By Liam H. Dooley, Fiction Author
I have owned the MacBook 12 inch retina for about two weeks, with moderate use. I want to give you an honest review that is more than just a critic or expert looking at it at an Apple conference or posting their review 20 minutes after taking it out of the box.
The summary? This is not a good computer for most people, and Apple basically screwed up. But it’s not the worst product in the world either.
MacBook Air versus MacBook 12 inch retina
I owned a 2012 MacBook Air 11 inch and was looking to upgrade. The Air was declining in processing power, battery life, and its 128 gb hard drive was inadequate for 2015. And I just wanted a new computer. So what to get?
Well, if you don’t want a Mac, then this eliminates all of the computers I was looking at. I was trying to decide between either MacBook Air, this MacBook 12 inch, and MacBook Pro 13 inch retina. But what were my requirements?
Well, what I can say is that in my 3 years or so of using the 11 inch MacBook Air I never said, “I wish this was smaller!” The Air was a good size and, in fact, closer to 12 inches rather than 11. It easily opened up on planes, easily fit into any bag, and was light enough while being so hard and rigid that it could easily take a moderate beating. What I needed in particular was more battery life and better resolution. And cost was not an issue.
If only Apple had built the MacBook Airs with retina, I would not have had any problem choosing. But unfortunately, they did not, and the long story short is that of the main factors I wanted, a small size with a retina screen won out (this eliminated the MacBook Pros that are quite heavy, and the MacBooks Airs had poor resolution).
Overall thoughts of the MacBook 12 inch retina
PRO – THE GOOD
- Amazing screen. I simply cannot happily use non-retina monitors anymore. Looking at the MacBook Air 11 inch is like stepping back a decade. Yes, the difference is that big. Even using desktop monitors with non-retina now are unpleasant, and it might push me to buy an iMac. This MacBook screen is sharp, crisp, with great colour, etc. Just simply a whole new world compared to the Air
- It’s small. Smaller than the MacBook Air, but not so much so that it makes a difference. But way smaller than a MacBook Pro, which is why I did not buy one of those.
- There is not much to say about the keyboard – which is a Positive. Because it is flatter and uses a different mechanism than the Air and the Pro, it has less key travel; that is it doesn’t press as far down. It’s not as comfortable to type on as the other Macs, but honestly after a week or so I’m 90% used to it. The backlighting is much more exact on the keys, but here again this was not an issue for me with the MacBook Air.
- Mousepad / Trackpad / Touchpad. Whatever you want to call this thing, it was SUPERIOR on the MacBook Air. I had had innumerable notebook PCs and they all gave me false feedback, were too small, had awkward buttons, etc. But the Mac touchpad was amazing, and I feared that a new design, as we find on the MacBook 12 inch, would ruin a good thing. But it did not. I barely notice a difference. I had to increase the pressure sensitivity because I had a few false touches, but now it works fine. I’ve read that the pressing is not actually physical movement downwards but haptic feedback. Frankly, I can’t tell the difference. And that super third or fourth dimensional deep touch – force touch – on the Mac trackpad? Don’t use it, don’t notice it, and don’t care. If it evolves into something that works, great. If not, Mac still makes the best trackpad.
- Wow!! So much better than the tin sound from the MacBook Air. It seems like the speaker is aiming upwards not inwards, so the sound is full and loud.
- 256 or 512 GB hard drive. What more can be said? The smallest hard drive they have for this MacBook is pretty big!
CONS – THE BAD
Frankly, Apple has basically rushed to design and produce a machine that made too many compromises. Here are some real show-stoppers.
- Battery life. It’s a measly 6 or so hours, depending on what you are doing. Think that’s enough now? Well wait 2 years after 500 or so charges, and it will have dropped to 4 hours. One year later or so, down to 3. This isn’t the fault of Apple, but of rechargeable batteries in general. They just decrease in efficiency over time, so it’s better to start with more rather than less battery life. Since the MacBook Air 11 gets some 9 hours or so of battery power, it will take a few years to drop down to the level of a new MacBook 12 inch. Here is one area where a thicker case would have been beneficial – more space equals bigger battery which means longer battery life.
- This computer runs hot. I spend a lot of time in warm environments, say 23-26 celcius inside. If I run the web, YouTube, Spotify, and MS Office it’s almost too hot to touch. At least the heat sink is at and below the speaker, so not on the edges where the computer rests on my leg. But is such a hot computer really good?
- Processing power. I won’t go into the technical details of the processor – since I don’t really get them. But it’s clear to me this MacBook struggles with a lot of things. Scrolling, moving between apps, games, etc. Yes, two finger swipe to scroll up and down, or three finger swipe to move between apps lags and/or is choppy. For the most part it works eventually, but the loss of smooth movements is unfortunate, and as programs grow and become more processor intensive over time, it leads me to think that the lifespan of this computer will be short. I’ll need to buy a new model in a couple of years just to keep up with the software upgrades.
- I don’t play a lot of games on the MacBook Air 11 or MacBook 12 inch. Because I know they don’t like them, and they overheat or at least get very hot quickly. One game I do play is Civilization 5 – a fairly old and non intensive game. The MacBook 12 plays it better than my old MacBook Air 11 inch – but the 12 gets very hot running the game.
- The charger is USB-C based, and plugs into the computer much more firmly and deeper than the other MacBook magnetic chargers. The result? If you trip on the USB-C charger, the computer is going to go down in a bad way.
- USB-C. This is the latest USB standard, and at the moment is a standard of one. It runs quickly in terms of data transfer, and is very small, and is not up-down unique. This means you don’t have to figure out what direction to plug it in. It’s the only port other than the headphone jack, and this annoys some people. Someday I might have to buy a bunch of adapters, but for now I’m actually using my MacBook Air for connecting to HDMI, so the only adapter I need is for USB 3.0. But this also means that without an expensive adapter you can’t charge the computer and plug in any peripherals. For some people this would be a real show-stopper. With good reason. But I rarely plug anything in; I just transfer files by USB from time to time.
I hope to joyfully write new novels, win a few Pulitzer prizes, a Nobel prize or two (in different specialities, of course), and reach a state of nirvana. Will this happen with this new MacBook 12 inch? Only time will tell.