Mac­Book (Early 2015)

Slim­mer and lighter than ever be­fore!

Mac Format - - CONTENTS - | July 2015

Ap­ple cre­ated a new way of mak­ing thin lay­ers of bat­ter­ies to bet­ter fill the alu­minium body of the Mac­Book

From £1,049 Man­u­fac­turer Ap­ple, ap­ Pro­ces­sor 1.1GHz or 1.2GHz dual-core In­tel Core M Mem­ory 8GB Graph­ics In­tel HD Graph­ics 5300 Stor­age 256GB or 512GB flash stor­age

Ap­ple’s quest for ever thin­ner and lighter de­vices is un­re­lent­ing, and while we’re all for things be­ing more por­ta­ble, the ques­tion is whether the com­pany some­times goes too far, or too fast. The new Mac­Book is just 13mm thick, and weighs un­der a kilo – eas­ily the thinnest and light­est Ap­ple note­book yet. It fits a 12-inch screen and a full­size key­board into a smaller foot­print than the 11-inch Mac­Book Air. But it’s also Ap­ple’s slow­est note­book, and it comes with just a sin­gle data port, which also dou­bles as the charg­ing plug. So the ques­tion is whether th­ese com­pro­mises are ac­tu­ally worth it – whether you get enough ex­tra util­ity from the porta­bil­ity to off­set the lack of ports,

and whether it’s still ca­pa­ble enough to jus­tify its £1,049 price tag.

Okay, we’ll just tell you: it is, but with caveats. It won’t be for ev­ery­one just yet, as we’ll ex­plain, but we are com­pletely sold on the 2015 Mac­Book, com­pro­mises and all.

A sur­pris­ing amount of new tech­nol­ogy has gone into cre­at­ing the Mac­Book. It’s Ap­ple’s first ever com­puter with one of In­tel’s Core M pro­ces­sors; lower-power chips for fan­less de­signs. Ap­ple cre­ated a new, smaller cir­cuit board and a new way of mak­ing thin lay­ers of bat­ter­ies to bet­ter fill the alu­minium body. It needed to de­velop a new key­board that could be thin­ner with­out los­ing com­fort or feed­back.

It also re­quired a thin­ner, mul­ti­pur­pose port, and so this is one of the first ma­chines to use USB-C, which isn’t much larger than the Light­ning port on iPhones and iPads. The new track­pad de­sign is more ef­fi­cient with space, re­mov­ing the clunky hinge mech­a­nism and us­ing a tiny mo­tor to sim­u­late a click. Oh, and there’s the Retina dis­play, which is enough rea­son for some

to want the Mac­Book. When you add all that up, the price in­crease over the Mac­Book Air seems rea­son­able – pro­vided all of the new things do their job well.

Let’s start with the Retina dis­play, which fits a 2304x1440 res­o­lu­tion into a 12-inch screen. That gives the same pixel den­sity as the 13-inch Retina Mac­Book Pro, mean­ing that it of­fers the same bril­liant lev­els of de­tail, whether you’re look­ing at pho­tos or just read­ing lovely crisp text. The dis­play is bright and vi­brant, of­fer­ing fan­tas­tic colours for view­ing images or watch­ing movies. It of­fers su­perb view­ing an­gles as well, which is some­thing the Mac­Book Air strug­gles with.

Also in­stantly bril­liant is the Force Touch track­pad, just as it is on the 13-inch Mac­Book Pro. It felt to us like the feed­back clicks are per­haps slightly softer here, but we got used to it very quickly, and you can ad­just their strength some­what. We still have reser­va­tions over the con­sis­tency of what deep presses on Force Touch track­pads do in OS X, but as just a regular track­pad, it’s pretty much per­fect.

