The MacBook’s Usability

But by far the biggest question however is what all of this lends towards the usability of the new MacBook. With Apple developing a smaller form factor and then charging a premium price for it, whether it’s worth it is a perfectly legitimate question. And the answer to that question is that it depends.

We’ll get to the all-important performance considerations in a bit, but I want to start with design first. For something built for a new form factor like a MacBook I think it’s important to look at the overall design and whether it makes sense in the first place before even getting to the tradeoffs Apple made to get here.

The 2015 MacBook reminds me of the original MacBook Air in a lot of ways, and in fact that’s probably the biggest knock against it. In 2008 the MacBook Air was revolutionary, it created what we now know as the Ultrabook category and was so cutting edge that it contained an Intel Core CPU in a form factor that no one else could get at the time. Consequently the MacBook Air wasn’t just smaller than the MacBook or MacBook Pro, but it was a lot smaller than its larger, heavier predecessors.


Big & Little: MacBook & 27" iMac

The MacBook, by contrast, is not the same jump in size. Calculated against their respective thickest points, the new MacBook is still 73% of the volume of the 11” MacBook Air. Similarly, its 0.92Kg weight is 85% of the weight of said MacBook Air. This means that whereas the original MacBook Air was a very important jump for the Apple’s laptop line, the new MacBook doesn’t get the same benefit.

With that said, there is still a distinct difference between the MacBook and MacBook Air, one that likely doesn’t mean as much in numbers as it does in feel. On a personal note my travel laptop of choice is an Asus ZenBook UX21A, an 11” Ultrabook that is a dead-ringer for the 11” MacBook Air in size and weight. So having toted around the MacBook for the past week working on this review, I was surprised by just how different it felt from my 11” ZenBook. The ZenBook is already towards the light-end of the Ultrabook spectrum, and yet after carrying around the MacBook the ZenBook feels heavy. It may only be 20% heavier in practice, but just carrying the two in hand it certainly feels like it’s more than that.


Left: MacBook. Right: Asus 11" ZenBook Prime (UX21A)

For work purposes I have always favored the 11” Ultrabook for its size and weight. It’s easy to carry around and small enough to hold with one hand or to balance on one knee as situations dictate. And while it’s not perfect – 11” isn’t much screen real-estate and doesn’t allow for much of a keyboard – as an ultra-portable secondary computer for someone who already has a desktop, it fits my needs very well.

Which is why I was surprised by just how much I ended up liking the MacBook’s size and form factor. It’s smaller than an 11” Ultrabook and yet if anything it feels bigger when in use – perhaps due to the 16:10 screen – and the weight difference can really be felt. Before using the MacBook if you had asked me whether I would want an even smaller laptop I would have dismissed the notion, but after using the MacBook I have to stop and reconsider that position.

Ultimately I’m reminded a great deal of the launch of the original MacBook Air, where Apple specifically touted it as a travel computer for someone with more than one computer. For most people it’s smaller than what you’d want to use day-in and day-out, but as a travel laptop it’s great. Consequently the MacBook as it stands is an interesting alternative to the MacBook Air lineup; it fills a lot of the same roles, but it does so while being even thinner and lighter.


Top: MacBook. Middle: Asus 11" ZenBook Prime. Bottom: Surface Pro 3 w/Type Cover

That said, compared to a MacBook Air these size improvements don’t come for free. There are performance considerations to be had with the Core M processor, which we’ll get to in our look at system performance. The trade-off for thin and light is a similar reduction in performance, so even though the MacBook and MacBook Air overlap at times, they are separated by size versus performance.

Finally, we would be remiss in not covering the tablet/laptop crossover factor as well. The fact that Apple takes as many design cues as they do from the iPad – the colors, the focus on size, and the limited number of ports – is telling. I hesitate to say too much about the MacBook as an iPad alternative since these devices are still so different. But for someone wanting to step up from something like an iPad into a full sized, fully capable laptop computer, this is exactly what such a device might look like.

The MacBook's Design Getting Thinner: New Keyboard, Keys, & Switches
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  • val580 - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    I enjoyed the review but you do not tell if the laptop is good or not.

