Apple MacBook

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Ever since the original MacBook was released almost 12 years ago, it was positioned as an affordable alternative to Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptop computers. That’s no longer true today, as the MacBook has since transformed into a 12-inch, ultra-premium laptop.

To start, it features a Retina display, which puts is price point at slightly higher than the Air and around the same as the cheapest MacBook Pro. This means that the MacBook, according to Steve Jobs, has so many pixels that they are imperceptible by the naked eye from more than 12 inches away.

Future MacBooks may be entirely different than what’s offered now – and, we’ll have to keep waiting to see what they’ll look like as we didn’t get any MacBook news at WWDC 2018. Either way, we’ve seen a patent filed by Apple that suggests a spill-resistant keyboard in the works (which Apple needs if it wants to avoid future lawsuits). We’ve also seen some speculation that a dual-screen MacBook with a touchscreen OLED keyboard may be on its way.

We’ve also seen some rumors that Apple is thinking about a cheaper 13-inch Retina MacBook starting at around the same price as the $ 999 (£949, AU$ 1,499) MacBook Air. And, that rumor is further backed up by speculation that Apple is working on an ARM-based MacBook. As for higher-end models, we’ve also seen some rumors that Apple may be implementing co-processors into some of its future Macs. This is all speculation, of course, but we’ll see what’s real next week at WWDC 2018. 

As we sit, waiting for the advent of Apple’s next laptop, the 12-inch MacBook you see here is as good as they get. Light, thin and inalterable, it’s a classic Apple product shrouded in a beautiful exterior that’s sure to draw jealous looks. However, as luxury usually does, this MacBook comes with a high price.

Price and availability

You can easily snag the MacBook we’ve reviewed here off the shelf of your local Apple Store (or Amazon) for $ 1,299 (£1,249, AU$ 1,899). That price fetches you everything found under our hot pink spec sheet, including a 7th-generation Intel Core m3 processor. 

It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t the latest CPU to come out of Intel, with the company’s 8th-generation chips having launched last year. Instead, you’ll have to wait for the MacBook 2018 to find out what’s next for Apple’s smallest laptop currently available for sale.

For the time being, should your lavish taste necessitate a more powerful 12-inch MacBook, there are higher tiers to choose from.

One version of the MacBook, for instance, comes with an Intel Core i5-7Y54 and 512GB of SSD space instead of the base model’s 256GB. It’s still fanless, so we wouldn’t bank on speeds quite as fast as the cheapest MacBook Pro, but does come to a grand total of $ 1,599 (£1,549, AU$ 2,349).

Should you be interested in getting the top-of-the-line MacBook experience, you’ll be looking at a price tag of $ 1,949 (£1,864, $ 2,909) for an Intel Core i7-7Y75 processor and 16GB of RAM, along with the same 512GB of storage brandished by the previously mentioned configuration.

Simultaneously, Google’s flagship Chromebook, the Google Pixelbook, starts at $ 999 (£999, about AU$ 1,295) with a beefier Core i5 Y-series processor with the same RAM, but half as much SSD storage.

On the Windows side, one of the most technically comparable laptops is the Acer Swift 7, an Ultrabook seemingly handcrafted to go toe-to-toe with the MacBook. This one starts at $ 1,099 or £999 (about AU$ 1,449) for a similar Core i5 Y-series processor with matching storage and RAM as well as a Full HD, 13.3-inch display. Or, maybe even the Asus Zenbook UX310UA, which you can find for around $ 699 (about £525, AU$ 920) for a beefier i5 U-series and matching storage and RAM. 

Design

Frankly, not much of anything has changed about the look and feel of the 12-inch MacBook frame, which isn’t entirely a bad thing. Available in space gray, silver, gold and rose gold, the brushed aluminum feels just as cool (literally) and sublime as it has on Apple laptops for years.

Again, the laptop’s thinness and feathery weight continues to impress to the point that its dimensions are a hallmark aspect of the device. 

That said, an even more narrow screen bezel or just one more USB-C port would be blessings upon the design at this point.

One major improvement upon the 12-inch MacBooks of yesteryear is the refined butterfly switches that comprise the new backlit keyboard. Travel doesn’t feel any deeper, which isn’t great, but feedback is much stronger and more forceful, improving the quality drastically.

