Apple MacBook (12-inch, Early 2015)

Apple MacBook (12-inch, Early 2015)

The original MacBook was the entry-level model of Apple's laptop. But the new MacBook is the pinnacle of Apple's relentless pursuit of ever thinner and lighter laptops.

It was the machine that caught my eye, and probably every geek's imagination, when it was unveiled in March.

The newest MacBook comes in silver, space grey and gold - the colour offerings of Apple's iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

The first review unit I received came in gold, but it was a dud due to a defective screen. The unit I eventually reviewed was a space grey model at the lower end ($1,788), with an Intel Core M 1.1GHz dual-core processor, 8GB of system memory and 256GB of flash storage.

The gold model will probably go like gang-busters. But I prefer the space grey because it matches my space grey iPhone 6 Plus and I had been wanting a "black" MacBook for the longest time.

The illuminated Apple logo on the lid of older MacBooks has given way to a simple embossed one on the new MacBook, like what you find on the back of an iPad.

The newcomer is gorgeous and a superb feat of engineering. Looking at it is like taking a sneak peek at the future of laptops. Amazingly thin and light, it weighs just 920g. Measuring 13.1mm at its thickest point and 3.5mm at its thinnest, it makes my MacBook Air look like an absolute behemoth.

But this thinness means it cannot house a regular USB port. Instead, it offers a USB-C port on its left side, and a headphone jack on the right.

Having just that one USB-C port is really a big issue. You almost cannot avoid spending another $118 for Apple's USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adaptor ($118), which lets you connect the MacBook to an HDMI display while connected to a standard USB device and a USB-C charging cable. But it is not available yet. The Apple Online Store says it should be available in two to three weeks' time.

But you can get Apple's USB-C to USB Adaptor ($28) to connect standard USB devices, including iPhones and regular USB flash drives.

Another casualty of the MacBook's obsession with thinness is the keyboard. Apple has had to put the keys on diet too. The keys are really short, barely rising above the keyboard tray. I am surprised that Apple managed to add backlighting to the keyboard.

Though the keys feel very shallow and lack the tactile response or "loud clicks" of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro when you type, they are responsive and you can see the letters appearing on screen with the slightest touch. The face of the key cap is larger, so it is easier for your fingers to find the keys. It takes getting used to. I typed this review on the review unit without a hitch.

The new MacBook also features Force Touch trackpad, which can detect different amounts of pressure when you click, press or drag your fingers across it.

This enables a wider range of responses, including a new gesture Apple calls Force Click - a simple click can be followed by a deeper press. For example, you can Force Click on a word or phrase on a webpage to look up its meaning or background.

Again, Force Click takes getting used to, but you can always use the trackpad like a regular one. It is the smoothest and fastest laptop trackpad I have used.

The 12-inch display has a resolution of 2,304 x 1,440 pixels. It is a sight to behold, with its sharp and clear rendition of anything on the screen.

Performance-wise, this machine is less of a Ferrari than an Alfa Romeo. Just as beautiful, but not as fast.

It scored only 4,611 in the Geekbench 3 benchmark performance test. This is around the same performance of a 2011 13-inch MacBook Air. In the Blackmagic disk test, it had an average writing speed of 447.5MB per second and an average reading speed of 774.5MB per second - about 30 per cent slower than the 13-inch MacBook Pro I reviewed last month.

But in practice, the machine is pretty fast. OS X Yosemite takes 16.6sec to start up, and the machine wakes from sleep almost instantly. Adobe Lightroom starts in only 2sec and photo editing can be done without much delay.

Video games such as Diablo III and SimCity can be played smoothly only at the lowest graphics setting. Then again, you do not buy this MacBook to play games.

In Digital Life's video loopback battery life test, the MacBook clocked 5hr 10min, about 30min less than the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro. But the battery life is good for its size. I can work on it for a full day without the need to charge.

The new Apple MacBook is not for everyone. It has only one USB-C port, is underpowered and its keyboard takes getting used to. But if you want ultraportability in a gorgeous laptop, get this.

trevtan@sph.com.sg

This article was first published on May 20, 2015.
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