Apple Macbook review (2016, 12-inch)

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Apple Macbook 2016

When I first saw the 2015 MacBook, it was clear that this form factor was going to be the future of the laptop. Thin and light, yet strong with all-day battery life and a high-resolution screen, this was the kind of laptop that you could carry anywhere and barely even notice you were doing it.

If anything, the only slight issue I had with the 2015 Macbook was that the Core M processor was a little slow for my needs, making it feel more like a companion laptop for people that already had a computer. Fast forward to today and the MacBook is back, retaining the things that made it brilliant, but adding a quicker Core M processor, faster RAM and a faster SSD. On paper, Apple has certainly made all the right choices.

Build quality

I’m pleased to say that nothing has changed on the outside. The MacBook’s 13.1mm thick aluminium chassis is a thing of beauty and, one year on, this laptop has lost none of its initial impact. As soon as you pick it up, you realise how thin and light it really is. Weighing just 920g, this is a laptop I can comfortably hold by one corner without fear of dropping it.

Despite its slim figure, build quality hasn’t been compromised in the slightest. This is Apple at its very best, as it’s made a gorgeous metal chassis that can withstand the day-to-day pain of being carried around in a bag. Even though the screen is just 1.8mm thick, the strong, aluminium back means there’s very little flex. Tapping on the back won’t send any ripples through the LCD, either.

Apple MacBook Space Grey and Gold

There is one change this year: Apple has introduced a rose gold version, adding another colour to last year’s gold, silver and space grey models. Of course, whether you’re a fan of rose gold will be a matter of personal preference, but the colouring is subtly done and it means you can now match your MacBook to your iPhone, Watch and iPad.

USB-C

When the MacBook was first introduced last year, the one thing that really stood out was it only had two ports: a 3.5mm headphone port and a USB-C port. So, one year on, does this really matter? Not so much. USB-C is a clever and versatile connector that both charges and, via adaptors, supports regular USB devices and even displays. The connector is reversible, too (unlike regular USB), making it easier to plug in the cable. While Apple has its own range of adaptors, the best thing about a standard like this is that you can easily buy cheap third-party adaptors instead and save a little cash.

Apple MacBook Space Grey and Gold1

That said, you will have to get used to using adaptors as part of your daily work cycle. For example, with no built-in SD card slot, you’ll need to use an adaptor to plug in a separate card reader to get photos off your camera. Likewise, you can’t charge the laptop and have other devices connected at the same time, unless you buy an adaptor that allows this, of course. For me, this is more of a minor inconvenience, as day-to-day, the lack of ports isn’t something that particularly bothers me: most of my files are stored in the cloud and it’s rare that I have to plug anything in, but this may not be the case for other users.

Keyboard

To fit the keyboard inside the incredibly thin chassis, Apple ditched its old scissor mechanism last year and went for a butterfly mechanism instead. This removed any key wobble and gave the keys a shallower stroke. This can feel a little strange at first, but once you’ve got used to it, the Macbook soon develops into one of the best keyboards I’ve ever used.

Apple MacBook Keyboard

The strangeness comes from the fact that the keys barely move, and the sensation takes a little while to get used to. However, Apple has made sure that there’s plenty of feedback, so once you get used to the keys, typing quickly is no problem. In fact, I wrote this entire review on the MacBook and not once did I wish to switch keyboards. Throw in individual LED lighting for each key and Apple really has thought of everything.

Trackpad

Apple introduced the Force Touch Trackpad last year and it’s rapidly turned into Apple’s best Trackpad yet. Rather than using a pad that moves with each physical click, this Trackpad is static and instead uses haptic feedback to mimic that familiar clicking sensation. It’s rather remarkable, and I would swear that the trackpad moved if I didn’t know better.

As well as being extremely responsive and working perfectly with the all OS X’s multi-touch gestures, there’s an additional trick, too: Force Touch. Activated by clicking and then pushing a little harder to operate a secondary click, Force Touch gives you another way to interact with OS X. This can be to pop up a preview window or to quickly rename a file; in all cases, it’s just a neat way to do something quickly.

Display

Even though the 12in screen is comparatively small, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Thanks to the almost edge-to-edge display, all you see when you open the lid is that screen. With its high resolution of 2,304×1,440 and pixel density of 227ppi, everything looks beautifully sharp and crisp.

Apple New MacBook hero shot

This year, Apple has also added wider aperture pixels, which let in more light while using less power. Image quality is similar to last year, with a maximum brightness of 367cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 917:1. With 92.6% of the sRGB colour gamut covered, this really is one of the best screens out there. It helps that it has excellent viewing angles, too.

Performance

If there was one thing I wanted from last year’s Macbook, it was more performance, and I’m pleased to say that this year my prayers have been answered thanks to Apple’s new choice of Core M processors. The entry-level model has a dual-core Core m3 processor, which runs at 1.1GHz, but can Turbo Boost to 2.2GHz. It also has Hyper-Threading to add two more virtual cores into the mix. I also tested the faster dual-core Core m5 processor, which also has Hyper-Threading. This runs at 1.2GHz, but can Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz.

Of course, neither device is designed to be a heavyweight powerhouse, and each model’s benchmark scores reflected this. In our tough 4K benchmarks, the m3 model scored 24 overall, while the m5 model scored 27. This might not look like much on paper, but that’s still a performance increase of 12.5%. What’s more, last year’s Macbook only scored 20 overall, so even the Core m3 model is a real improvement by comparison.

Of course, in real terms, the Macbook isn’t going to replace the MacBook Pro for performance users that edit a lot of photos, but for most people, there’s plenty of speed here for day-to-day jobs. Editing the odd photo and using mostly cloud-based apps, this laptop was more than quick enough for me.

Apple New MacBook hero shot1

Faster Intel Graphics 515 also help with the impression of speed, with smoother transitions and window movements. It’s definitely a step up from last year’s model, and the 2016 Macbook is now a laptop that will suit the majority: I could definitely use this as my everyday computer.

Battery life

Better batteries, which fill the case, a screen that uses less power and a more efficient processor all add up to the point where this MacBook lasts one hour longer than the previous model. In the Expert Review battery test, which plays a video back with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, the MacBook lasted an impressive 10h 12m. That shows it’s got more than enough charge to get you through a day’s work, and the choice of processor won’t affect things either, as the Core m3 and Core m5 models lasted just as long during our tests.

Storage

Again, there’s a choice of a 256GB model or the faster Core m5 model with a 512GB SSD. Both SSDs are faster PCIe models and they’re seriously quick: I measured write speeds of 834MB/s and read speeds of 933MB/s. This makes the whole MacBook feel a lot more responsive, with apps in particular loading much quicker.

Conclusion

As good as last year’s model was, I felt like a really needed an excuse in order to justify buying one. This year’s model, however, with its better battery life, faster storage and quicker CPU is a laptop that needs no such vindication. If portability is the most important thing to you, there’s simply nothing else like it. However, if you need more power, this probably isn’t the laptop you’re looking for.