Cons: Still just one USB-C port; Can’t power two external displays; Low-res webcam
Verdict: The updated MacBook packs more performance and battery life into a wonderfully thin and light design, but Apple didn’t address the biggest drawbacks.
It’s best to think of the 2016 MacBook as a MacBook S. Similar to the evolution from the iPhone 6 to the iPhone 6s, Apple didn’t revamp the design for the MacBook. Instead, the focus was aimed at internal upgrades. These upgrades include a more powerful 6th-generation Core M processor, faster flash storage and an extra hour of battery life. This is a more capable sequel for sure. For this kind of money, though, it should really include more USB Type-C ports and other improvements.
The 12-inch MacBook certainly more advanced than its predecessor, but it still involves compromises.
The 12-inch MacBook remains a beautiful piece of hardware, made of sturdy aluminum and measuring just 0.5 inches thick. Apple added a rose-gold color option to the mix, which I tested, to go along with space gray, gold and silver. Yes, the rose-gold MacBook has a pink hue to it, but I didn’t mind being seen using this laptop on the bus or at Starbucks. After all, (at least some) guys wear power pink shirts, too.
What I like most about the MacBook is that I can use it while commuting or flying and still have plenty of room to work when the person in front of me reclines. It’s also so light that I would sometimes forget whether the notebook was in my backpack.
One-Port Problem Remains
The MacBook’s extreme minimalism may be a selling point, but the lone USB Type-C port is still a problem for me. Wanting to connect the power cable and another device, say an iPhone, at the same time, the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter is required. The USB-C Digital AV Multiport has a power port, USB 3.0 and HDMI. Several common ports found on most laptops. This is another expense to consider.
Another diappointment is that you can only connect one external monitor. However, Pluggable claims that you can connect the MacBook to its Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station to power multiple monitors.
To achieve the MacBook’s razor-thin profile, the MacBook sports a flat keyboard that uses a unique butterfly mechanism. The keys have very little travel — just 0.5 millimeters. That’s half of what the MacBook Air provides (1 mm). However, it is easy to adjust to and does not hinder typability.
Force Touch Touchpad:
The MacBook’s large, 4.4 x 2.7-inch Force Touch trackpad tricks your brain into thinking that it’s physically clicking down when you press it. It’s not. Instead, the pad uses a Taptic Engine to deliver haptic feedback. It worked accurately and impressively when clicking on links, opened apps and selected text.
As with last year’s MacBook, the Force Click feature lets you save time by deep pressing on items. For example, you can look up the definition of a word by Force Clicking it.
The MacBook’s 12-inch display is beautifully sharp and colorful. The laptop has a resolution of 2304 x 1440 pixels, which blows away the Air’s low-res 1400 x 900 panel.
Registering 327 nits on our light meter, the MacBook’s screen is in between the brightness readings for the touch-screen version of the XPS 13 (336 nits) and the nontouch XPS 13 (318 nits), and higher than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (292 nits for full HD, 257 for 2560 x 1440). However, the Vaio Z’s display hit a sky-high 548 nits.
The MacBook’s display can produce an impressive 107 percent of the color gamut. Apple’s panel is also quite color accurate, scoring a Delta-E error rate of 0.99 (0 is perfect), beating the category average (2.7).
I continue to be surprised by the MacBook’s audio quality given its thin profile. Streaming music, the pulsating drums sounded well balanced with the vocals. The speaker (located above the keyboard) produced loud volume without distortion.
Apple should not get a pass for stuffing a low-resolution 480p camera into a $1,299 laptop. The picture was grainy.
The biggest changes to the 2016 MacBook are its internal components. A 6th-generation Core M processor, 8GB of RAM and faster flash storage (256GB or 512GB) are included. You have your choice of a 1.1-GHz Core m3 or 1.2-GHz Core m5 CPU, and we tested the latter chip. The Core m5 processor and faster flash memory add up to a much more capable ultraportable.
Overall, this machine was more responsive than its predecessor when opening apps and switching among 10 or more tabs in Google Chrome.
The updated MacBook also benefits from faster PCIe-based flash storage. It took just 14.3 seconds to transfer 5GB of data, which equals 355.9 MBps.
The Core m5 version of this laptop took just 3 minutes and 11 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice. That is much faster than other laptops in this category.
The integrated Intel 515 graphics in the MacBook is suitable for editing photos and playing some light Mac games, but not much more than that. On the benchmark for the DiRT 3 racing game, it mustered just 27 frames per second with all of the details on low. That’s below 30 fps, our standard for playability. Despite the low frames per second, the action seemed relatively smooth.
After streaming video for 15 minutes, the underside of the machine reached 100 degrees, 5 degrees warmer than last year’s model. The touchpad and center of keyboard came in at 84 and 90 degrees respectively, which is warm but still comfortable.
Apple promises up to 10 hours of battery life on the new MacBook when surfing the web, and it got close to that mark. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing at 100 nits of screen brightness, the system lasted a strong 9 hours and 38 minutes. That’s about an hour longer than last year’s model.
The MacBook’s battery life beat that of the touch-screen version of the XPS 13 (8:08) but fell far behind the 13-inch MacBook Air. The Air lasted an incredible 14:40.
With the screen on full brightness and running multiple programs, it was already down to 53 percent after 2.5 hours. This is something to keep in mind; you’ll want to keep it on half brightness or less.
Apple offers two configurations of the MacBook. The $1,299 base model comes with a Core m3 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage. Jumping up to $1,599 will get you a faster Core m5 CPU and double the storage.
The steeper price is likely the best option. If you’re going to spend this much on a laptop, it should be as powerful, with as much storage, as possible.
The 2016 MacBook is certainly an improvement over its predecessor. It’s significantly faster, especially if you opt for the Core m5 model. It lasts an hour longer on a single charge, all while being extremely portable. The Retina display is beautiful and the keyboard is functional. However, for this kind of money, having the option to plug in a power cable and a second device sans a dongle should be standard.
Of course, not everyone will be looking at attach peripherals, and find this machine a pretty much near-perfect machine. It’s tailor-made for frequent travelers or corridor warriors constantly bouncing from meeting to meeting. But it’s too pricey for most students. For them, I’d recommend the 11-inch Air or the 13-inch MacBook Air or the XPS 13.
Overall, the new MacBook is a good laptop, but a few changes would turn this very good ultraportable into a great one.