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Review: The new 12-inch MacBook is a laptop without an ecosystem

Jason Snell | April 10, 2015
The new MacBook is the future of Apple laptops. The Force Touch trackpad, Retina display, and 2 pound weight make up for the MacBook's weak keyboard and slower performance, but not everyone can live on...

new macbook primary

Apple's often been a company that pushes new technology into a world that's reluctant to receive it or doesn't know what to make of it. It's a company that's often designing for what it sees as the world of the future and not today. The first iMac dropped off legacy ports and embraced the then-unknown connection standard called USB. The MacBook Air ditched optical media. Even the current Mac Pro is a complete redefinition of what the standard features of a professional workstation should be.

This approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Apple has rightfully gained a reputation for being on the cutting edge. Its designs push the entire computer industry forward--sometimes kicking and screaming. But it can be painful to live on the cutting edge. New iMac buyers couldn't use any of their old Mac accessories without buying adapters, and it was months before USB accessories were widespread. MacBook Air owners had to grapple with their inability to insert a CD or DVD to install software.

Using a computer that feels like it fell through a time warp from the future is fun, but if that computer drops through the wormhole without any compatible accessories then there's going to be some aggravation, too.

The new MacBook is one of those Apple products. It feels like it came from the future, and didn't bring its ecosystem with it. With its single USB-C port for both charging and peripherals, it's unlike any Mac previous made. It's the smallest, lightest Mac laptop ever, offers a Retina display, and yet it boasts all-day battery life. Using it alone will be a pleasure, but trying to plug it in to all your existing technology will be a pain.

Clearly Apple's goal with the new MacBook was to reduce it in every conceivable dimension. Its width is defined by the width of the keyboard, bringing to mind the old 12-inch PowerBook, which was similarly constrained. That makes it seven-tenths of an inch narrower than even the 11-inch MacBook Air, and 1.7 inches narrower than the 13-inch Air. I deeply loved that old 12-inch PowerBook, and one of the reasons was that it was no wider than its keyboard. Ten years later, Apple has once again created a laptop whose keyboard goes right to the edge, and I love it.

The MacBook is 7.7 inches deep, making it deeper than the 11-inch MacBook Air, but not the 13-inch model. This added depth owes to the ratio of the MacBook's display--it's a 16:10 aspect ratio like the 13-inch Air, rather than the 16:9 ratio found on the 11-inch model. Much more about that display in a little bit.


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