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MacBook (12-inch, 2015) review

Andy Vandervell

By

Updated:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR

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Summary

Our Score:

8

Pros

  • Elegant, fanless design
  • Outstanding screen
  • Surprisingly decent speakers
  • Good battery life
  • Awesome touchpad

Cons

  • Noisy keyboard
  • Limited connections

Key Features

  • 12-inch IPS display, 2,304 x 1,440
  • 1.1GHz Dual-core Intel Core M
  • 8GB RAM
  • 256GB PCI-e storage
  • 920g
  • Manufacturer: Apple
  • Review Price: £1,049.00

What is the new MacBook?Apple’s new MacBook is the laptop in its most basic, stripped-back form – I called it a laptop for the iPad generation when Apple first announced it. This slight, 12-inch laptop weighs just 920g and, like the original 2008 MacBook Air, removes almost all external connections. It has no normal USB ports, no normal video outputs. In fact, it has as many ports as an iPad.

You still get a headphone jack, but a single new type of USB connector serves as the power input and only external interface in one. You need an adapter to use any normal USB cable and there’s no SD card slot for your camera’s photos.

It’s beautiful, brilliant and compact, but it’s also divisive, troublesome and a luxury. There’s a great deal to love about it, but only if you can make peace with the compromises it forces upon you.

Related:Apple MacBook Pro 2016: Everything you need to know

Update – 19/04/2016: Apple has announced and subsequently launched a refreshed 2016 12-inch MacBook line up. Pricing hasn't change, and the MacBook form factor is also identical. You won't be able to buy the 2015 MacBook direct from Apple any more, and if you're buying from third-party retailers, make sure you're getting the latest edition, or at least getting a nice discount on a 2015 model.

What's changed? Lots of stuff under the surface. For starters, Apple now offers a wider range of more powerful and more efficient Intel Core M processors, starting at a Core m3, to Core m5 up to Core m7. Despite the increase in power, the latest generation of Intel processors (called Skylake) are more efficient, and as a result Apple reckons you'll get an extra hour of battery life. RAM speed has received a boost, too, up from 1600MHz to 1866MHz, which should make a small amount of difference to overall performance. Finally, there's a Rose Gold (pink) edition available, putting the MacBook in line with Apple's other smaller products.

The review below is still very much relevant to the new 2016 device and we'd expect improvements across the board. We'll update this review if Apple makes 2016 MacBook review units available

Related: Best Laptops, Ultrabooks and Hybrids

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New MacBook – Design and Features

Does tech need to be desirable? Not really, but it’s sure nice when it is, and the new MacBook is very desirable. It’s a certain quality that momentarily blinds you to any weaknesses – it makes you think “I want that,” which is no doubt the intended effect.

It helps that you get a choice of colours, too. The MacBook is available in the traditional Silver, but also in iPad inspired Gold and Space Grey. The Space Grey version looks great – it’s comfortably my favourite. The contrast against the black keyboard and black glass around the screen looks just right. It lends the MacBook a sense of “otherness” compared to the uniform silver aluminium of other MacBooks, and reinforces the sense that it’s closer to the iPad in philosophy and intent.

Related: MacBook vs MacBook Air: What's the difference?

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But no discussion of the new MacBook can ignore that port. Apple is the first to adopt the USB-C standard, a new USB design that’s much smaller and reversible. It’s very similar, in some respects, to Apple’s Lightning connector, but it supports the faster USB 3.1 standard. This single port acts as the only data-carrying connection, as well as the power charger and the only potential video output.

It’s innovative and a big improvement on the ageing old-school USB connection we know, but it also presents problems. Simple things, like charging your phone, require an adapter, while a three-way adapter that includes an HDMI out, a normal USB port and a power connection is an expensive extra.

In time this inconvenience will be lessened as accessories adopt the new connection, but even when they do the MacBook still only has one of them. That means you can’t charge the laptop and have something connected at same time – not without yet another dongle, at least. Basically, the new MacBook is just like the original MacBook Air, which had a single USB port and a video output when it launched back in 2008. Apple eventually relented in its fundamentalism, but it took a couple of generations to find a happy balance.

Related: USB-C: Everything you need to know

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That might still happen with future iterations, but for now you need to adapt to use the MacBook. You might find that easy if you don’t own a camera or use flash drives often, but the MacBook really serves the most locked-in Apple users who rely on iCloud for syncing photos and their data, or other similar cloud services.

