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12" MacBook

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What's Hot: Insanely light and gorgeous. Superb display, great Force Touch trackpad, ample storage and RAM.

What's Not: Core M CPU isn't as powerful as Core i5, lack of keyboard travel is disconcerting at first. Expensive.


Reviewed April 22, 2015 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

12" MacBook

Update, April 2016: read our review of the 2016, second generation 12" Retina MacBook that replaces this model.

It's 2008 and Steve Jobs stands before a large audience. He pulls something out of a manila envelope--oh my God, it's a laptop! One so impossibly thin and compact that it fits in an interoffice envelope. And so the world of laptops was changed. Years later, Intel wanted to see Windows PC makers offer up something, anything that might compete, and the Ultrabook was born. Apple is hoping to change the world of mobile computing again with the MacBook, a 12" laptop that's not much larger or heavier than the first iPad, yet it's capable of getting real work done. Just as the original 13" MacBook Air was port-constrained, a little slow and expensive, so is the MacBook. Just as the Air had one of the best displays on a 13" laptop at the time, so the MacBook has a stunning Retina display. Like the Air, I wouldn't be surprised if the MacBook gained a port or two in the years to come, and the price might even come down in a few years.

The new Apple MacBook, or 12" MacBook or Retina MacBook (whatever you want to call it to differentiate from MacBooks of old) is as polarizing as it is striking. This 2 lb. laptop is one of the most gorgeous on the market, and one of the smallest. It sits between the iPad Air and 13" MacBook Air in terms of size, though functionally it's a Mac and not an iPad. In fact, we suspect Apple is targeting those of you who bought an iPad and keyboard as a laptop replacement, but have since realized it can't handle everything a laptop can. For $1,299 you get a 1.1 GHz Core M CPU with Turbo Boost to 2.4 GHz, 8 gigs of RAM and a fast PCIe 256 gig SSD. The $1,599 bumps the CPU 100 MHz and doubles storage to 512 gigs. Either way you get one of Apple's best displays in years, the 2304 x 1440 IPS Retina display exceeds 100% sRGB color gamut and it has excellent contrast and high brightness. The laptop has dual band WiFi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0 and a just OK 480p webcam.

12" MacBook

Portability Focus

What do you get for your money? Not horsepower and not a huge screen. This is meant to be a second computer for folks who have an adequately large and powerful main desktop or laptop. You get a head-turning design, incredible portability (it weighs as much as in iPad Air in a case and takes up virtually no room in a bag) and a phenomenal screen. You certainly don't get ports: it has just a 3.5mm audio jack and a single USB-C port that also handles charging. Like the MacBook Air that Steve Jobs slipped out of a manila envelope in 2008, it's pricey, port constrained and not wildly powerful. Like the Air, it's an attention-getter and a feat of engineering, though some might wonder if this little guy is just too small.

Design and Ergonomics

It's an Apple Mac, and that means exquisite attention to design, fit and finish. There are no gaps, unsightly seams or pointless design elements. It's clean, well balanced and comfortable in the lap and easy to pass around when open or closed. The lid isn't difficult to open with one hand and the hinge is firm yet not stiff. The machine is available in the usual Apple silver, Space Gray and gold, not unlike the iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2. All are attractive and have a matte aluminum finish that resists fingerprints and maintains grip.

12" MacBook

As ever with recent Mac laptops, you can remove the bottom panel if you have a pentalobe screwdriver, but there's little point since RAM, the CPU and the SSD are soldered permanently onto the motherboard. The stacked battery isn't all that easy to remove either. The MacBook has a 3.5mm combo audio jack (headphones and mic in one) and a single USB-C port that supports HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2. You'll also use that port for charging via the included compact charger and USB-C cable. If you wish to connect USB peripherals, you'll need a USB-C to female USB adapter that Apple sells for $19 (other companies make them too, and they're often less expensive). You can't charge the laptop and use the USB port for a peripheral at the same time with the $19 adapter, instead you'll need the $79 AV adapter with a charging port, USB port and HDMI. I'm sure 3rd party companies will make all sorts of adapters for the MacBook, but keep in mind that the port doesn't support Thunderbolt, so you won't be able to use Apple's Thunderbolt display or any other Thunderbolt peripheral.