Us­ing the new key­board on the Mac­Book is more of an un­cer­tain ex­pe­ri­ence. Since it’s made to be thin, there’s very lit­tle travel in the keys, which we ex­pected. They still give rea­son­able feed­back dur­ing typing, though. It didn’t take long to get used to, and we were ac­cu­rate on it af­ter just a minute or two, but even af­ter a cou­ple of days of light use, we still weren’t sure if we liked it or not. But af­ter us­ing it ex­clu­sively for a week, com­ing back to the older style of Ap­ple key­board was just as weird as switch­ing to the Mac­Book’s had been. Sud­denly, our much-loved Mac­Book Pro felt too soft. In the end, we’d put the us­abil­ity of the Mac­Book’s key­board more or less on a par with its pre­vi­ous de­sign – not bet­ter or worse, just dif­fer­ent.

Small per­former?

The Mac­Book’s phys­i­cal us­abil­ity is great, then, but one of the big­gest

ques­tion marks hangs over its per­for­mance. The In­tel Core M pro­ces­sor is dual-core, but is clocked at just 1.1GHz, and is a less ad­vanced de­sign than you get in ev­ery other Ap­ple note­book. In­ten­sive tasks re­ally show this up – it took al­most twice as long to com­plete our hard­core video en­cod­ing test than the 13-inch Mac­Book Pro, and al­most 50% longer than the 11-inch Air. But this is no sur­prise – the Mac­Book just isn’t de­signed for that kind of pro-level cre­ative task. The real ques­tion is whether a more limited pro­ces­sor holds you back in the kind of gen­eral use the Mac­Book is re­ally built for. And there, it’s ac­tu­ally great.

A sur­pris­ing turn

OS X flies along on it, gen­er­ally as fast as you would hope (helped heav­ily by the re­ally quite fast flash stor­age and a healthy 8GB of RAM). It’s still in­stant to come on from sleep, and apps load with lit­tle wait. Us­ing things like word pro­ces­sors doesn’t seem to strain it, and web­sites are quick to load. That said, you can find your­self hit­ting the up­per lim­its of its ca­pa­bil­i­ties fairly eas­ily. Work­ing in the Pho­tos app is gen­er­ally fast enough, for ex­am­ple – mak­ing ed­its to iPhone-size pho­tos is pretty much in­stant. But when you’re scrolling through a huge li­brary, or go­ing be­tween dif­fer­ent views, the an­i­ma­tions can stutter dramatically. It’s to­tally us­able, but will need a bit of pa­tience, which if you own a faster ma­chine, you may strug­gle with.

More un­ex­pected to us was find­ing that Google Maps was frus­trat­ingly slow in Sa­fari. We can imag­ine why – na­tive apps al­ways run smoother – but it’s the per­fect ex­am­ple of where things can go south with a slow pro­ces­sor. In gen­eral use you might have no prob­lems with its speed at all, then some lit­tle thing you rely on doesn’t work as well as ex­pected.

The Mac­Book even man­ages to play sim­pler games. The graph­ics chip is rea­son­ably ca­pa­ble, and even re­cent city-build­ing favourite Cities: Sky­lines is playable at 1280x800 with all its set­tings turned down. That said, we could never get Bat­man: Arkham City sat­is­fy­ingly playable – you’d have to keep it very light in­deed.

So while there are ob­vi­ous lim­i­ta­tions to the new Mac­Book’s power, we don’t find them to be deal­break­ers, as long as you un­der­stand what you’re get­ting. And you do get some­thing in re­turn for living with the low-power pro­ces­sor. Two rather fan­tas­tic things, in fact.

Long life

The first is the bat­tery life, which matched the 7.5 hours of the 11-inch Mac­Book Air in our in­ten­sive tests, out­last­ing the 13-inch Retina Mac­Book Pro by al­most an hour. The 13-inch Mac­Book Air is still the ruler here, man­ag­ing a colos­sal 549 min­utes to the Mac­Book’s 454, but it means that the Mac­Book still of­fers a full work­ing day of bat­tery life with­out prob­lem.