The plus side to this compromise is the sheer portability of the new MacBook. It can’t match the super-slim screen bezel on the the Dell XPS 13, but you still get a 12-inch display on a laptop that’s similar in size to past 11-inch laptops. It’s a great laptop for working in tight spots and it’s so thin and light that you don’t need a hefty bag to carry it around.

There’s a big difference between it and other Macbooks, too. Whereas the 13-inch MacBook Air doesn’t feel significantly more portable than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the difference between the MacBook and the MacBook Air range is huge. The 12-inch MacBook is much thinner and lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air, and the 11-inch MacBook Air has an underwhelming screen that reflects its mid-level price.

Related: MacBook Pro vs MacBook Pro: Which should you buy?

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New MacBook – Keyboard and Touchpad

Apple’s new Force Touch trackpad is awesome – I’ve already waxed lyrical about it in the 13-inch MacBook Pro review, but it bears repeating. If you missed the details, it abandons a standard click mechanism in favour of an electromagnet that creates an artificial click sensation, while force sensors detect how hard you press.

This has all sorts of benefits, but the best is how you get the same feedback no matter where you click. You can even adjust how heavy the click from the pad feels in the settings, while the large glass surface glides perfectly.

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The Force Touch options are subtle rather than essential, but the way you can press progressively harder to seek through QuickTime is very neat. It’s just a shame the benefits are limited to the OS and Apple apps, so the opportunities to use Force Touch are limited right now.

The keyboard, meanwhile, is another love-or-hate feature. Apple has re-engineered the keyboard to work in such a thin laptop, using a “butterfly” mechanism instead of the typical “scissor” keys. The result are keys that have a remarkably even and flat feel, but also very shallow key travel.

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Some people won’t like the shallow feel – it didn’t take me long to get up to speed, but I can’t guarantee everyone will adapt as easily. But the action is still sharp and precise, so you’re never left wondering if you’ve hit the key correctly, and it’s extremely forgiving of off-centre strikes.

Arguably the worst thing about the new keyboard is how noisy it is – I’m more aggressive in my typing than typical, so I had to make a conscious effort to type more gently in public spaces. You can type quietly on the MacBook, but it isn’t naturally quiet like the very best ThinkPad keyboards.

A. Mir

May 12, 2015, 5:27 pm

Should be a 7/10 at best. (The poor) Performance for that price is underwhelming.

Stephen Middlehurst

May 12, 2015, 7:56 pm

I've been fairly critical of TR recently so it only seems fair to praise 'em when they get a review right. Too many gadget sites have obsessed over the single port or (relatively) low performance of the new Macbook without taking into consideration user preferences. As the wrap up makes clear, if those compromises are important to you there are better laptops out there for your money. That's fine, a single laptop will never be all things to all customers.

However if you're after a good, light everyday machine and don't need to hook up USB devices it might just be the best choice on the market right now. I suspect a lot of TR readers would be surprised at how little a lot of laptop users use external connections. Over the last three or four years it's amazing how many students I see who do everything via cloud services and don't even carry a USB stick anymore.

That being said this is clearly a preview of things to come. We'll need to wait and see which way Intel go but they've already spoken about Skylake enabling wireless charging. If that came to the Core M line suddenly the decision to only have one USB port makes more sense if it's not used to charge the laptop. Price will likely drop as well and for most users the performance will be at the very least acceptable.

LeeTronix

May 12, 2015, 8:49 pm

As much as it griefs me for saying this, this apple mac looks to be fairly impressive, not convinced about the single connection as some users will have this as they go to device and will want to plug external connections in the machine.

I do not get why apple do not allow for a micro sd card but either way I think this will do quite well considering it is running mac os. Personally I prefer the Google Pixel Chrome, but I do think this seems like quite a nice machine.

I think if apple added more connectivity other than trying to be minimal all the time they would really do much better and also that is why they have the mac air for the minimal style type.

Because of the mac air and the fact they are all costed within a few hundred of each other I do not see why they made this machine even though it seem quite nice unless the mac air is going to be retired and they want to keep the mac book range?

AlexG

May 13, 2015, 12:39 pm

The performance is as good as you're going to get for the size - they are using the best chip available.

AlexG

May 13, 2015, 12:40 pm

>I think if apple added more connectivity other than trying to be minimal all the time they would really do much better

They are the most valuable company in the world and the pro is there if you need connectivity...

andyvan

May 13, 2015, 1:49 pm

Are you still having this problem? What phone, browser etc. are you using?

JBingham

May 13, 2015, 4:22 pm

I've said this so many times it's getting ridiculous, but you have an overly simplistic view if you think a laptop buying decision is just a ratio of price to processing power. That's clearly true for buying a cpu. It is not true for a laptop. Apple have designed the lightest laptop in its category in the world and been obsessive about making the most portable laptop in its class. Those design decisions are not actually cheap either. So to then measure this laptop based on a pure performance/ price ratio is entirely missing the point. If you want performance/ price you look at the macbook pro 13 retina that is a more powerful machine and can be had for less. It's like me saying the surface pro 3 performance for the price is poor, which it is - it doesn't stop it from being a good solution for some people, just like this is a good solution for some people too.

LeeTronix

May 13, 2015, 4:43 pm

Yes I agree they are the most valuable tech business in the world currently and its amazing how 12 yrs ago the business goes from zero wealth to billions in profit and that is good. My point is though it does not mean their products are great or all that but either way I cannot knock them for doing so well.

With regards the Pro I wonder why they discontinued the 17" version. I am a professional master and music production specialist and I still use my 17" and so do virtually 95% of the rest of music professionals as they dare not part with it because its 17". Also the same applies to media specialists. I have yet to meet a fellow professional who likes the 15" albeit in the music and media graphic professions where they made their mark? Apple seem obsessed with thinness, lightest and how far they can shrink there metal finished products! Just a thought...

Paul

May 13, 2015, 8:26 pm

smells like another lustful apple victory

MattMe

May 14, 2015, 5:45 pm

Do you have shares or something? Seems like you pop up and write this on every Apple review.

shnatiw

May 17, 2015, 12:49 pm

A good solid review. And I totally agree with your first sentence. It is a stripped back laptop, good for the basics. Which lets face it, is all that a considerable amount of people will need it for. The design (as always) is breathtaking. But, as you say it does force you to make compromises with its limited connectivity. So in that respect it deserves a lot of the negativity that it has generated. I can understand why people are critical of the lack of a USB port and Card Reader slot. Just as I can understand Apple's position that USB-C is the future. Which it is. However, even one more USB-C port on the opposite side, would probably have negated a lot of the criticism. I would have gone further and bundled the three way adaptor with this as a freebie. But then again, that's why I never have any money and Apple has hundreds of billions. I do have a 2014 Macbook Air (which is perfect for my needs) and had a play with this version at my local Apple Store. And I have to say that ergonomically this is a superior machine. The screen is brilliant, and once you get used to the shallow travel on the keyboard, I found it preferable to the one on my Macbook Air. The same goes with the touchpad. I do think that using the Intel Core M processor is a mistake and should be in your list of cons at the top of the article. Yes, it has enough power to run basic tasks seamlessly (the benefit of OSX Yosemite) and its battery lasts a lot longer than the other Intel Core M ultra books like the Samsung Ativ Book 9 and Lenovo Yoga Pro 3, but at the end of the day you will be limited when it comes to using a browser other than Safari, playing two or three video streams at once, attempting anything other than basic gaming, using power intensive image editing software like Photoshop, etc, etc. If you can accept this and it's lack of connectivity in this day and age, then it could be for you. Although, as the review notes, there is a great possibility that Apple will backtrack on at least the connectivity side in future iterations. In the meantime the Macbook Air remains the superior and cheaper option.

Manish Bhatia

June 8, 2015, 3:28 am

OSX allows me to use my laptop to communicate with other phones. Drop pics in conversations etc.
It allows me to install Windows 8 seamlessly via Parallels and get all the Tile app goodness of the Windows store. I can run apps for WatchESPN etc on one OS and work on the other as needed.
I need a portable Mac with long battery and HD or better screen

Basically, its the new Macbook.

It also allows me to keep it juiced with a $10 cable and my trusted power bank.

Yes, there is a market for this one.

The only unforgivable element in the design was the idiotic low res 480p camera.

FarineBlanche

July 18, 2015, 12:32 pm

It took me 1 second to get in love and 5 minutes to get used to the best notebook ever! Just installed the first Public Beta OS X El Capitan and it looks even better!

Joshua Pingley

July 23, 2015, 11:44 pm

I heard El Capital public beta 2 has made this machine more than a joy to use! I get mine tomorrow and I'm excited to try it out and see how it fits into my life. In every regard (other than portability) my 15" Pro is "better" but I don't do anything that requires a quad core i7 chip and I never plug anything into the thing either, so we'll see.

