The New MacBook Is Almost Perfect
Apple’s barely there, recently updated MacBook is *this* close to being the Ultimate Laptop.
When it comes to laptops, most people don’t need much space. A lot of our stuff — apps, photos, documents — can now be stored on the cloud. Most people don’t need serious computing power either, unless they’re editing videos or playing games. Many don’t even need a touchscreen, a notorious battery zapper and finger-grease magnet. If you’re a Netflix-watching, web-browsing, email-checking, and word-processing kind of human, all you really need is a keyboard and a nice screen, with a decent processor powering it all.
And that’s what makes the MacBook so good. It has a stunning, high-resolution display with a full-sized keyboard. It doesn’t have the oomph of a Pro — but what it lacks in performance, it makes up for in outta-this-world lightness and thinness, making it an ideal laptop for someone who’s always moving around. Plus, unlike an iPad, it can run desktop apps, like the full version of Photoshop, and it's much better for multitasking. On top of all that, it comes in rose gold (as well as gold, silver, and space gray, but my stance is clear). It’s the most indulgent, design-y, Apple-y computer on the market — and it’s *this* close to being perfect.
During Monday’s WWDC keynote, Apple announced that it was giving its 12-inch MacBook lineup, which arrives in stores today, a little boost.
The new 2017 MacBooks don’t look any different on the outside, but on the inside, they’re getting the next generation of Intel processors (Kaby Lake), faster drives (50% faster), support for twice as much memory (16GB of RAM, though it’ll cost ya), and, most exciting of all, an updated keyboard.
These upgrades address the last-generation MacBook’s two biggest problems: that it 1) sacrificed performance for lighter weight (it was only 2.03 pounds) and 2) had a horrible, sticky keyboard that made it hard to type. The 2017 MacBook is the same weight, but it’s zippier (Apple claims by 20%) than before, and it has bouncier keys that won’t totally destroy your fingers the way its old shallow keyboard did.
After a day and a half with the new model, it definitely feels like an upgrade.
The keys are more comfortable than the original. To make the MacBook as thin as it is, Apple developed a space-saving “butterfly mechanism” underneath big, flat keys that were less bouncy and took some getting used to. This year’s MacBook features the second generation of this mechanism — the same one that the 2016 MacBook Pro has — but somehow it feels a little stickier in this model.
It’s fast enough for running Slack and 19 tabs in Chrome simultaneously, before the system started slowing down (last year's Macbook could handle about 10 tabs before hiccuping). And I'm reviewing the base 1.2GHz Core m3 model with 8GB on board. I did some Photoshop editing and the laptop handled that quite well, without any hiccups. But only time will tell if those speeds keep up.
In my testing, which was primarily with the energy-hogging Chrome browser, the Macbook’s battery performance clocked in at around eight hours, with brightness set between three and four clicks from the top. Apple gets 10 hours in its web-browsing battery tests, which includes browsing 25 different sites at 75% brightness (four clicks from the top), though that’s on Safari, which is much more battery-efficient. But that’s not a deal breaker. Eight hours is enough to cover most of my day.
Here’s the MacBook’s sore spot, though: It still has only one USB-C port.
Even just two, like in the 13-inch MacBook Pro, would be a *significant* improvement. The USB-C standard is supposed to be very versatile. A single USB-C cable, like the one on this LG external display, can both power and connect the laptop to the monitor. But in many cases, like when you’re on the road, one port just means a tangle of hubs, dongles, and adapters when you need to do something as simple as charge your laptop and back up your phone simultaneously. If only Apple slapped on another input, the MacBook would my Perfect Laptop. Until then, it’s just short of that.
And before you @ me with all the reasons why the MacBook sucks, let me start off by saying that it’s not the Perfect Laptop for Everyone. The MacBook starts at $1,300, another ding on near-perfect marks everywhere else. That's puzzlingly the same price as the 13-inch MacBook Pro base model (without a Touch Bar or Touch ID), which comes with more processing power (2.3GHz Core i5).
If you want to spend less money on a Mac, you can get an Air with a lower-resolution screen for $1K. If you use demanding software and need power, get a Pro or iMac. But if you’re always on the go (and can sink over $1K into a new computer), the MacBook is a great choice.
The MacBook is still what a lot of people are looking for.
I’ve been using a MacBook for over a year. Not the original MacBook — which most reviewers complained was too laggy for any amount of stress — but the updated 2016 model, which got a bitty speed bump (thanks to a new Intel Core M chip and graphics card). For someone who is constantly traveling, posting updates, tweeting from events, and needing to stream The Handmaid’s Tale, like, ASAP on Wednesday nights, the MacBook has met all of my needs and then some. I can get serious writing and inbox clearing done on this machine (my main computing tasks), plus make GIFs and edit images in Photoshop when I need to.
The MacBook is actually light enough to hold in one hand without feeling like your wrist is going to snap, and to have on your lap while you’re messaging galfriends during The Bachelorette or while you poop or whatever it is you need to do sitting down. The pencil-thin hardware means zero bulk when I throw it in a tote or backpack. I also live in a studio apartment where space is precious and footprint matters! I love the MacBook’s form factor. Hard stop.
I’ve tried other super-portable computers, but nothing compared to the MacBook. Chromebooks didn’t quite make the cut. On the software side, they’re a little too shallow, even though 80% of my work is done in the Chrome browser. I need full desktop Adobe apps and am too attached to my Mac menu bar regulars, like f.lux (Twilight was too buggy) for not ruining my eyes before bed and BetterSnapTool for resizing windows. Ultrabooks running Windows (I tried the XPS 13) were fine for a while, but...Windows. To each her own (truly, I think it’s more personal preference), but I find Mac OS’s interface more accessible and easier to use. Also, I have an iPhone, and being able to Airdrop links/photos/videos quickly from my phone to my laptop and text people from my Mac is pretty great.
A word of advice if you are considering the MacBook, in its almost perfect state: Because it’s not upgradeable after you buy it, I’d suggest bumping up the model to the core i5 processor (+$100). If you *really* want to future-proof your laptop and make it an investment, 16GB of RAM (+$200) will ensure that your MacBook will last, and help with giant Excel spreadsheets or big Photoshop files — but 8GB should be sufficient for most people. The entry-level MacBook Pro offers more power (2.3GHz Core i5 vs. the MacBook’s 1.2GHz Core m3), but the battery life isn’t as great, and if you lug around your laptop a lot, that extra pound will make a difference.
You’re paying for portability. And if you were already in the market for an Apple laptop, you’re probably prepared to do that.