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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...

As I write this, Monoprice has announced a whole bunch of USB-C cables, including one that would've worked perfectly to attach the MacBook to another Mac for target mode. Belkin announced a similar clutch of products a few weeks back. The USB-C ecosystem is coming, and that's good, but out of the box today the MacBook is basically not compatible with anything you own. You'll need to buy a bunch of adapters and cables if you need to make it work with the rest of the world. If you ever need to hook into a projector or other video display, you'll want to buy a USB-C video adapter and carry it with you, because for quite some time nobody else is going to have one for you to borrow.

And then gradually, over time, the MacBook's use of USB-C will cease to be an issue. USB-C itself is an exciting new technology. You don't have to worry about whether you're plugging it in upside-down or not, so it'll save you time and frustration. Someone will make a great docking station to use with it. This will all become mainstream, eventually, but right now it's not.

Apple's argument with the MacBook, as it was back in 2008 with the first MacBook Air, is that everything's becoming wireless, so ports don't matter. That's certainly more true now than it was seven years ago. The MacBook is a device built for people who are not plugging and unplugging external devices every day, and there are more of those people now than ever. But if you're not one of those people, this is not the laptop you're looking for.

Display
Everyone's talking about the size of the MacBook and its single USB port, but the marquee feature of the product is really its screen. This 12-inch retina display introduces high-resolution Mac display goodness to a small, light laptop for the first time ever. The display's physical resolution is 2304 by 1440 pixels, meaning that at standard "2x" retina resolution, it's the equivalent of a 1152x720 display.

But here's the thing: At that resolution, the 12-inch display seems small. Like, really small. Nearly unusably small. So Apple has made the decision to ship the MacBook with its default resolution scaled to emulate a 1280 x 800 display, roughly the same screen area as you'd find on an 11-inch MacBook Air. Fortunately, the scaled resolution looks really good. But after a little while, I decided I wanted my display scaled even more, so I switched it to the More Space setting, which emulates a 1440x900 display, the equivalent number of pixels as the 13-inch Air. This was the setting I used for the rest of my time with the MacBook.

 

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