Apple MacBook (2016) review: Small and even more perfectly formed

When it was released in 2015, the Apple MacBook was something of a revelation. Not only was it incredibly thin and light, but internally it showed off all of the expertise in creating tiny circuit boards and big batteries that Apple had gained creating the iPhone and iPad. 

However, any kind of portable design is inevitably also a compromise, and the first generation of MacBook wore its compromises heavily on its sleeve. Despite the case packed with batteries, battery life was nothing more than average. Worse was performance: rarely has Apple, or anyone else, released a model costing more than others in the range, but offering less performance. If you’re undecided about buying a MacBook or a Windows laptop, take a look at IT Pro’s MacBook Pro 15in vs Dell XPS 15 head-to-head, where the pros and cons are broken down into digestible chunks.

The MacBook, then, was something of a niche machine. It was great if you valued portability over everything else, and didn’t have much requirement for performance or all-day battery life. The keyboard, with its super-shallow travel, also divided opinion.

For me, the MacBook was ideal. My needs, as you might expect, are fairly basic: occasional video and audio editing is as far as my “power user” profile goes. Thin and light, though, are massively important to me. Hence my 13in MacBook Pro went into semi-retirement, despite its superior performance and connectivity.

Apple MacBook (2016) rear

Apple MacBook 12in (2016): Design

Now, Apple has updated the MacBook, almost a year after its introduction. This is one of the company’s “press release-only” updates. There was no event, no product managers on stage, no Tim Cook proclaiming how “gorgeous” the new MacBook is.

This is understandable, for nothing about the MacBook’s design has changed. If you’ve picked one up, you’ll know exactly what to expect. It’s still incredibly thin and light. The screen is still gorgeous, but not bezel-free like the edge-to-edge “infinity” display on Dell’s XPS 13. As before, you can get the MacBook in Space Grey, Silver and Gold, and Apple is also making it available in Rose Gold (AKA pink).

Subjectively, this is a laptop that weighs almost nothing. At under a kilo, you can throw the MacBook into any bag and barely notice it’s there. Impressively, however, the body feels robust and taut; it doesn’t creak or flex at all. This is high-end engineering of the kind that Apple has become exceptionally good at.

Apple MacBook (2016) keyboard

Apple MacBook 12-inch (2016): Display

In our review of the first version, Sasha described the 2,304 x 1,440 display as “superb”, and nothing has happened to change our opinion. It’s still a great screen – bright enough to be used outdoors on a reasonably sunny day (or at least as sunny as you get in Britain in April), and with a good, wide colour gamut covering 94.2% of the sRGB colour space.

In fact, it isn’t as bright as the previous version – in testing, it reached a maximum brightness of 335cd/m2 versus last year’s 381cd/m2 – and the contrast ratio is down as well, from 1,063:1 to 805:1. However, there’s an upside: according to Apple, it uses less power than last year’s display, and it still looks great to the naked eye. Yes, it’s only 12in, but I’m happy to work on this screen for a full day.

As with all Apple retina laptops, it has a default setting that mimics something with less pixels – in this case, the Default setting “looks like 1280 x 800”. You can, though, change this and run at other modes, including 2560 x 1600, all the way down to 1024 x 640. All of these modes look fine, although higher resolutions tend to make things look incredibly small on a 12in screen.

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Apple MacBook (2016) 3.5mm headphone jack

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