Force Touch Trackpad and Keyboard

The keyboard is just plain weird, yet it's good. I type thousands of words per week and I'm picky about keyboards. I didn't like the miniscule key travel at first, but after 20 minutes I acclimated and typed as well on the MacBook as I do on my 13" Retina MacBook Pro. Each key has a tactile click thanks to the butterfly mechanical switches under each key, and they provide tactile feel that makes up for the lack of travel. The backlit keyboard has an LED beneath each key for even lighting, and our unit's keys are very evenly lit in soft white (you can adjust keyboard backlight level).

12" MacBook

Apple makes perhaps the best trackpad on a laptop, regardless of OS platform. Somehow they've managed to make it ever better with the Force Touch trackpad. It might sound like a gimmick, but it's actually more accurate and efficient. On normal trackpads just the bottom edge moves. For large trackpads, it's easy to have the hand and fingers wander higher, where it will do no good because the top half doesn't register clicks (unless you enable tap to click). With the Force Touch trackpad, you can click in any corner and there are four spring-like mechanisms under each spot. Yes, the trackpad actually does move just a little, and your mind will tell you it moves quite a bit thanks to the force feedback that creates the sensation of a tactile click (what Apple calls their Taptic engine--a cross between tap and haptic). You can even adjust the force setting in trackpad settings for a light, medium or heavy touch and feedback. The end result is a trackpad that feels even more responsive and precise. I generally hate clicking trackpads because it slows me down and the required force causes my pointing finger to wander, resulting in errors. Problem solved with the Force Touch trackpad. I've stopped using tap to click in fact, which was my old preferred method even though it wasn't very precise and sometimes resulted in accidental clicks.

Even more interesting, there's a secondary deeper click if you continue to press down with some force. That can bring up a word definition in quite a few programs and in Safari force-clicking on a link brings up a small preview of the web page. I'm sure Apple and third party developers will come up with even more uses.


The superb 12" IPS display is a selling point for the MacBook, and it's likely one of the reasons folks will consider it strongly vs. the MacBook Air models with their lower resolution TN panels. This panel is every bit as good as the Pro MacBooks, and in fact it slightly exceeds them in color gamut at 102% of sRGB and 80% of Adobe RGB. Contrast is high, colors are accurate and saturated and the panel can get very bright (we measured 350 nits). The brightness ramp is a little odd and it doesn't get very bright until the last few ticks--perhaps Apple wants to conserve power.

12" MacBook

The 16:10 aspect ratio "Retina" panel has a resolution of 2304 x 1440. Usually Apple does pixel quadrupling for Retina displays, so the effective "looks like" resolution is one quarter of the absolute panel resolution. That makes for efficient performance, but in this case Apple runs it higher at an effective 1280 x 800 resolution, and we set it to 1440 x 900 to match the 13" MacBook Air (that's also my preferred setting on the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina display). The machine can drive a 4K monitor at 30 Hz according to Apple, but we found that the Intel HD 5300 integrated graphics struggled a bit with both the laptop display on and anything higher than a 1920 x 1200 monitor attached. The MacBook really isn't for graphics pros who need to drive very large high resolution external displays--I'd go with the 13" Retina MacBook Pro or the 15" rMBP for that. Even the MacBook Air with Intel HD 6000 graphics can handle high res monitors, including Apple's Thunderbolt display, which the MacBook can't.


