Final Words

Bringing this MacBook review to a close, I’m going to start where I left off in our introduction, which was the concept of the laptop/tablet crossover. The idea of laptops and tablets crossing over is no longer merely an idea, but now it is reality. Apple for their part may not be doing any kind of wild 2-in-1 transforming design, or even pushing the concept of a touchscreen OS X device, but they have clearly tapped their immense experience with tablets in putting together the new MacBook.

From a design perspective then the end product is clearly a Mac laptop, but it’s a Mac laptop that’s more tablet-like than any before it. From the small size, to the low weight, the choice of a Core M processor, the passive, fanless cooling system, and of course the choice of metallic colors, the MacBook pushes against the line that separates Apple’s laptops from their tablets.

There are of course numerous benefits and drawbacks from this, with some of them being obvious and others a bit more subtle. The biggest benefit of course is the size; the MacBook is a 0.92kg, 1.31cm thick professional grade Mac laptop, with many of great features that come with such a device. If the Retina MacBook Pro were miniaturized, then it would end up looking and behaving a lot like the MacBook that Apple is delivering today.

The biggest drawback in turn is what you give up to pack a full Mac into such a small laptop. Make no mistake, Core M is no slouch, and in bursting workloads can perform very well. But when faced with sustained workloads, a 4.5W processor can only go so far, and it’s not going to be able – nor is it meant to – keep up with the more powerful processors found in the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro. The end result then is performance that’s anywhere between on-par with last year’s MacBook Air to the MacBook Air of a few years ago, depending on the specific task being run.

Meanwhile in the middle are a multitude of new technologies being first introduced in this generation. The new keyboard and its butterfly mechanism are certainly different, and the reduced key travel takes some getting used to, but once accustomed to it I like the stability of the keys. Similarly, the new Force Touch Trackpad is mechanically very different, and I’m still not sold on whether Apple is going to be able to find too many useful situations for the force touch capabilities. But on the other hand I’m definitely impressed with how natural the trackpad feels despite lacking a true switch mechanism and recreating that feel with an electromagnet instead.

Also deserving of attention is the MacBook’s 12” Retina IPS display. Particularly since the move to Retina Apple has been doing a great job on producing high quality pro displays, and the MacBook’s doesn’t fail to impress. The MacBook’s display’s out of the box performance is among the best we’ve ever seen, rivaling (and at times exceeding) the Retina MacBook Pro, which is to say that the end product is a very accurate, very sharp display. Mac users have been clamoring for a Mac ultra-portable with a Retina display for some time now, and although I don’t think the MacBook was quite what everyone had in mind, the MacBook’s display certainly is.

And then there’s Apple’s introduction of the USB Type-C port, which on such a small laptop like the MacBook takes on a whole new importance. Apple has always been on the cutting edge of I/O and their rapid adoption of USB Type-C is no exception. Relying on it for both I/O and charging is in turn a logical move given the interface’s capabilities, but I would also have to argue that Apple has taken it too far with just a single Type-C port. The Type-C port was the right call – teething issues and all – but Apple has unnecessarily hindered the MacBook by only giving it the single port. Even with its small, ultra-portable design there are still times where it’s desirable to charge the MacBook and use it with an external peripheral at the same time.

What we’re left with is a solid, though by no means perfect new entry into the MacBook family. I hesitate to call the MacBook a niche product since niche implies highly specialized when in fact the MacBook isn’t quite that specialized – it’s just small – but it’s clearly one product in Apple’s larger lineup. What the MacBook isn’t is a replacement for the Retina MacBook Pro or MacBook Air – at least not today – as it’s a laptop for users who already have other laptops or desktops; it is a second computer, not a first one. And admittedly this is the same designation that was applied to the MacBook Air on its launch several years ago, but as the Air’s performance has improved over the years and it was shifted to Apple’s entry-level laptop, it has certainly become the sole computer for an increasing portion of its user base.

