Review: Apple MacBook
Earlier this year, Phil Schiller stepped onto a stage on Apple’s campus and threw some sick burns at the PC industry. “As we all know,” he told the crowd, “Windows PCs were originally conceived of before there was an Internet. Before there was social media. Before there were app stores.” Then he mentioned that 600 million PCs in use today are more than five years old. Schiller called the Apple device in the screen behind him the “ultimate PC replacement” for all those people. “It’s a large enough display to get all of your work done,” he said, “but small and light enough to carry with you everywhere you go.”
So light, and so thin. Never buy a laptop without a screen this good. The battery is actually all-day this time. There’s almost certainly enough power here for you.
It is so, so very expensive. The transition from many ports to one is scary. No one’s going to look good in this webcam.
Schiller was talking about the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. But everything he said is a far better argument for the MacBook, a 12-inch laptop Apple released a year ago and updated last week. If you have a 5-year-old PC, the iPad Pro is a huge departure that requires completely overhauling how you work. If you want to make the transition, go ahead. There are many upsides. But if you want to upgrade your laptop, not completely blow up your computing life, this is the upgrade you want. It’s faster than whatever you’re using now, guaranteed. It has a fantastic screen. It’s light enough to finally get you out of the chiropractor’s office. Best of all, you already know how to use it. It’s a laptop.
When I reviewed the last version of the MacBook, I called it the future. Screw that. This MacBook is the present.
Most of what you need to know about this year’s MacBook also was true last year. It’s a beautifully designed two-pound, half-inch-thick slab of aluminum. The 12-inch, 2304×1440 screen feels small, even compared to a 13-inch laptop, but the panel is spectacular. The trackpad is of course wonderful, even if Force Touch is pointless and you’ll instantly forget it even exists. The keyboard … well, the keyboard takes some getting used to. It’s shallow and light, almost like typing on a touchscreen. But you get used to it, and it’s a usable full-sized keyboard. The speaker gets impressively loud, though it does rumble through the chassis. The low-res webcam sucks. Generally, the MacBook is a laptop. It’s not a crazy convertible hybrid fold-y thing. It’s a laptop.
A few things have changed, though. You’ll only see one: the new don’t-call-it-pink rose gold color. Personally, I love it. The smooth, matte finish is clean, quiet, and somehow calming. You might hate it. (Lots of people at WIRED hate it.) No worries. You can also get it in gold, silver, and space gray. Pick your favorite.
The big changes happened inside. There’s a new Intel Core M processor, part of the Skylake generation, and faster memory. All told, it’s about 25 percent faster, a bigger difference than I would have thought. My typical workflow is masochistic: 30 tabs open in two windows, one of which I forget about. I also keep Slack, and TweetDeck, and Evernote, and maybe Word running. Last year’s MacBook faltered under the load, but this one does just fine. It’s still too slow to play anything more intensive than Badland (and it could barely handle Badland) or open Photoshop in a reasonable amount of time. But that doesn’t matter to me, and it doesn’t matter to most people.
If you need more power than the MacBook provides, you probably already own an iMac, or the trash can Mac Pro, or a souped-up MacBook Pro. Or a recent Windows machine. Next to those, this laptop is child’s play. But forget about the people using those. Think about the people with 5-year-old PCs or 5-year-old Macs or, god help them, 5-year-old netbooks. What do they do on their laptops? Not much, really. According to one study, they spend 5.6 hours a day online, just shy of half of it on a laptop. The MacBook can run a browser, so that’s good. A different survey, from 2014, listed the top 20 things people do on their devices. Of them, only number 20—“Making/shooting videos,” done by just 5 percent of respondents—is too much for this MacBook. Everything else is no problem: check email, shop, surf Facebook, watch videos. Unless you already know you need more power than the MacBook offers, you probably don’t.
The trickier question concerns the USB-C port on the left rear corner. It’s the only port that isn’t a headphone jack. If you buy a MacBook, you’ll have to buy an adapter or switch between charging, backing up to your external hard drive, and using your external keyboard / mouse / monitor. This is unquestionably annoying, and a giant white dongle kills the MacBook’s sleek, minimalist vibe. At the same time, though, it’s forced me out of some outdated habits. There was a time when I thought I desperately needed a CD-ROM drive. Then Apple killed it, and I barely noticed. The same happened with the MacBook. I don’t miss all those ports.
The more efficient processor means the battery really does last nine or 10 hours, so there’s no reason to leave the MacBook plugged in. I charge it like I charge my phone: at night, or when it’s dead. Meanwhile I use Google Drive to back up my files, so what do I need a USB hard drive for? And since the keyboard and trackpad are good enough, I threw my accessories in the closet. (I do love my external monitor, though, so that sucks.) Apple’s right to assume that in 2016, we shouldn’t have to walk into work and jack our computers into half a dozen peripherals. We should just open the lid.
Realistically, the MacBook is still a bit ahead of its time. That’s especially true of the price: as long as this thing costs $1,299 or more, it won’t create a revolution in computing. And so much change can feel drastic, especially for people with business needs and policies they can’t control. On the off chance you do need to plug in a flash drive, it’s going to be a pain. But for the most part, the world is ready for a beautiful, thin, light laptop with a great screen, a weird keyboard, and exactly one port. It’s an online world. People work in too many places, in too many ways, to need accessories and outlets and adapters. This may not be the laptop the world is ready for, but the MacBook is the laptop it needs.
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