Apple MacBook review

Liking Apple’s latest MacBook more than we want to

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Our Verdict

With an improved processor and trackpad, not to mention room for more RAM now, if you can get past the lofty price tag – even as an Apple fan – then prepare to enjoy what’s surprisingly the best MacBook in years – Pro or otherwise.

For

  • Updated processor
  • Vastly improved keyboard
  • Still delightfully compact
  • Long battery life

Against

  • Still only one USB-C port
  • Poor audio and webcam
  • Still too pricey

When the original MacBook launched way back in 2006, everyone praised it as an affordable alternative to the Macbook Air and MacBook Pro laptops. Its role has shifted, however – the 2017 Apple MacBook has transformed into a 12-inch ultra-premium and ultra-portable notebook.

For instance, the Apple MacBook has a beautiful Retina display, which automatically puts its price tag somewhere in between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. This Retina display means that the new MacBook has a display that, according to Steve Jobs, has so many pixels that they’re invisible to the naked eye.

And, while it’s been effectively replaced by the new MacBook Air, the 12-inch MacBook we reviewed here is still an excellent machine. Thin, light and inalterable, it’s a classic Apple product wrapped in a beautiful chassis that’ll draw plenty of envious looks from your colleagues. However, thanks to the Macbook’s high-class design, it’s an expensive device. 

Spec Sheet

Here is the 12-inch Apple MacBook (2017) configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 1.2GHz Intel Core m3-7Y32 (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.0GHz)
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 615
RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 (1,867MHz)
Screen: 12-inch Retina (2,304 x 1,440, 226 ppi) LED (IPS, 16:10 aspect ratio)
Storage: 256GB SSD (PCIe)
Ports: 1 x USB 3.1 Type-C, 3.5mm headphone/mic jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi; Bluetooth 4.2
Cameras: 480p FaceTime camera
Weight: 2.03 lbs (0.92kg)
Size: 11.04 x 7.74 x 0.14~0.52 inches (280.5 x 196.5 x 3.5~13.1mm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

You’ll be able to find the MacBook we reviewed here on the shelf of your local Apple Store (or Amazon) for $1,299 (£1,249, AU$1,899). That’ll get you everything found under our hot pink spec sheet, and you should be able to find it for less once the Black Friday Apple deals start appearing.

You should keep in mind that this isn’t the latest Intel processor, with 8th-generation chips having launched in October 2017. Instead, you’ll have to wait for the MacBook 2018 to find out what’s next for Apple’s tiniest laptop.

For the time being, should your lavish taste necessitate a more powerful 12-inch MacBook, there are higher tiers to choose from.

One version of the MacBook, for instance, comes with an Intel Core i5-7Y54 and 512GB of SSD space instead of the base model’s 256GB. It’s still fanless, so we wouldn’t bank on speeds quite as fast as the cheapest MacBook Pro, but does come to a grand total of $1,599 (£1,549, AU$2,349).

Should you be interested in getting the top-of-the-line MacBook experience, you’ll be looking at a price tag of $1,949 (£1,864, $2,909) for an Intel Core i7-7Y75 processor and 16GB of RAM, along with the same 512GB of storage brandished by the previously mentioned configuration.

If the MacBook 2017 seems a bit rich for your blood, keep in mind that Black Friday and Cyber Monday are right around the corner, and we’re expecting to see some fresh MacBook deals.

Simultaneously, Google’s flagship Chromebook, the Google Pixelbook, starts at $999 (£999, about AU$1,295) with a beefier Core i5 Y-series processor with the same RAM, but half as much SSD storage.

Over on the Windows end, one of the most technically comparable laptops is the Acer Swift 7, an Ultrabook seemingly handcrafted to go toe-to-toe with the MacBook. This one starts at $1,099 or £999 (about AU$1,449) for a similar Core i5 Y-series CPU with matching storage and RAM as well as a Full HD, 13.3-inch display. Or, maybe even the Asus ZenBook UX310UA, which you can find for around $699 (about £525, AU$920) for a beefier U-series processor and the same amount of storage and RAM. 

Design

Honestly the look and feel of the 12-inch MacBook frame really hasn’t changed much since last year’s model, which isn’t totally a bad thing. Coming in space gray, silver, gold and rose gold, the brushed aluminum fells just as cool and pristine as it has on Apple laptops for years.

And, the MacBook’s thinness and feathery weight is still impressive to the point that its dimensions are one of the major selling points of the laptop.

That said, an even more narrow screen bezel or just one more USB-C port would be blessings upon the design at this point.

One major improvement upon the 12-inch MacBooks of yesteryear is the refined butterfly switches that comprise the new backlit keyboard. Travel doesn’t feel any deeper, which isn’t great, but feedback is much stronger and more forceful, improving the quality drastically.

The MacBook’s wide, glass-coated trackpad remains the same since last year, meaning it’s just as pleasant to use as it’s ever been. Apple’s touch interface tech through both software and hardware remains virtually unrivaled.

We say ‘nearly’ because Google may have well caught up to Apple with its Pixelbook. Seriously, the keyboard and trackpad on that thing are ones to be imitated.

Display and sound

We all know that Apple has prided itself on its displays for years, and with good reason. The 12-inch MacBook’s screen remains unchanged since the dawn of the product in 2015, which is just fine. Editing photos and doing graphically intense work looks amazing on the Retina display, but it’s not the sharpest screen in school anymore.

Plus, the MacBook’s 16:10 aspect ratio may just be weird enough to be annoying sometimes, like when watching movies or editing images that are formatted to 16:9 in fullscreen mode.

As for how the MacBook sounds, the four stereo speakers toward its hinge can certainly pump out some loud tunes. Still, like all notebooks with mere millimeters to work with for audio chambers, the sound is a bit thin and tinny, with some channels in songs just getting lost outright.

Still, you’re not going to get much better audio from any laptop near this thin. Thank heaven that Apple hasn’t pulled the headphone jack from the MacBook.

First reviewed November 2017.

Gabe Carey and Bill Thomas have also contributed to this review