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Long-term review: The new MacBook is a great travel laptop

Michael deAgonia | May 28, 2015
There are a lot of innovations crammed into Apple's latest MacBook, including a 12-in. Retina display, a new Force Touch trackpad, a full-size keyboard that's been redesigned to compensate for the device's size, the introduction of USB-C (a new USB standard featuring a reversible connection) and cleverly stacked batteries for maximum space efficiency. Also, for the first time, Apple is offering the MacBook in space gray, silver and gold, the same colors it offers in the iPhone and iPad lineup.

There are a lot of innovations crammed into Apple's latest MacBook, including a 12-in. Retina display, a new Force Touch trackpad, a full-size keyboard that's been redesigned to compensate for the device's size, the introduction of USB-C (a new USB standard featuring a reversible connection) and cleverly stacked batteries for maximum space efficiency. Also, for the first time, Apple is offering the MacBook in space gray, silver and gold, the same colors it offers in the iPhone and iPad lineup.

But looking past the specs, the question is: What is the new MacBook like as a day-to-day system? I spent a month with the MacBook — including two round-trip car rides between Orlando, Fla. and Providence, R.I. — in an attempt to find out.

The unit I reviewed is the $1,299 model, which is equipped with a dual-core 1.1GHz Intel Core M processor (designed around the Broadwell system architecture); the built-in Turbo Boost can clock the processor to 2.4GHz on an as-needed basis. An Intel HD Graphics 5300 chip powers the 12-in. 2304 x 1440 Retina display that has an aspect ratio of 16:10. This entry-level model also comes with 8GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 memory (that cannot be upgraded) and 256GB of PCIe-based onboard flash storage. There is also a $1,599 version that features a dual-core 1.2GHz processor and 512GB of PCIe-based onboard flash storage.

The only configurable option is to upgrade the processor to a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core M (Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz) for an additional $250 on the entry model or $150 more on the higher-end model. All other features are locked into place.

The rest of the new MacBook's features include a 480p FaceTime camera for video calls that's hidden in the center of the display's black border; a stereo port on the right side; a backlit keyboard with ambient light sensor; Bluetooth 4; 802.11ac Wi-Fi; stereo speakers above the keyboard; and dual microphones (used for noise cancellation).

A small laptop with a full-size keyboard

This is a computer that makes the MacBook Air look huge. When I wrote my first impressions regarding this computer, I said that reading the dimensions (7.74 x 11.04 x 0.14-0.52 in. when the lid is shut, weighing in at slightly over 2 lb.) hardly does it justice. After using it for nearly a month, the size and weight are still a surprise.

It's also surprising how quickly I became accustomed to the MacBook's edge-to-edge keyboard, which had to be redesigned to fit the device's profile. Instead of going with a traditional scissor mechanism for the keys, a new butterfly method was invented that resulted in a shorter throw without the wobbly key travel that usually happens if you press the edge of a key while typing. Apple also enlarged the keys by 17%, leaving much smaller gaps between each.

 

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