Speaking solely for myself here, I’ve come away rather impressed with the MacBook. As an 11” Ultrabook user I already have a fondness for the weight and size of the form factor, and as a journalist frequently carrying around a laptop to trade shows and meetings I particularly appreciate the reduction in weight. The regression in performance is unfortunate, but the combination of weight, battery life, the Retina display, and the keyboard in my mind more than make up for the performance the MacBook can’t offer. After all, I have a workstation for when I need performance; what the MacBook fulfills is delivering acceptable performance when I’m away from that workstation and need portability over performance.

Briefly, I also want to touch on price. The MacBook’s $1299 starting price tag is very much an Apple price tag – which is to say expensive – however it’s also one that goes hand-in-hand with markedly improved base specifications for an Apple laptop. The 11” MacBook Air starts at just $899, but as Apple’s entry-level laptop I will also argue until I’m blue in the face that it’s underequipped for 2015; 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD aren’t enough. Which is a point I make because after upgrading the Air to a more acceptable 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD the price tag is up to $1199, at which point it’s only $100 off of the MacBook. At least compared to the rest of Apple’s lineup I find that the base MacBook isn’t so much expensive as the base MacBook Air is just a bit too cheaply built.

Anyhow, on a broader note, while I doubt Apple was looking quite this far into the future when they created the initial MacBook Air, I get the distinct impression that this is the kind of device they have been building towards. Apple has always been held back by technology to some degree – be it processor size, storage size, or display power requirements – and it’s only now in 2015 that the pieces have come together to allow them to make a laptop this small. I don’t believe this is a stopping point for Apple simply because one way or another they’re going to keep iterating, but compared to the MacBook Air there isn’t the same need nor ability to make a MacBook even smaller.

Which brings me to my final point, which is the future direction of the Apple’s Mac laptop families. The fact that the MacBook is the MacBook, and not the MacBook Nano or some other named MacBook is something I believe is telling. Although there’s clearly a risk in reading too much into Apple’s future plans based on a name alone, I have to seriously wonder where the MacBook and the MacBook Air go from here. Apple still needs an entry-level Mac laptop, but do they need the MacBook Air in particular? Just as the newer MacBook Air rendered the previous generation MacBook redundant in due time, I suspect Apple may intentionally following the same course with the new MacBook. But as to whether that comes to pass, only time will tell.

Battery Life & WiFi Performance
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  • lilmoe - Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - link

    "I’m going to start where I left off in our introduction, which was the concept of the laptop/tablet crossover. The idea of laptops and tablets crossing over is no longer merely an idea, but now it is reality"

    Yea. Back here, we call those "Netbooks". But "crossover" sounds cooler.
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - link

    You don't know what a netbook is. They were cheap devices with low quality screens and poor build quality. Try reading the review you are commenting on.
  • lilmoe - Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - link

    OK, so it's a better quality netbook. Got it :P
  • vFunct - Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - link

    Sorta like how a laptop is a higher quality netbook.

    Or, how a computer is a higher-quality calculator.
  • PEJUman - Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - link

    Maybe in 2012 laptop is higher quality netbook. I am starting to feel that Anandtech is getting too 'careful' with the OEMs. M9 is bad, call it that. this Macbook fits squarely in the netbook term from functionality standpoint, despite the price premium for the fit and finish. No need to redefine a new 'crossover' term just to keep Apple marketing managers happy.

    Right now, chromebook and other ultraportables (such as this one) with the relatively slow core M are the de-facto sucessor to netbook. Single usb port also a netbook typical compromise. It not convertible nor it has a touchscreen, so.. NETBOOK.

    Tech evolves, therefore performance expectation should evolve with it. the core M is barely faster than a 2012 intel i3-3217U on geekbench. It is the lowest performance tier of Intel big core family.

    Anandtech used to be unbiased, I think they finally started the slow descent towards 'marketing for OEM'. I understand where this is coming from, and I am willing to pay for anandtech subscription if that what it takes to restore the one place a techie can get an unbiased, deep dive into new techs.

