OPINION: The 12-inch MacBook was one of my favourite Apple laptops. It was the first to introduce USB-C, it ditched the fan and focussed on portability.
It was far from perfect – the keyboard was notoriously terrible, with very little key travel – but it was a dinky machine that felt like the ideal choice for those who spent days moving around, writing, and replying to emails.
It also was a notable improvement over Apple’s other smaller laptop, the 11-inch MacBook Air, as it brought down features that had previously been reserved for pricier MacBook Pros, like a sharp Retina display and large trackpad.
While it had a good run with a couple of revisions that helped sort out some of the initial issues, the MacBook 12-inch has since vanished from Apple’s line-up with no obvious replacement in sight.
The obvious reason for this is the ever-growing iPad range has taken its place, positioning itself as the more affordable, smaller machine for students and the like. Having spent the past week reviewing the new iPad 10th gen and its Magic Keyboard Folio add-on, it’s clear to me that this is the best representation of the iPad as a laptop replacement yet, especially for those who yearn for the MacBook 12-inch.
The iPad 10th gen isn’t the most powerful iPad, nor is it the most feature-rich. It lacks the M1 (or M2) chip found in the iPad Air and Pro, doesn’t have a Mini LED display and can’t even take advantage of the new desktop-style Stage Manager feature added with iOS 16.1 that allows for apps to be resized and shunted off into separate windows.
Yet, there are a number of changes here that make this iPad feel like the most familiar option for those looking for an iPad to replace a laptop.
First of all is the repositioned front FaceTime camera, which now sits alongside the long side of the device, rather than on the short side.
This is how it sits on just about every laptop, and while it might seem a small tweak, it actually makes this webcam usable. On all other iPads, the positioning of the front camera meant that when the tablet was docked in a keyboard case, the focus would be on the side of your face rather than the front – it was, and still is, very annoying.
There are no such issues with this iPad. It’s just a very good webcam, in the position it should be.
The Magic Keyboard Folio is the real reason why this is Apple’s most successful attempt at a laptop-rivaling iPad, and it’s a much better overall product than the Magic keyboard you’ll find sold alongside both the iPad Air and iPad Pro.
While the Magic Keyboard has a rigid, floating design that offers very little movement in the position of the display, the Folio version has a multi-part build that allows for the iPad to be tilted forward and back, far more like a laptop. I’ve found this added movement makes using the combo far more comfortable, as I can move the screen out of the way of bright lights or the line of the sun.
The keyboard also adds a function row of shortcuts, just like you’d find on a MacBook. I still find it bizarre Apple couldn’t find room for this essential set of keys on the Magic Keyboard, as it’s such a basic addition. Being able to adjust the volume and brightness or skip through songs without having to either interact with the display is so much quicker – and more efficient.
It’s clear to me that Apple will, eventually, bring these changes to the wider iPad range. But for now, with a 10.9-inch display that makes for a portable device, a price that undercuts a MacBook Air and more familiar laptop features, the iPad 10th gen and Magic Keyboard Folio is Apple’s best attempt yet at combining the iPad and laptop experience into one product.
Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focused opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon.