple answer; yes. The regular trackpad on the Mac is one of the best on a portable computer and the added pressure-sensitive features in the Force Touch trackpad simply add to the overall experience.
Will you use all of the features? Like most Apple products, probably not, but a few that I personally already use is the ability to create contacts or calendar events by force touching relevant content, the ability to show all windows from an app on the dock and the ability to preview web links in Safari. Although some of the Force features were present in previous versions of OS X, using the trackpad means you no longer need to remember the relevant keyboard shortcut and is just a much simpler implementation.
By far the biggest issue for me is the hardware, or lack of it. Macbook Air users will certainly find the dearth of ports easy to adjust to but as a Macbook Pro user, dropping from a plethora of ports – MagSafe, USB, microSD card, HDMI and micro DisplayPort – to a single USB Type-C port is definitely a large adjustment.
Without doubt, if you’re after a portable replacement for the Macbook Pro with Retina but often connect peripherals to your Macbook, the 12-inch isn’t for you. With a single USB Type-C port – which is also used for charging the Macbook – you’ll almost certainly be buying Apple’s $79 adapter, which allows you to charge and connect a regular USB and HDMI port at the same time.
Apple’s accessory is definitely lacking but a potential solution is Huawei’s MateDock, designed for the MateBook, which works in the same way. Although it’s not confirmed to work fully with the Macbook – we’re in the middle of testing this at the moment – it is a very credible alternative to Apple’s measly adapter.
The MateDock, pictured above and below, connects via a single USB-C cable and offers two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet, HDMI and VGA ports along with pass-through USB-C so you can charge your laptop at the same time. It’s not as sleek as the Macbook but is made from brushed aluminium and comes with a nifty carrying case as well. At a cost of $89, it’s an absolute steal compared to the cost of Apple’s adapter.
As it stands, the Macbook also offers a 3.5mm headphone jack alongside the single USB-C port and I’m honestly hoping the rumoured larger 13 and 15-inch models of the Macbook will offer at least a secondary USB Type-C port. If you do have a compatible accessory, it’s less bothersome but will still be a major adjustment if you’re a Macbook user.
Macbook 12 – Final Thoughts
With the 12-inch Macbook, Apple has set out to deliver a compromise between the two and it somewhat achieves this.
Like many other Macbook Pro users, there’s always been a need to have a more portable device with the familiarity of the Mac ecosystem and the 12-inch Macbook provides this by addressing some of the forthcomings of the Macbook Air. Yet, there’s plenty of compromises in the Macbook and plenty of testing still to do on the battery life, display, performance and hardware.
Is the Macbook 12 the perfect compromise? This remains to be seen but one thing is clear; after years of mostly the same Air and Pro releases, the 12-inch Macbook with Retina Display is exciting and, even if it’s only for travel and light work, this is a form factor that we can expect to be around for years to come.