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Apple MacBook review

Liking Apple’s latest MacBook more than we want to

Apple MacBook
Apple MacBook

Our Verdict

With an improved processor and trackpad, not to mention room for more RAM, you’re looking at what’s unexpectedly the best MacBook in years – Pro or otherwise. The question is, can you can get past the premium price – even as an Apple fan?

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 Apple first rolled out the MacBook back in 2006, it was anticipated to take up the mantle as the inexpensive alternative to the MacBook Pro. However, when its 2015 follow up was released ­– while it’s still cheaper than the MacBook Pro – a lot has changed for the MacBook, starting with that huge design overhaul. 

That’s when the Apple MacBook became the 12-inch ultra-portable notebook that it is – a design that its latest successor – the MacBook 2017 – further expands on.

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The MacBook 2017 rocks a stunning Retina screen, upping the price somewhere between the 2017 MacBook Air and the earlier MacBook Pro model without the Touch Bar. If you’re not well acquainted with Apple jargon, Retina just means there are so many pixels in the display that they’re practically invisible to the naked eye.

Sadly, Apple has recently discontinued this 12-inch laptop and has no current plans to release a new or overhauled model in the near future. However, since there are still some third-party sellers that have it in stock, the 12-inch MacBook is certainly still worth your consideration, even with that the refreshed MacBook Air, which has essentially replaced it.

Thin and light, but unconfigurable, the MacBook touts that timeless Apple design no matter how you look at it. And, it will definitely draw admiring looks at your favorite cafe. 

As for that lofty price tag? Well, we just hope that the diminishing supply will somehow make it right.

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

Unfortunately, the MacBook is no longer available at Apple’s online store, on the account of it being discontinued. Luckily, you should still be able to find the MacBook we reviewed here from third-party sellers for $1,299 (£1,249, AU$1,899) or possibly less. That price tag should get you everything found under our hot pink spec sheet.

For now, should your lavish taste or exacting needs require a more powerful 12-inch MacBook, there should still be more powerful configurations on hand. You’ll just have to look harder for them.

For example, you might be able to find a MacBook with an Intel Core i5-7Y54 and 512GB of SSD storage instead of the base model’s 256GB. It’s still going to be fanless, so it still wouldn’t be as powerful as something like the MacBook Pro, but it will definitely offer a boost in power. Just keep in mind that with great power comes great price tags, and this more powerful MacBook will cost $1,599 (£1,549, AU$2,349).

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

Keep in mind, though, that these processors are a bit out-of-date in 2019, what with both 8th-generation and 9th-generation chips now powering many laptops. If you want the latest fanless silicon, the refreshed and cheaper Apple MacBook Air (2019) might be a more ideal option for you.

If you’re shopping around for a Windows laptop with comparable specs, take a look at the Acer Swift 7, an Ultrabook that’s designed to compete with the 12-inch MacBook. Currently, it starts out at $1,699 (£1,499, about AU$1,200) for a similar Intel Core i7 Y-series processor, but with 8GB RAM and 256 GB SSD storage. You do get a Full HD, 14-inch display, however.

On the Chrome OS side, there’s Google’s older flagship Chromebook, the Pixelbook, starting at $999 (£999, AU$791) with a more powerful Intel Core i5 CPU and the same RAM, but half as much SSD space as the top-end MacBook.

Apple MacBook

Coming in Space Gray, Gold and Rose Gold, the MacBook's brushed aluminum feels just as cool and elegant as ever.

Design

The Apple MacBook 2017’s look and feel hasn’t been altered much – if at all – over the 2016 model. That’s not automatically a bad thing. Coming in Space Gray, Gold and Rose Gold, the brushed aluminum feels just as cool and elegant as ever, which we appreciate.

The MacBook’s thin chassis and feathery weight is also as impressive as usual, impressive enough that its dimensions are one of its biggest selling points.

Although it must be said that an even thinner screen bezel or one extra USB-C port would have been amazing at this point.

Apple MacBook keyboard

The MacBook boasts improved, second-generation butterfly switches that make up the new backlit keyboard.

One key advantage the MacBook 2017 has over the 2015 and 2016 models is the enhanced, second-generation butterfly switches that make up its new backlit keyboard. Travel isn’t any deeper, but feedback is more forceful, which allows for a typing experience that’s significantly more satisfying – not to mention, more comfortable.

The MacBook’s wide, glass-coated trackpad remains the same as last year’s, which just means it’s just as enjoyable to use as it’s ever been. Apple’s touch interface tech through both software and hardware stays practically unrivaled.

‘Practically’ being the operative word here, because Google may have already caught up to Apple with its Pixelbook. Frankly, the keyboard and trackpad on that thing are ones to be equaled.

Apple MacBook's svelte chassis

The MacBook’s thin chassis and feathery weight is also as striking as usual.

Display and sound

It’s general knowledge by now that Apple has made a name for itself by designing superb displays – among other things, that is – and the 12-inch MacBook’s display steadfastly follows this tradition, remaining unchanged since its release in 2015. Editing photos and tackling graphically intensive workloads looks flawless on that Retina display, even though it’s not exactly the sharpest screen in school anymore.

The MacBook’s 16:10 aspect ratio, however, may just be uncommon enough to be infuriating sometimes – like while watching movies or editing images that are formatted to 16:9 in Fullscreen mode, for example.

Apple MacBook stereo speakers

The MacBook can undoubtedly pump out some loud tunes with its four stereo speakers.

When it comes to sound quality, the MacBook can without a doubt pump out some loud tunes with its four stereo speakers near the hinge. However, like all notebooks with mere millimeters to work with as audio chambers, the sound can be a bit thin and tinny, with some channels in songs simply disappearing altogether. 

To be fair, you’re not going to get much better audio from any laptop near this thin. And, Apple may have been aware of this, since it still kept the headphone jack in the MacBook.

Gabe Carey and Bill Thomas have also contributed to this review

First reviewed November 2017

Images credit: TechRadar