Last week, I stopped in at Best Buy to get a few minutes with the new MacBook. Even after giving my initial thoughts I still wanted to see it in person. I don't want to oversell my few minutes with it. However, even these simple interactions with it were incredibly beneficial in understanding what makes the new MacBook a compelling computer. It's about precision.
The new butterfly key switches, retina display, single USB-C port, and renewed MacBook Air form factor all point to a new kind of sharp precision. One somehow different from previous versions of laptop Macs.
The first thing you notice about the new MacBook is the size. 12" is a strange size for someone from the Mac world. 11", 13", and 15" have been the only options in MacBook screen sizes since Apple dropped the 17" Pro. How is it that one inch change can make a computer so much better. Is 12" some magic number that has been mathematically computed to be the perfect size for a laptop? Most certainly not. Rather, after years of being condition that 13" is the typical laptop size and the 11" of is ultra small portable laptop, 12" is a logical place to go.
The weight is another thing you notice instantly. Lifting the computer from the table happened more quickly then I would expect. The new MacBook is very light. It feels as heavy as an iPad. That's seriously impressive. I consider this to be the first Mac laptop without actual heft. Previous laptops have been portable in spite of their size. The size and weight combination of the new MacBook truly makes it portable. It's small and light enough to be ultraportable, but big and precise enough to do real work.
What should be the primary goal of a laptop keyboard? The shape of a laptop places severe limitations on how comfortable the keys can be. One can't optimize the keys much for comfort without major compromises in other places. Instead of unworkable compromise, Apple's goal for their laptop keyboard is increased precision.
Sometimes I feel like I'm straining to type on my MacBook Pro. The new MacBook doesn't give me that feeling. Instead the keyboard with larger keys and better switches feels sturdier and up to any task. I typed a sentence on the new keyboard and instantly thought "That's it?" I almost expected it to be more work. Instead it felt as if I typed shorter and more to the point. Although in reality the keyboard isn't so much different, it still offers a tactile improvement that I think benefits the computer overall. Returning to my computer, I found the gaps and mushiness of the keys to be annoyingly average and somewhat cumbersome.
I don't have much to say about the screen. It's a wonderful retina screen. Websites do look excellent. In five years, Apple has made nearly all of their screens retina. There's something about these screens that are very Apple. Retina screens are a form of precision that a practical person would think unnecessary, but those who love well designed things are thankful for.
I didn't get to stress test the new MacBook. Some apps felt speedy while other normal operations took a while. I have no way of knowing if this was because it's a demo unit or if the new MacBook is underpowered. I suspect some of both. This new MacBook has an old processor. There's no way around it. A lot of reviews cited issues with performance. Not having a fan is great. Not having computer power isn't. It's clear that processor speed is the main thing holding this computer back from being a super laptop. I understand there are technical constraints but they're frustrating.
The new MacBook is the most precise computer Apple has ever made. It's more portable then the MacBook Air, and it's more powerful than an iPad. Apple has brought some of their great handheld hardware to the Mac. It's a fantastic fit that I expect they'll continue to improve upon.
I didn't walk out of Best Buy with a new MacBook, but I wanted to. I'm typing this review on a less than one year old retina MacBook Pro. It's a better machine overall, but barely. Soon the new MacBook will be faster and then it will be a nearly perfect laptop. Soon is probably less than five years way.