Update: We’ve added a new section to this review called How to master your MacBook, which you can check out on Page 2. Featuring links to our latest how-to guides, we show you how to get the most out of your Apple laptop.
Original review follows…
Knock it for its USB Type-C port. Bash it for its wimpy horsepower. But don’t even try to deny that Apple’s new MacBook is one of the most attractive, impressively-engineered laptops that the world has ever seen – there’s simply nothing quite as slick out there.
Even though it combines the portability of Apple’s MacBook Air with the Retina MacBook Pro’s high pixel-density Retina display, the new MacBook doesn’t resemble either product line – or Apple’s older, polycarbonate white MacBook of the same name, for that matter.
Instead, it feels like an entirely new species of otherworldly laptop that has more in common with an iPad Air than a ThinkPad. Flip open the lid, and you’re transported into the best-looking OS X Yosemite playground yet – one that goes wherever you go.
But it’s far from perfect: the new MacBook’s sole USB Type-C port and moderately-powered Intel Core M processor mean that many of this playground’s games are off-limits, and while some will find its unique keyboard more fun than a revolving roundabout, it will make others sick with frustration.
Divisive and sickly sweet, the new MacBook is the notebook equivalent of Marmite. Personally, I love the stuff (and like the new MacBook a lot), but whether it’s for you depends on how much you’re prepared to compromise.
Want one of these but aren’t prepared to plunk down quite this much? Apple is now selling refurbished 12-inch MacBooks for a rather sizable discount (at least relatively) in the UK and US.
The entry-level, refurbished 12-inch MacBook goes for a much lighter £889 – 15% off, to be exact. The model packing a 1.2GHz CPU, 8GB of memory and a 512GB flash storage drive goes for £1,099 refurbished, a saving of £200.
In the US, the low-end model carries a $1,099 price tag when refurbished (a $200 discount), and the 1.2GHz model calls for $1,359 ($240 cheaper than it normally sells for) after being prepped for re-sale.
Of course, your chances of scoring a refurbished MacBook depend entirely upon what Apple has in stock in either region, so your milage may vary on this one.
But, if you’re looking out for savings on a brand new MacBook, check out our page for the best cheap MacBook deals for February 2016. You’ll find deals on just about every other MacBook model there, too.
Also, for those growing bored of OS X El Capitan, Apple issued a new beta version of the operating system recently, allowing you to play with new features before they make it into an official update. So long as you’re enrolled in the Apple Beta Software Program, you can now enjoy toying with password-protected notes and throwing Live Photos directly into Messages.
On the catwalk
Two qualities stand out above all else when it comes to the new MacBook: thin and lightweight. Apple has managed to squeeze its components into an incredible aluminum body that measures just 0.35cm at its thinnest point and 1.31cm at its thickest.
Its thinness is in part due to Intel’s fan-less Core M CPU, which is passively cooled and runs whisper quiet. There’s no fan inside, which enabled Apple’s engineers to make its chassis slimmer. The new MacBook is an ideal option if you’re frequently sharing a room with light sleepers – particularly compared to noisier, fan-based notebooks sporting Intel’s Core-series chips.
Another factor that’s helped Apple achieve the new MacBook’s svelte dimensions is its dramatically thinner keyboard, which uses an Apple-designed butterfly mechanism instead of a traditional scissor type underneath the keys.
And while we’re on the topic of thin, the new MacBook’s bezel is slimmer than ones on previous MacBooks and is complemented by a matte strip along the bottom that bears the MacBook logo. It’s available in three colors: Space Grey, Silver and Gold.
Cost and competition
Everything about the new MacBook’s design screams premium, which is what you’re shelling out for at the end of the day – you can almost forget what’s housed inside.
Of course, we’ve been here before. The original MacBook Air, which was more portable than other notebooks at the time but came with fewer ports, cost an arm and a leg when it first came out – and history has repeated itself with the new MacBook.
Starting at £1,049 (US$1,299 or AUS$1,799), the entry-level MacBook comes with 256GB of flash storage and is powered by a 1.1GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.4GHz) dual-core Intel Core M flash storage, 8GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 5300. Rising to £1,299 (US$1,599 or AUS$2,199), the top-end model comes with a slightly faster 1.2GHz chip (Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz) and 512GB flash storage.
The nearest alternative price-wise is Apple’s less portable but more capable 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina that starts at £999 (US$1,299 or AUS$1,799). That gets you a 2.7GHz (Turbo Boost to 3.1GHz) dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 128GB flash storage and Intel Iris Graphics 6100.
If you’re not too bothered about a Retina display, the top-end 13-inch MacBook Air costs the same price and comes with a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU (Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz), Intel HD Graphics 6000, 4GB of memory and 256GB flash storage.
If you’re in the Windows camp, the number of Core M-powered alternatives are growing all the time. Of those, the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, Asus T300 Chi and Asus UX305 share the new MacBook’s traits of slimness and portability. (Plus, it’s aligned rather closely in terms of power with the Surface Pro 4.)
Joe Osborne also contributed to this review