    Purch should differentiate Tom's & Anand by using Tom's for their mainstream, 'marketing compatible portal' while turning Anand into a subscription based portal, with reviews selection based on customer votes, each one completely unbiased, purely technical, pull-no-punches style.
  • ws3 - Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - link

    Something like the transformer book is a modern day netbook: atom processor, $300 price, questionable build quality --- all the traits of a netbook.
  • BittenRottenApple - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    Yet another fine addition to the long list of "Terrible Products Apple Makes to Gouge Money out of People".

    The new MacBook is a testament to Apple's collapsing technical acumen. They eliminate all ports except for one outdated USB port? This craven stupidity should send the last adherents running. But running to what? Windows isn't even a viable option anymore, since it now is the most widespread commercial NSA gathering tool available, closely followed by Android, iOS and OS X.

    It's a sad day for people who need real computers. Jony Ive is a pompous, clueless hack who should be fired for introducing crippling regressions like this one.

    Look at this POS: One USB port, which will require an adapter to do anything. So if you're going to require an adapter anyway, why not make that one port a modern one: Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt can carry USB, video, Ethernet, external storage... ALL AT ONCE. And it can be daisy-chained, which is hugely important when the computer has ONLY ONE PORT. So WTF is Apple doing making its sole port USB?

    And again, are you kidding me? One tiny USB connector? Now every sorry user of this pos has to find a thunderbolt to USB C, a USB C to USB to HDMI, a USB to USB 3.0 period, a USB C to USB connector for apple’s time machine and also manage to don't short circuit all that with the AC/DC to USB C connectors, seriously ? Worth 200$ new pile of hairy connectors for the brand new gold macbook air, and that is called a revolution nowadays? No ********** way, the Dell XPS 13 is way superior, period.

    By the way, they're perpetrating USB Type C connectors. Thunderbolt is a much-needed step to a modern I/O standard. USB is an outdated, abused standard that was designed for keyboards, mice, and modems. It's not suitable for external storage, video, or anything else requiring bulk data transfer with minimal CPU overhead. USB C is a regression, a major step BACKWARD.

    $1599.99----Less than $550.00 worth of hardware = ~$1000 premium to use OS X instead of windows. (Honestly the most expensive component of this computer is probably the screen.)
    Anyone with real work to do will not even be able to buy this thing. My friend’s last Air was neat in that it was small and lasted all day, but it was so under-powered, it was frustrating. I can only imagine how limited this machine will be.

    Who cares about price, weight and size, when this product is crippled by a hopelessly defective design? You can't hook up a power adapter and external storage at the same time. You can't hook up an external display and external storage. Hell, you can't even plug in a thumb drive!

    This product is the most asinine piece of shit Apple has produced, and that includes the (thankfully) short-lived Shuffle that could only be controlled by a gimped Morse code.

    $700 less gets you the new Dell XPS 13 which will eat the Mac's lunch.

    If you need to do a lot of processor intensive work, than you would not even go near this thing. It would be useless to you. If you need to crunch spreadsheets or are heavy in corporate analysis, this computer would also be useless to you.

    This is the kind of computer that Apple sells a lot of. This computer is largely useless for anything other than email and facebook. It cannot store many files, it cannot process much information, and it has one external port. There is nothing wrong with using this computer for casual tasks, but it is CERTAINLY not a productivity machine.

    It is what it is. A status symbol/statement. Or some other statement. A statement that you just bought a $400 netbook with a $900 case so you can show off in front of your hipster friends.

    I hate to stick to Apple only facts here, but Apple said that the Air is 24% thicker than this new Macbook. That does NOT mean that the new Macbook is 24% thinner than the Air, it means that it is ~20% thinner than the Air. They clearly phrased it that way to make it sound more impressive and hence dupe the consumer, aka stupid isheep.

