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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  • xchaotic - Monday, April 20, 2015 - link

    They won't let you do that due to planned obscolesnce by both Apple and Intel. 16GB RAM and 1TB SSDs will be the max for quite some time. Reply
  • shompa - Friday, April 24, 2015 - link

    One point about Intel/ARM. Intel Core-M 82mm2 1,3 billion transistors. Cost about 280 dollars + you have to buy Intel motherboard chips. Apple A8X is 132mm2 3 billion transistors. It cost Apple about 20 dollar to manufacture that. (on the market 130mm2 ARM SoCs cost about 50 dollars unsubsidized). When will the techpress and IT experts point this out? How can something that cost Intel 50% less than A8X cost the customer 20times more?

    The Macbook have an insane price but Intel is at least 400 dollar of that problem.

    This is why we need to move away from X86 to ARM. (and Apple will move to ARM because they controll the OS/Hardware = they can add anything they want into the SoC. Huge parts of the A class SoCs are Apple specific stuff like Siris DSP, the visual processor, security enclave/TouchID and so on. About 30% of die area today. Imagine if Microsoft started to do custom ARMs/(or AMD X86) for their Windows. That would add value to the customer and make people buy MSFT hardware because they want to (not because they are forced to, like today with their OS)

    One of the main problem is "capitalism". A good (older) company have 10-12% profit on what they sell. Simple math: 10% on a 500dollar intel is more than 10% on a 25 dollar ARM.

    Intel is however a monopoly today. If I want a fast laptop: They are the only choice. But Intel is doing the same mistake as Sun, IBM, PA-RISC, PPC, DEC-Alpha, MIPS and all other fun CPUs have existed in history. (Because: let me tell you a secret: X86 have never had the fastest/best CPU in history. They had Windows + where cheap/good enough. Thats why Intel almost had no share in the server market. 2005/6 intel slashed Xeon prices to sub 300 dollar = why buy a RISC chip that is twice as fast for 4000 dollars? In under 3 years intel managed to get over 50% of server revenue. Today its about 80%. But its because Intel charges 4000 dollar for their xeons. History is repeating itself)
    Reply
  • ixproval - Monday, April 27, 2015 - link

    Anyone else notice that the article implies a comparison to the current 11" MBA (2015, Broadwell), there are no performance numbers for that model (or the 2015 13" MBA for that matter)? The latest comparisons on the majority of the performance graphs are the early 2014 13" MBA and the mid-2014 rMBP? At first I was wondering about release dates but they were announced at the same event. Did you guys just not have a 2015 11" MBA available for comparison? I apologize if I missed a reason for the omission in the article text. Reply
  • tipoo - Saturday, May 2, 2015 - link

    So the UX305 uses a lower end cheaper Core M, but since it throttles less it ends up performing better than the Macbook...That's a bit disappointing. If they gave it a bit better cooling it would have had the better performing chip all around. Reply
  • HooDude - Sunday, May 3, 2015 - link

    I bought one of these with the 1.1 ghz CPU. The fit and finish of the laptop is great, it's a beautiful device. However, it is terribly slow and the keyboard is awful. It lagged hard when I would try to scroll PDF files in preview, and typing on it was fatiguing to my hands and felt like I was typing on a table top instead of a keyboard. I ended up returning it because of these faults. Reply
  • Agrou - Tuesday, May 5, 2015 - link

    Any news/details about the MVNe controller ? Does anyone knows on what it is based ? I want to run natively a linux distro on my macook air but the SSD is not seen. I want to try to load the controller's driver apple used to integrate on the ship.
    Remark : they also put this controller on the 11 inch model with core i7 I do have APH0128 in OSX HW informations.
    Reply
  • Clorex - Monday, May 11, 2015 - link

    Regarding the display's white point:
    "The goal here is 6504; the MacBook hits 6828, reflecting the fact that it’s just a bit too red and just a bit too light on blue."

    I think it should be the other way round: the display should be bluish with a colour temperature of 6828 K.
    Reply
  • EOL - Monday, May 11, 2015 - link

    About the shallower keyboard: the keyboard MacBook Air (mid-2011, at least) does have a problem that the new butterfly keyboard might solve: key corners can quickly become imprinted onto the screen. This is a slightly annoying when watching videos, as the marks are quite visible, with a black background. Hopefully the new keyboard will prevent keys from damaging the screen, this time. Reply
  • birowsky - Tuesday, May 12, 2015 - link

    can i just buy a force touch trackpad somewhere? i wanna put this beauty in my 15" rMBP Reply
  • AnthLC - Saturday, June 13, 2015 - link

    I think it a great review and very helpful.

    I am planning on buying either this MacBook 12" or HP XPS 13". I do prefer Apple cause will work better together with my iPad and iPhone. Apple do make good solid devices and provide frequent updates. I need something similar in size to my iPad and light.

    My concerns with the MacBook relate to performance, first gen fanless, the one USB-C port and the keyboard. While with the HP by all reports the fan can be irritatingly noisy, lack of HP fixes, updates, device driver issues and priced $100 more then the MacBook.

    I primary use the IPad as my stock home computer and like a lot of people it is all I need. But I have hobby that require a PC application software. I don't have a real preference Mac or PC will do. But windows 8 is a turn off. Luckily for me the software works on both platforms.

    The review has help me realise the performance should be fine to run standard PC applications. The single USB-C port was a concern because the software I plan to use requires a USB dongle.

    But I haves learned there are solutions such as Infiniteusb which will actually overcome the single port problem. (http://getinfiniteusb.com) actually mean one port will probably be better.

    Some people say well you have to carry the dongle, but the thing is if you have the need to plug in accessories well you will be carrying more then just the laptop whether there is one or more ports. Which to my mind makes the whole point mute. The daisy chaining of USB-C is cool too.

    I like the idea of fanless. On the Internet and HP's own website user reviews suggest the HP XPS has some design fault, a noise that can be quiet annoying. I don't believe has been addressed.

    In Australia the base HP XPS is about $100 more then thie base MacBook 12".
    So I plan to get the MacBook 12".

    I was thinking maybe the MacBook Air 13" but when you add on the upgrade to 8gb and 256gb HD equivalent of the base MacBook 12", there only $100 difference. I would rather a a Retina display. I also looked at the old MacBook Pro 13" but same price and I prefer the smaller footprint of the MacBook 12".

    So I thought it may be interesting to post why I decide to buy the MacBook over the HP.

    For me and a lot of people we don't want a high powered laptop with all the bells and whistles. Apple have squarely filled the gap for users like me who primarily use a iPad but have a need for a portable PC.

    I did find it telling that I could buy a 15" laptop from Dell cheaper then their own HP XPS and 15" had better specs. It does suggest this is what people are buying and wanting. I mean a couple of years ago bigger laptops were the expensive ones.

    Lastly there is a premium in price for these small laptops which is to say a opportunity for other manufacturers to come along and deliver similar device at a cheaper price point.
    Reply

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