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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  • TEAMSWITCHER - Friday, April 17, 2015 - link

    The $1599 - 1.2GHz - 512GB model is ~5K, in Geek Bench 3.

    The "Actual Work" comment cracks me up. I have successfully done 3D web-plugin development for a major company on an 11" MacBook Air. I'm pretty sure I could have done the same thing with a 12" MacBook...probably even a little better.
    Reply
  • milkod2001 - Monday, April 20, 2015 - link

    3D web-plugin development could probably be done on entry level laptop :). By actual work i've meant working with many layers, exporting to high rez tiffs, pdf, a bit of video production on the go etc.

    This is not where new MAcbook will serve very well. That's for less then 5% of potential Macbook buyers though, so im sure many(including you) will be more then happy with this new Macbook.
    Reply
  • vampyren - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    This is just a shitty laptop, underpowered, useless with one port.
    Apple should have added the screen, keyboard, touch-pad on Air and everyone would been happy.
    There is a limit to how thin you can make things before they become useless.
    I love my MBP and was going to get the updated Air had they added retina on it but they sadly made a useless version instead.
    Reply
  • hummerchine - Thursday, April 16, 2015 - link

    I'm constantly amazed at some of the fervid anti-Apple comments on this and other forums! This review was fantastic and right on...the best I've seen, and I've been seeking them out (AnandTech does a great job, as did this reviewer). The new MacBook is highly desirable for the right person...that would be me. I've ordered the best, most tricked-out model. Is it a desktop replacement? It was not intended to be! If you want a desktop with more power, or even a portable with more power...Apple and many other companies offer many other options. If you want a crazy light awesome travel computer, this is as good as it gets! The complaints about performance just blow my mind. They have crammed in the best processor, screen, keyboard, trackpad, batteries, whatever you can mention into the smallest and lightest laptop human beings can currently design. And some are whining about it? Jeez...just think about what you are saying! And if you really hate Apple's operating system so bad (my personal favorite, but I can see that is personal preference) there are competing Windows products with the same technology limitations. If you are like me and like Apple's OS, just how could they have possibly made this thing any nicer? Well...they probably could have squeezed in another USB C port or perhaps a small MagSafe connector. I suppose even more RAM might have been nice. A faster processor would be nice too...but isn't the Intel Core-M the fastest processor currently available that will fit into something so small, have good battery life, and not require a fan? Come to grips with reality some of you...that review was very accurate and well done, and I can't wait to get my new laptop! The millions of buyers of these things don't have to listen to you...they vote with their wallets! Btw, I'm very pleased to also be a stockholder. Reply
  • kdalkafoukis - Friday, April 17, 2015 - link

    Does anybody knows any real performance details like?
    how many open pdfs can u have for example?
    or
    in which kind of programms you are gonna have problems(annoying performance)?
    Reply
  • cgpublic - Friday, April 17, 2015 - link

    I checked the new Macbook at the Apple Store. I'm a marketing professional with a a 2011 MBP 15" quad-core, 2012 MBA entry-level, and a the latest Mac Mini w/i7 dual-core in my toolkit. Apple is once again ahead of the curve, which is what they can afford to do, while other manufacturers have to design to ensure they don't leave any checkboxes unchecked. Which is why companies such as Dell are who they are, and Apple is choking on cash. People will pay good money for a taste of the future, and this is the future right here.

    For 95% of what I do, the Macbook Core M + good WiFi signal can manage with ease. Photo-editing can be done in a pinch w/Adobe CreativeCloud. Once you pick it up, you have to have it, and everything else is yesterday's news.

    If you're primarily playing games and fapping on your PC, I guess processing power and wired connectivity is a big deal, but I earn for a living, in the real world.
    Reply
  • tecsi - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    Prediction: the new MacBook will shortly outsell the 11" MBA, the 13" MBA and the 13" rMBP. Why? Dramatically better than both MBAs and priced about the same when configured with 8TB RAM and 256GB SSD. Half the weight of the rMBP, cheaper and with most of the feature set of the except for CPU speed. But for those notebook users that need performance, they will jump to 15" rMBP with its max performance. Reply
  • tecsi - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    Make that 8GB RAM, not 8TB Reply
  • tecsi - Saturday, April 18, 2015 - link

    Two items not really clearly mentioned, but one crucial and another useful via-a-via the MBAs.
    First, and most important, I find I can productively use the MacBook display at 1920x1280 (with SwitchResX). This offers 266% of the screen real estate of the 11" MBA, an enormous, work-changing difference.
    Second, but more minor, the new MacBook's Trackpad is ~25% bigger than the 11" MBA, providing easier, more accurate cursor movement and positioning.
    Reply
  • jameskatt - Sunday, April 19, 2015 - link

    The fact that Apple's slowest Macbook has the fastest SSD performance means the next Macbook Pro 15-inch Retina Update is going to HAVE A BLAST with huge unencumbered SSD speeds. Coupled with a 2 TB size increase and hopefully 32 GB RAM and 4K screen, this bar will move up further. Reply

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