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First look: Apple's new MacBook is small, yet completely capable

Michael deAgonia | April 29, 2015
A first look at Apple's new MacBook reveals a beautifully designed, conveniently compact laptop with some interesting -- and potentially problematic -- features.

macbook

A few years ago, my first impression of the MacBook Air was generally dismissive -- I felt the Air was underpowered and overpriced -- until I took a second look and realized it was perfect for road warriors. I won't make that mistake twice with Apple's latest MacBook. Like the MacBook Air, the 12-in. MacBook has new design elements that will be a deal-breaker for some and a revelation for others.

As of this writing, I've spent less than a week with this laptop -- and the MacBook, with its forward-thinking design and accompanying tradeoffs, is the type of computer that requires time to get a real feel for its strengths and weaknesses. Instead, think of this as more of a first impression; I'll see how these observations hold up when I fully evaluate the MacBook after I've used it more.

The review unit is configured with a 1.1GHz Intel Core M processor using a Broadwell system architecture that can bump the speed when needed to 2.4GHz via Turbo Boost; has 8GB of 1600MHz DDR3 memory; powers the screen with an Intel HD Graphics 5300 chip; and offers 256GB of SSD storage. This version costs $1,299; there is also a version for $1,599 that features a 1.2GHz processor and 512GB of SSD storage.

Either version offers more color choices than just the standard Apple aluminum (which the company calls silver): It also comes in space gray (the color of the review unit) and gold.

small size, great display, new keyboard

First of all: Wow, the MacBook really is a small computer. Listing the dimensions -- 7.74 x 11.04 x 0.14-0.52 in. when the lid is shut and weighing slightly over 2 lb. -- doesn't quite capture how portable this computer is. In comparison, my day-to-day computer, the 15-in. MacBook Pro (2012), looks huge. When the new MacBook is placed atop the open 15-in. MacBook Pro, it fits within the width of the Pro's keyboard and barely reaches about halfway to the rows of numbers. And at 0.14 in. at its thickest point, the MacBook makes even the 13-in. MacBook Air look oversized.

From the get-go, the 12-in. Retina display produces crisp images and amazing text. Despite the fact that the MacBook has a smaller screen size than I'm accustomed to, I haven't had any trouble reading on-screen text. And although the screen has an actual resolution of 2304 x 1440 pixels (which means text, icons and other images can get pretty tiny), you can set it to something easier on the eyes using System Preferences > Displays.

I always rave about the build quality of Apple hardware -- how the unibody design (in which the load-bearing frame of the notebooks is chiseled from a single slab of aluminum) helps create a sense of rigidness and firmness, giving the immediate impression of a quality product. The new MacBook takes this to an entirely new level: The device feels different from the other Apple notebooks.

 

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