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


View All Comments

  • Silma - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    For those who value silence / fanless design / ultra thinness above all else. Reply
  • stephenbrooks - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    Let me fix some of paragraph 3...

    "Though Apple’s device is distinctly a laptop in terms of form factor and design, you’d none the less be excused for mistaking it for a large form factor tablet if you took a look at its overall size, rectangular shape and don't know what a laptop is."

    "Apple is not doing any kind of interesting 2-in-1 transforming design, or even pushing the concept of a touchscreen OS X device." [End of paragraph]
  • name99 - Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - link

    Re power cables and magsafe:
    I see two possibilities here.
    One is that Apple believe wireless power (in the form THEY want it) is close enough that they can accept living with a sub-optimal solution for one or two generations. What I'd consider Apple's level of wireless power would be at the least very loose alignment requirements (as opposed to the very tight placing requirements of Qi), and the ability to deliver enough power to charge anything from an Apple Watch to a MacBook Pro. A third requirement (not quite as strong) would be some level of power efficiency --- something like no more than 10% power loss over traditional charging.

    If this is not a feasible solution, an alternative solution (and IMMEDIATE 3rd party opportunity) is a magsafe CABLE rather than a magsafe connector. A cable which is (perhaps) power-only, but which have a magnetic snap point near one of the USB-C ends, so that that magnetic snap point is what breaks when the cable is jerked.
  • nerd1 - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    It's entirely possible to make a breakaway USB-C power supply cable that is compatible with previous chargers. And apple decided not to make one. Why bother? It'll still sell well. Reply
  • solipsism - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    We've had wireless data in play for decades and its now extremely fast and power efficient, but you think this is about wireless power. :sigh: Reply
  • nerd1 - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    Now apple is the one of few companies that makes smartphone without wireless charging options. Nexus devices have had one built in for years, Galaxy devices had for option and now had one built in..... Reply
  • solipsism - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    1)So induction charging then, not wireless charging.

    2) You really think the bottom of Macs are going to be a magnetic charger. I'm not convinced, but I'm willing to hear the argument for this. What other "PCs" have this feature built in? Who makes a 3rd-party option?
  • milkod2001 - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    - based on price and very average performance this premium netbook is aimed towards bloggers on the go and content consumers with Apple brand preference.
    - for actual work macbook pro line or windows ulrabook is required

  • solipsism - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    Show me a netbook with an Atom processor hat has the same performance as this MacBook that you call "average performance." You can't. Core-M far exceeds Atom's capabilities. Reply
  • nerd1 - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    "The MacBook ends up being a laggard against both of our other Core M devices"

    And typical Bay trail has ~3K geekbench multicore score and typical Core M laptop has ~4K.

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