    So, it's an iPad plus with a keyboard and an over expensive dongle so you can do everything a Dell can do, at twice the price while looking posh.
    And here I thought technology was about function over form. I get it, functional art; art I can do things my phone does, but in a space that anyone can see me doing it, stylishly. Crippled and non standard in-house branded "business" software does great, can't do anything really artistic on it except maybe GarageBand or stock filter photo edits to my innumerable selfies, but it's got that partially eaten fruit on the back that screams "money I'm too stupid to keep or invest wisely."

    Take my money!
    I wouldn't hold my breath.

    This is apple's marketing strategy: mind-numbing markup on dirt-cheap, mediocre laptops. They throw together a cheap little laptop, pretty it up with silver or gold paint, and ride the wave of ignorance, outrageous markup, and marketing that they've been using as a business model for many, many years now. The only thing Apple has ever made that's less worthless than all the other crap their conspirators like Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd excrete all day and night by taking advantage of child labour are iOS and OS X which, besides being notoriously crippled and constrained walled gardens, aren’t even worth the hassle unless you also dumped thousands of dollars into other apple products.

    Many apple owners I’ve encountered never stop trying to belittle and demean others because they don’t have a Macbook or an iPhone and then try to act like their overpriced apple products are overall better when they are certainly not, by any standard.

    Luxury cars, while still worthless crash grabs, usually offer some quality and features that are actually somewhat superior to cheaper competing brands and models.
    Macbooks such as this start already expensive as hell with little performance to warrant such outrageous costs. Apple isn’t the luxury car of anything. It’s the luxury car DESIGN with a 4-cylinder under the hood and a tape-deck in the sound system, all with the price tag of "luxury". They sell laptops made cheap in china, using child labour and the same hardware you can find in SO many other laptops, slap their OS on it, put it in a thin case, and then markup the price by 300% to 600%. These are the facts. This laptop in question is nowhere NEAR worth that kind of money. I mean, laptops in general are overpriced, but apple has made their entire business model out of extreme markups backed by clever marketing with little actual technological superiority of any kind. Every single apple product on the market can be outperformed in every way by comparable products. Apple computers can be outperformed by computers that are FAR FAR cheaper while relying on older tech. The only thing that apple has that nobody else does is OSX and iOS, their operating systems. These are mediocre operating systems, but they are literally designed to be limited on anything it determines to be "non-apple hardware". Other operating systems can be installed on just about any computer you can slap together, whereas OSX is specifically and deliberately designed to be non-functional on ANYTHING that isn’t made by apple. It’s nothing but a cash-grab.

    Apple is indeed playing run-of-the-mill capitalism, they try to capitalize on the ignorance of the average consumer with marketing campaigns designed to make you assume you're getting your money's worth.

    There are millions of consumers who are on the fence, who are actually interested in buying something that's worth the money they spend. Those people deserve factual information and do not deserve to be exploited for their ignorance on the topic. So excuse me if I have a problem with it. College students especially, who don’t have a lot to spend in the first place, are being taken advantage of in every area of their life. Buying a computer should be one less area of exploitation. This is why I have a problem with apple and with many other companies and services that attempt to capitalize on ignorance.

    Years down the road when the batteries in this model are dead and you have to keep it plugged in just to use then you'll have no way to plug in a flash drive or an external hard drive. I don't care how sexy it looks: sometimes and more often than not less means a serious lack of functionality.

    We can only hope that consumers send this piece of diabolic garbage to oblivion, as they did the idiotic iPod Shuffle that could only be controlled with Morse code over a proprietary headphone wire.
  • Notwist - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    You literally just typed a small novel spewing a bunch of claims without citing anything to support your arguments, or outright fabricating stuff. It's the absolute definition of a poorly written, complete waste of time. Please take your rants elsewhere, Anandtech readers, last I checked, enjoy discussing tech, not spouting conspiracy theories and raving like lunatics.
  • superflex - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    I thought it was quite good.
    You sound like a butthurt iFanboi
  • star-affinity - Friday, April 24, 2015 - link

    I thought it was bad and not nuanced at all. Things aren't that black and white. Reality comer in many shades.

    People have the right to have an *informed* opinion. The long post above is unfortunately based mostly on ignorance.

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