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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.

The combination of short key travel, larger keys and the rigid behavior of key presses due to the new design really changes the feel of typing — something not everyone will like. Some reviewers have panned the new keyboard: For example, one blogger stated that pressing the keys feels like pressing an iPhone's home button. And that's actually a pretty accurate comparison. As for me — after a while, I grew accustomed to it, and now I prefer it.

Another redesigned element is the new Force Touch trackpad. The MacBook's glass-coated trackpad shares a similar aspect ratio to the display — but that's not what makes this tech special. The trackpad — also available in the 13- and 15-in MacBook Pro lineup — is built around four force sensors that can detect how much pressure is applied; this, in turn, can trigger different behaviors, depending on which application is in use.

For example, unlike the previous trackpad, which used a spring mechanism for tactile feedback when clicking, the Force Touch's haptic engine produces physical feedback that simulates a click when the trackpad is pressed. When pressed harder than a normal tap, the trackpad responds with a double-tap, triggering contextually sensitive results: Force-clicking a link in Safari, for instance, will open the link in a preview window; force-click on a word and OS X will display its definition. In the QuickTime app, the amount of pressure exerted when pressing will adjust the speed at which movies are fast-forwarded and rewound, while applications like iMovie offer haptic feedback in the form of a subtle tap when you reach the end of a clip. (The force feedback sensitivity and feedback can be adjusted in the System Preferences / Trackpad pane.)

As with the keyboard, there's just enough give to provide mechanical feedback, but the new trackpad definitely has a different feel — a feel that some long-time users might not like. I took to it right away, and the more I used it, the more I appreciated it. I love the multitouch trackpad on Apple devices, and while haptic feedback has been around in game controllers for a long time now, the way the Force Touch tech is implemented just makes Apple's notebook lineup better. I'm really looking forward to what app developers do with this technology.

A great Retina display

The MacBook has a Retina display with over 3.3 million pixels squeezed into its 12 inches, adding up to 226 pixels per inch. OS X's High Dots Per Inch (HiDPI) feature scales the interface to fit on the display; it can be adjusted under System Preferences / Displays by selecting Scaled interface instead of Default. On the MacBook, you can scale the resolution to 1024 x 640, 1152 x 720, 1280 x 800 (the default setting) or 1440 x 900.


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