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

Ever since the original MacBook was released almost 12 years ago, it was positioned as an affordable alternative to Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro laptop computers. That’s no longer true today, as the MacBook has since transformed into a 12-inch, ultra-premium laptop.

For one, it has a gorgeous Retina display, which puts its price point at slightly higher than the Air and around the same price as the cheapest MacBook Pro. This Retina display means that the MacBook, according to Steve Jobs, has so many pixels that they are imperceptible by the naked eye from more than 12 inches away.

We didn’t see them at WWDC 2018, but future MacBooks may end up looking entirely different than what’s available today. We’ve seen a patent filed by Apple that suggests that the MacBook 2018 may feature a spill-resistant keyboard (which Apple needs if it wants to avoid future lawsuits.) There has also been some speculation that we might get a dual-screen MacBook with a touchscreen OLED keyboard as well.

As we sit, waiting for the advent of Apple’s next laptop, the 12-inch MacBook you see here is as good as they get. Light, thin and inalterable, it’s a classic Apple product shrouded in a beautiful exterior that’s sure to draw jealous looks. However, as luxury usually does, this MacBook comes with a high price.

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 can easily snag the MacBook we’ve reviewed here off the shelf of your local Apple Store (or Amazon) for $1,299 (£1,249, AU$1,899). That price fetches you everything found under our hot pink spec sheet, including a 7th-generation Intel Core m3 processor. 

It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t the latest CPU to come out of Intel, with the company’s 8th-generation chips having launched last year. Instead, you’ll have to wait for the MacBook 2018 to find out what’s next for Apple’s smallest laptop currently available for sale.

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.

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.

On the Windows side, 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 processor 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 i5 U-series and matching storage and RAM. 

If you’re looking for a deal on the 2017 MacBook, we here at TechRadar have you covered. You can pick up the Core m3 model at Adorama in the US for $1,149 (about £872, AU$1,557). 

Design

Frankly, not much of anything has changed about the look and feel of the 12-inch MacBook frame, which isn’t entirely a bad thing. Available in space gray, silver, gold and rose gold, the brushed aluminum feels just as cool (literally) and sublime as it has on Apple laptops for years.

Again, the laptop’s thinness and feathery weight continues to impress to the point that its dimensions are a hallmark aspect of the device. 

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 wide, glass-coated trackpad remains unchanged from last year, meaning it’s just as pleasant to use as it’s always been. Apple’s touch interface technology both through hardware and software remains nearly unmatched.

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 design work looks simply superb on the Retina display, but it’s not the sharpest in its class any longer.

Also, the 16:10 aspect ratio is just off-kilter 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 laptop sounds, the four stereo speakers toward its hinge can definitely pump out some loud tunes. But, like all laptops with mere millimeters to work with for audio chambers, the sound comes through tinny and thin, with some channels in songs just getting lost outright.

That said, you’re not going to find much better sound elsewhere out of a laptop anywhere near this thin. Thank heaven this is a product Apple has yet to cut the headphone jack from.

First reviewed November 2017.

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this review