Mike Silvey

August 13, 2015, 4:28 am

Not so fast on the Battery Love in...so I use my new Macbook 12" as my primary business device. I have four desktops (no VM), typically running Mail, Cal, Addressbook, Omnifocus, Safari, iMessage, WORD and PowerPoint.

I am lucky if I get three and a half hours of battery before i'm at 3%. I've tested this consistently over several days.

I did think long and hard before replacing a MPB13Retina with the new MB12 - thought about an MBA11 but after trialing the machine (and having come from Retina) you cannot go back to a regular small screen - and if you travel a lot, you want a smaller, lighter machine.

That being said, I am disappointed with the day to day needs for USB (perhaps my Sandisk USB-C flash drive will partially help here) and the Performance.

The Intel M processor is just not up to real day to day business usage. Open a large document and PPT and the thing begins to get laggardly on menus and other click functions, scrolling between desktops etc. The machine runs hot because of the extra work the processor is having to do.

But the Battery is the issue. For me, 10 hours is not necessary, 6 solid hours is very good, 5 solid hours is necessary.

I'm just not seeing that - and having to compromise with only running one desktop or one app at a time seems to defeat the object of a Unix Operating System and Business Usage.

So, if this laptop was designed solely for streaming Netflix, then it should be advertised that way.

I did not buy it for that purpose. I can do that on my other iDevices.

Paul

September 6, 2015, 8:05 pm

dont be hating

sidspacewalker

September 14, 2015, 4:40 pm

Yeah the choice of the processor for the laptop just kills it.

Nick Gu

October 21, 2015, 5:37 pm

There are also not many Hub alternatives for the new MacBook. Apple's dongle is selling quite expensively and the the Dongle designer is probably not Johnny Ive so it might not be as well design (in appearance) as the Apple laptop itself.

At the end you get a Dongle that is out of place.

For People who might want a Hub for more ports for connection expansion on their MacBook. Check this project out.

https://www.kickstarter.com/pr...

It is also an interesting locking device for the New MacBook or other Apple laptop models.

Angela Miller

April 2, 2016, 2:48 pm

It's easy to extend battery life. WWW.DETOXMAC.ORG will speed up your Mac if it starts going slowly. It is the same software that Apple employees use if customers come in saying their Mac is going too slow or that they are seeing the rainbow wheel too often. It's great for extending battery life too.

Eric Strayer

April 5, 2016, 9:47 pm

Thought I'd chime in, as I am in love. Well, my 12" and I have been dating for several months now. I certainly agree that it is limited and add-ons are a pisser. But it is perfect for my needs as I have an iMac for the mother ship (but the 21" is super slow compared top this little guy- I mean gal if it matters.

It weighs nothing. Is sharp enough that the small screen is of very little encumbrance. The battery life is fine, but i expected better. It is a perfect fit for the dropdown tray on a CRJ200 flight (imagine that!). As I teach college, I can walk around the class with it open and in one hand. Those add-ons do work for projectors etc. Yes, it is pretty expensive but like I said, I found a good mate here.

So none of this bashing regarding dollars over performance. This is really an apples/oranges thing. A different box altogether. I feel stupid having an iPad and a Kindle now as this lets me read in bed, on airplanes, and to copy paste save send articles and annotated Kindle books etc. And on and on.

Macbook 12. A love affair.

Patrick Negus

April 14, 2016, 12:25 am

The USB Type-C on the Macbook 12 is NOT faster than the USB 3.0 standard- both are still rated at 5 Gbps. Unfortunately, if this had had Thunderbolt 3 it would be a far more attractive computer. The keyboard is just poor, as well, and the screen destroys the battery life.

Galaxy_Surfer_007

June 29, 2016, 7:22 pm

"But then again, that's why I never have any money and Apple has hundreds of billions."

LOL! Funniest comment I've read all day on the web!

Galaxy_Surfer_007

July 8, 2016, 11:05 am

Mike, did you ever figure out your situation? Did you return it? It sounds as if it might have been defective given all the other, much longer battery life reports. Did you go back to the MBP?

vibe666

July 21, 2016, 5:53 am

possible confustion on the part of the author as it *technically* it meets the standards of 3.1 and is labelled as such and should be capable of up to 10Gbps, but it's only actually functioning at 5Gbps at the moment.

*apparently* there's supposed to be an update of some description down the line once 10Gbps capable peripherals start to hit the street, but until then, it's probably best to take it all with a pinch of salt. :)

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