The wide, glass-coated trackpad remains unchanged from last year, meaning it’s just as pleasant to use as it’s always been. Apple’s touch interface technology both through hardware and software remains nearly unmatched.

We say ‘nearly’ because Google may have well caught up to Apple with its Pixelbook. Seriously, the keyboard and trackpad on that thing are ones to be imitated.

Display and sound

We all know that Apple has prided itself on its displays for years, and with good reason. The 12-inch MacBook’s screen remains unchanged since the dawn of the product in 2015, which is just fine. Editing photos and doing graphically intense design work looks simply superb on the Retina display, but it’s not the sharpest in its class any longer.

Also, the 16:10 aspect ratio is just off-kilter enough to be annoying sometimes, like when watching movies or editing images that are formatted to 16:9 in fullscreen mode.

As for how the laptop sounds, the four stereo speakers toward its hinge can definitely pump out some loud tunes. But, like all laptops with mere millimeters to work with for audio chambers, the sound comes through tinny and thin, with some channels in songs just getting lost outright.

That said, you’re not going to find much better sound elsewhere out of a laptop anywhere near this thin. Thank heaven this is a product Apple has yet to cut the headphone jack from.

First reviewed November 2017.

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this review

While the 12-inch MacBook still makes use of an M- or Y-series Intel processor, we’ve already come to know that this means little to the average user. It’s capable enough even if that user is doing some photo editing with the laptop in question – though, video editing might be pushing it.

During our time with Apple’s latest, we experienced nothing in the way of chugging or slowdown with more than 20 Google Chrome tabs open at some points. Bear in mind that those tabs were generating everything from streaming music to text editors, spreadsheets and even live chat.

Because we’re stacking the MacBook up against a laptop that runs Chrome OS and one that released early in the year, before we adopted the Geekbench 4 test, straight comparisons in the numbers would be a fool’s errand. 

What these numbers should tell you is that this laptop is more than capable of handling basic tasks and even some advanced ones, like Java-based graphical map generation.

That said, don’t be surprised to see this laptop get spanked by those equipped with full-fat, mobile U-series Intel processors. 

When you stack those stark differences with the arguably minimal gains in weight and thinness that those laptops present, it’s hard not to question the price of such an admittedly gorgeous device.

Battery life

All that said, the 2017 MacBook continues to beat most of its rivals in pure longevity, reporting a battery life score in our original TechRadar Battery Life Test of 8 hours and 4 minutes. That’s nearly a half-hour longer than the Pixelbook and several hours longer than the Swift 7.

Of course, that’s unsurprisingly far below Apple’s battery life claims of up to 10 hours wireless web browsing or up to 12 hours iTunes movie playback. Regardless, it’s well beyond what most Ultrabooks of this year have reported in our test, which sets screen brightness and audio volume to 50%, as well all other back lights and radios off save for Wi-Fi.

We liked

This year’s MacBook sees vast improvements to the keyboard, especially in feedback strength, making typing on it far more delightful and accurate. 

The sheer thinness and lightness of the device is still an impressive feat, and the gains in processor speed are welcome no matter how modest they may be in real-world use.

We disliked

Frankly, the price of this laptop should be at least 100 bills less regardless of currency, and a marquee performance feature of this laptop – 16GB of RAM capacity – simply costs too much.

Plus, the lack of ports and the middling 480p webcam just can’t be ignored any longer for a laptop that costs this much.

Final verdict

To be honest, given its exorbitant price for what’s on offer hardware-wise, we’re a bit annoyed that we like the 2017 12-inch MacBook as much as we do. Simply put, the laptop is rather easily out-classed in terms of pricing by many rivals in terms of brass tacks components, from storage capacity to ports to screen sharpness.

However, the feel of using this laptop on a daily basis is where it manages to hold its ground in the competition. Apple’s latest MacBook design has proven to be inimitable over the past couple years, delivering an experience that’s both performant and lightweight in ways that most other laptops can’t. 

Simply working on something or browsing the web from the couch with our legs crossed feels better on this laptop than it does most others we’ve tested. Throwing this MacBook into a backpack – and perhaps even forgetting the charger – feels as if nothing is in there. Yet, what comes out is a laptop that wakes up instantly and won’t slow down short of gaming or intense graphical editing work. 

If you can get past a price tag that’s high even for Mac fans, then prepare to enjoy what’s surprisingly the best MacBook in years – Pro or otherwise.

TechRadar – Technology Reviews