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 Pro laptops. Its role has shifted, however: the 2016 Apple MacBook transformed into a 12-inch ultra-premium and ultra-portable notebook, and the 2017 model carries out that change.

The Apple MacBook features a gorgeous Retina display, for example, which makes the price fall between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. This Retina display signifies that there are so many pixels that they’re invisible to the naked eye, according to the late Steve Jobs.

The Apple MacBook may seem to be replaced by the MacBook Air 2018, but the 12-inch ultra portable Mac we reviewed here is still worth your time. Thin, light and inalterable, it’s a classic Apple design through and through, and you’ll get plenty of envious glances from your fellow coffee shop patrons. However, thanks to the MacBook’s high-class design, it’s still 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.

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).

If you want to max out the Apple MacBook, it’ll set you back a whopping $1,949 (£1,864, AU$2,909) for an Intel Core i7-7Y75 CPU and 16GB of RAM backed up with a 512GB PCIe SSD.

Keep in mind that these are dated processors in 2018, with 8th-generation chips having launched in the latter half of 2017. If you want the latest fanless silicon, you’ll have to opt for the MacBook Air 2018.

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. 

On the Chrome OS side, there’s Google’s flagship Chromebook, the Pixelbook, starting at $999 (£999, AU$1,499) with a more powerful Intel Core i5 CPU and the same RAM, but half as much SSD space as the top-end MacBook. 

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 the new MacBook holds over the 2015 and 2016 iterations is the refined, second-generation butterfly switches that comprise the new backlit keyboard. Travel isn’t any deeper, which we don’t love, but feedback is much more forceful, improving the typing experience 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