    Display part : what to think of the 1280x resolution ? Comparing to dell xps 13 or surface 3 ?????

    cpu : how does the laptop behave in real usage ????? Like opening 10 Hd streams on youtube ect does it lag ?

    how is it when use on the lap or bed dor reading ?

    can you actually tell if this a good laptop and not just a well enginereed object ?

    Thank you
    Reply
  • solipsism - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    1) The testing for the display can be checked against those other notebook displays (assuming AT has tested them).

    2) He explains the CPU, but remember what "real usage" is for a 12" ultraportable notebook. I don't understand the use case for 10 HD streams on YouTube would measure, especially for this type of machine. That sounds like something that isn't the intent for Core-M.

    3) This question I like. I'd like to know how hot these machines get if directly on the lap.

    4) I think he covers that well. It's clearly a good laptop, but as with all things your use-case has to fall inline with its design and engineering. There still seem to be several holdouts on this site that think HIDPI display is only for video, but remember pictures and, the most common reason for HIDPI reading text.
    Reply
  • The0ne - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    Appears there are many that are confused about their computing history, especially on netbooks. There are a lot of false assumptions and incomprehensible comparisons littered everywhere. There were expensive and well built netbooks, they were not all cheap. They were usable machines for surfing, emails and the light office tasks. They were replaced by several technologies (tablets, phones and yes the cheap $300 laptops).

    What I do find funny and agree with some of the posters is how this article tends to want to justify this product as something "new", for $1200. It is not. The comments here is a testament to how similar and different the product is. Technology advancing is one thing but categories tend not to change much. That is why there are ultrabooks, laptops, notebooks and gaming notebooks. Just because the screen changes doesn't make it an entirely new category. This MacBook does not fall into the "touch" technology areas so it would have to remain near the netbook category, imo.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    No touch equates to being a netbook? :facepalm: Reply
  • The0ne - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    Reading comprehension will help you immensely. And go use wiki to learn some history while you're at it. Or you can continue to ":facepalm:" yourself, I rather enjoy that. Do you realize how ignorant AND stupid your comment is? Reply
  • solipsism - Sunday, April 19, 2015 - link

    You wrote, " This MacBook does not fall into the "touch" technology areas so it would have to remain near the netbook category, imo."

    Your opinion and your claims that the price is not justified because of the CPU performance are axiomatically wrong.
    Reply
  • eanazag - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    For $1300 the MacBook should include the USB C to USB A adapter. It should have two ports for a $20 accessory. The accessory predicament for this device sucks.

    That being said, I could mostly get by with the one port. I would leverage Bluetooth and WiFi. This is not friendly to charging your iOS devices to.
    Reply
  • Notwist - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    What the heck happened to Anandtech comment section? It's plagued with a lot of "bleh I hate Apple" vitriol lately.

    No, Anandtech is not pandering to Apple. Wish some readers would think a bit longer before posting.

    Regarding the Macbook: I'm a bit surprised, it feels like it targets the same market as the Air? I guess I'm just more surprised they didn't just keep the Air as their "ultra-thin" line and add Retina and Force Touch.
    Reply
  • solipsism - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    1) AT's forums have gotten better since Apple started their meteoric rise to the top (again). At people on this forum have actually /seen/ a Mac (and likely used one) when before it was basically across the board "Apple sucks because I can't build your own for gaming and blah blah." I love how people think that building their own computer using off the shelf components is difficult.

    2) My hypothesis: Since the MBPs eschewed the ODD and 2.5" HDD/SSD their new size became far to close to the MBA for the MBA to simply get a Retina display. And the 11.6" with its horrible 16:9 aspect ratio was just a bad limitation from the start. The 12" is what I had hoped they would do so I was /hopeful/ when these rumours appeared. I'm guessing the 11" and 13" MBA will go away in time.
    Reply
  • Silma - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    This is a high end netbook which could have been useful for people with very light requirements (mostly reading and writing) had it had at least 2 USB C ports.

    It seems the Core M is really disappointing and best left for those who valu
    Reply

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