Hands on with the new MacBook (TrustedReviews)

Apple always makes its new hardware look great when it’s introduced in videos. In-depth voice-over descriptions accompany gleaming footage of floating, twisting phones, tablets and laptops.

But even the silkily smooth images of the new MacBook don’t do it justice.

It’s amazingly thin, even thinner than the already-svelte current MacBook Air 11-inch model. No wonder Tim Cook, as he held it out at the computer’s unveiling, asked, “Can you even see it?”

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It’s even lighter, too, than the MacBook Air at 923g – less than a bag of sugar. But arguably more useful. There’s one other aspect that jumps out at you when you see the MacBook: the colour. It comes in three metallic shades – silver, space grey and gold, just like the iPhone and iPad. True, the space grey and silver look pretty similar, though there’s a stand-out-in-the-crowd feel to the darker of the two, while still being subtle. Since it’s made of aluminium, like every Apple laptop, the finish feels premium.

Making a thin screen has its practical issues. That’s why the MacBook Air has a wide silvery bezel around it. One of the breakthroughs with the new MacBook is how Apple has managed to take the bezel almost right to the edge and removed the silver frame entirely.

It’s a similar, though not quite as extreme, technique as employed on the new Dell XPS 13 and it also brings the MacBook in line with the styling of the MacBook Pro with Retina display. Indeed the new MacBook itself sports a Retina display, with a resolution of 2304 x 1440 pixels.

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Apple had reportedly held back from a super-slim MacBook with Retina display partly for battery reasons, so it’s somewhat strange to see one included on an even smaller, lighter machine. Nonetheless, in our brief time with it, the display looked as engagingly immersive as other Retina screens – needle-sharp, richly colourful and especially rewarding when it came to reading text that looks almost as crisp as a printed page.

This is a 12-inch display, but because of that thinner bezel, the laptop frame is no bigger than the 11-inch MacBook Air. The truth is that the MacBook Air, long the poster boy for glamorous, lightweight beauty in a laptop, no longer looks cutting edge. But it is still the cheapest Mac laptop you can buy…

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The display is only half of the new MacBook, obviously. Change has been introduced throughout the whole machine’s design. So the keyboard is new, with what Apple describes as a “butterfly”, as opposed to a “scissor”, motion.

Even the lettering on each key is subtler, with thinner characters. This is made possible because instead of a backlight that illuminates the whole keyboard, there’s now an individual LED behind each key. Think of it like the local dimming in high-end TVs. It certainly looks great, with discreet but usable lights behind each key.

The keys are bigger than before, too, and because of the new butterfly motion, they travel less. Apple’s keyboards are supremely comfortable, so these new, more precise keys with their shorter travel take some getting used to. At first, they feel stiffer, though certainly not challenging.

More striking is the new trackpad, which doesn’t move. It really doesn’t, but the weird thing is that the haptic response is so subtle that you’ll swear it’s moving. There’s some movement forwards and backwards, but not up and down. What’s more, you can change the pressure with which you press on the trackpad, so that if you’re touching a Fast Forward button while watching a video, simply increasing your pressure speeds the video faster and faster, almost like an analogue stick on a games console.

This trackpad is a real high point of the new MacBook. The good news is that it will come to other laptops, like the latest models of the MacBook Pro.

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Like other Mac products, the MacBook is perfectly balanced. Take the closed laptop and open it with your thumb and the lid simply lifts, unlike some laptops which tip or nudge over because the weighting isn’t so finely tuned. It’s a small thing, but quite satisfying.

And the new machine is as thin as it is because of a terraced battery – which just means the rechargeable cells are made in a stepped configuration so they can fit the scooped curves of the aluminium case more completely. A small logic board and the removal of a fan from the MacBook means that it’s nearly all battery.

That’s where the supposed all-day battery life comes from, though with Apple rating the new MacBook as having between 9 and 10 hours of battery life, there’s no escaping the fact this is a downgrade from the 13in MacBook Air’s 12 hours.

Indeed thanks to its use of a new Intel Core M processor it will actually be slower than the MacBook Air too. Instead performance will be more in line with a MacBook Air of three or four years ago – that’s the compromise of a thinner, lighter, passively cooled machine. For some indication of the performance you can expect, check out our review of the similarly specced Asus UX305.

Aside from a headphone jack, there’s only one connector on the new MacBook. It’s the new USB-C connection which, like the Lightning connector on an iPhone, fits either way up. It’s where you charge the MacBook, but it’s also the place for data transfer, for what you’d usually use USB, HDMI and DisplayPort for. They all fit into the tiny USB-C connector.
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