The sec­ond and more sur­pris­ing fea­ture is one that we now re­ally don’t want to do with­out. The Mac­Book is fan­less, mak­ing it to­tally si­lent to use (well, it has speak­ers, of course, which are fine, though hardly im­pres­sive). It got warm, but never overly hot, in our ex­pe­ri­ence. When you then go back to us­ing other lap­tops, with fans fir­ing up even when just brows­ing the web, they sud­denly seem so… ar­chaic. It makes the Mac­Book pleas­ant to use on the sofa or in bed – much like an iPad.

That leaves one last, ma­jor stum­bling block, though: ex­pan­sion. The sin­gle USB-C port (there’s also a 3.5mm head­phone jack, but that’s it) for data and power is, much like the pro­ces­sor, per­fectly fine most of the time, then sud­denly not. While trav­el­ling with the Mac­Book, we wanted to trans­fer some raw pho­tos to it from our cam­era on a whim… but didn’t have any suit­able adap­tors. It’s not like the nec­es­sary USB-C ca­bles are com­mon yet, so we couldn’t eas­ily pick one up from a nearby store. We also needed to get our bench­mark­ing tools off the Thun­der­bolt drive we keep them on, but were stuck – there’s no adap­tor for that. Still, th­ese were our only prob­lems – var­i­ous cloud ser­vices had us sorted in ev­ery­thing else we wanted to do. Again, if you can un­der­stand and as­sim­i­late this lim­i­ta­tion, the Mac­Book will work fine for you (and a plethora of USB-C adap­tors and docks are com­ing), but if you need flex­i­bil­ity, you just won’t find it here. Again, Ap­ple may just be try­ing to be a lit­tle ahead of its time.

A stunning ad­di­tion

The 2015 Mac­Book is pos­si­bly the best com­pan­ion Ap­ple has ever built. It’s solidly built, de­spite its thin size; it’s us­able ev­ery­where from fold­down train and aero­plane trays to your of­fice desk; it lasts hours and hours; it weighs barely any­thing, so there’s never a ques­tion of whether to laden your­self down with it; it’s em­i­nently us­able and com­fort­able… we know it’s full of lim­i­ta­tions, but we so en­joyed us­ing such a light, zippy, quiet ma­chine in gen­eral use that we to­tally for­got those draw­backs. Well, un­til we hit them dead on. But that’s the trade-off.

Some in the MacFor­mat of­fice have said that if they’re go­ing to spend £1,000 on a note­book, they ex­pect it to be able to do any­thing. It’s a to­tally rea­son­able point of view, but the great thing is that Ap­ple al­ready makes that ma­chine – it’s the 13-inch Retina Mac­Book Pro, which is the same price, and which we also love (see MF286). The 12-inch Mac­Book is for peo­ple who aren’t af­ter some­thing all-pur­pose, who want some­thing much lighter, both in weight and in im­pact on their life. It’s so thin and light that Steve Jobs might well have seen this one as an­other ‘in­sanely great’ Mac. Matt Bolton

Mac­Book is for peo­ple who want some­thing much lighter, both in weight and in im­pact on their life

The new Mac­Book comes in the same colours as the cur­rent iOS lineup: Sil­ver, Gold and Space Grey.

The strength of the new Force Touch track­pad is ad­justable in OS X’s Sys­tem


Top: Mac­Book fea­tures an en­tirely new key­board lay­out and key mech­a­nism. The Ap­pledesigned but­ter­fly mech­a­nism is 40% thin­ner than the more tra­di­tional scis­sor one.

Above: USB-C is brand new to Ap­ple prod­ucts and de­spite some early lim­i­ta­tions, we ex­pect ac­ces­sories to get around most of the prob­lems you’re likely to face.

The Mac­Book re­tains the sleek lines that made pre­vi­ous mod­els must-have note­books for so many.

Thanks to the all-new ter­raced bat­tery tech­nol­ogy in­side, Ap­ple has made the Mac­Book al­most im­pos­si­bly thin at just 13mm – 4mm thin­ner than the Mac­Book Air’s thick­est point.

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