With an improved processor and trackpad, not to mention room for more RAM now, if you can get past the lofty price tag – even as an Apple fan – then prepare to enjoy what’s surprisingly the best MacBook in years – Pro or otherwise.
- Updated processor
- Vastly improved keyboard
- Still delightfully compact
- Long battery life
- Still only one USB-C port
- Poor audio and webcam
- Still too pricey
If the rumors are anything to go by, the MacBook may soon serve as a replacement for the dwindling MacBook Air. According to reports, General Interface Solutions – a company that has historically developed screen panels for Apple’s notebooks – is said to be producing a high number of 13-inch displays for an unannounced Apple product. For that reason, you may want to hold off on buying the existing Retina MacBook that we’ve reviewed below. But, could you consider shelling out for it now instead?
The short answer is yes. Now that Apple has worked out the kinks, effectively replacing the butterfly switches from the previous keyboard with the same refined second-generation switches featured in the MacBook Pro, this 12-inch model is worth buying now more than ever before. Paired with the prospect of iOS apps making their way to its operating system – macOS High Sierra – down the line, the MacBook could be the de facto Apple computer to purchase in the foreseeable future.
Although it offers less screen real estate than the original iPad Pro, the MacBook can do so much more than the tablets it will no doubt be compared to. For one, it can do everything that a MacBook Pro can do, albeit with the caveat of potentially slower performance during more intensive tasks. Secondly, the battery life is better than the vast majority of laptops you’ll find on store shelves these days. However, as we said before, this MacBook comes with a towering price tag that doesn’t bode well coming from more affordable Ultrabooks – or even cheaper Macs.
Price and availability
At $1,299 (£1,249, AU$1,899), we’re going to have to reiterate that the MacBook is an expensive proposition compared to the Air. That price fetches you everything found under our hot pink spec sheet, including a 7th-generation Intel Core m3 processor. Yet, if you act quickly, this MacBook 2016 configuration is but $999 on Amazon right now for our US readers.
Moving up through the pre-built configurations upgrades the CPU to an Intel Core i5 Y-series processor, which maintains the fanless design and doubles the storage to 512GB. Sadly, this extra cash – $1,599 (£1,549, AU$2,349) – doesn’t get you the double RAM capacity, a marquee feature of this year’s revision. That’s locked behind a specific configuration you can select at checkout for another $200, £180 or AU$320, as is the Core i7 CPU.
Meanwhile, Google’s new flagship Chromebook, the Google Pixelbook, starts at $999 (£999, about AU$1,295) for a stronger Core i5 Y-series processor with matching RAM and half as much SSD storage. Upping the configuration meets the MacBook’s storage capacity for $100 less in the US and £100 in the UK. Better yet, the Pixelbook’s 12.3-inch screen is sharper at 235 pixels per inch. Granted, its lauded Pixelbook Pen costs another $99 (£99, about AU$128).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.