Deals and Shopping:


12" MacBook Video Review


12" MacBook vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Comparison


12" MacBook vs. Dell XPS 13 (2015) Comparison

Performance and Horsepower

The MacBook runs on the new Intel Core M CPU, a low power 4.5 watt CPU that sits above the Intel Atom and below the 15 watt Core i3/i5 used in the MacBook Air and many Windows Ultrabooks. This is a 5th generation Broadwell dual core chip with Turbo Boost that's paired with Intel HD 5300 graphics that sits below the HD 5500 and 6000 commonly paired with the Core i5. Apple pushes the wattage a bit and the normally 900 MHz Core M 5Y31 can be TDP up-clocked to 6 watts and 1.1 GHz, which is exactly what Apple does for the base model MacBook. There are 1.2 and 1.3 GHz Core M options, but honestly you won't see much performance improvement. You may however like the 512 gig SSD that comes bundled with the $1,599 1.2GHz model if you need lots of storage. All models have 8 gigs of RAM soldered on the motherboard (not upgradeable).

12" MacBook

Core M has high Turbo Boost speeds, and the 1.1 GHz MacBook has Boost to 2.4 GHz. Turbo Boost offers very short speed bursts to accommodate processor intensive tasks and it can make a low clocked CPU feel considerably quicker. Still, if you compare that to a 5th generation Core i5 like that in the Dell XPS 13 with a base 2.2 GHz clock speed and Turbo Boost to 2.7 GHz, the MacBook is clearly not going to be a performance powerhouse. It's fine for common light loads that include MS Office or iWork, web, email, streaming 1080p video, occasional video editing for fun and even some fairly serious Photoshop work. I wouldn't pick it if you intend to frequently run Parallels (Windows VM), do frequent 1080p or 4K video editing or if you have to compile large programs for software development. It's best as a second highly portable machine for those who have a beefy laptop or desktop to do the heavy lifting. It could however work well as a primary machine for those who have light computational needs.

12" MacBook

The Core M is also used in the equally expensive Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro (a Windows 8.1 convertible), the $699 Asus Zenbook UX305 13.3" Ultrabook ($999 with a QHD display) and a few other models. As you can see, it runs the gamut in terms of price point and position, even though it's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Mac OS X Yosemite is quite good at processor management and it's not a CPU hungry OS, so the Core M never feels slow in everyday use when doing productivity tasks or streaming video for fun. In fact, the MacBook rarely stuttered with 10 tabs open in Safari while MS Word 2016 and Photoshop CC were running. The fast PCIe storage and ample 8 gigs of RAM help keep things moving along nicely too. But when editing and exporting 15 minute 1080p videos, we found ourselves waiting and grabbing a few sodas during export.

Geekbench 3 Benchmark Comparison Table:

MacBook, 1.1 GHz Core M 2461/4623
Early 2015 13" MacBook Pro, 2.7GHz Core i5 3325/7042
13" MacBook Air (2014, Core i7) 3277/6377
2015 15" MacBook Pro Retina 3953/15,143
Asus Zenbook UX305 (Core M) 1749/3015
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 3rd Gen (core i5-5300U) 3077/6117
Dell XPS 13 - 2015, 2.2 GHz Core i5-5200U 2810/5515
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Core i5 2908/5695
Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro 2557/4600

Battery Life

Apple's laptops generally top the industry for runtimes, and their runtime claims are usually accurate rather than the more common overly optimistic claims from other makers. The little MacBook obviously has less room for a beefy battery, so Apple stacked slices of Lithium Ion polymer to fill the diminutive notebook's every internal nook and cranny. The 39.7 Whr battery is good for 9 hours of actual use time according to Apple, and we found that to be optimistic with brightness set to 50% with ambient brightness enabled and WiFi on. We averaged 6 to 7 hours actual use time in a mix of real world use that included working in iWork and MS Office, editing 10 RAW photos in Photoshop 6, watching an hour episode of Mad Men on Netflix, email and playing a few short YouTube videos. One of our editors prefers brightness set to an eye-searing max (with auto-brightness disabled), and that dropped battery life to 5.5 hours. These runtimes fall short of the 13" MacBook Air's 12 hours and the 13" Retina MacBook Pro's 11 hours.

The Mac ships with a compact 29 watt charger that's a bit bigger than the iPad Air charger but considerably smaller than the MacBook Air charger. Though its output wattage is low compared to the 45 watt average for Intel Core i5 Ultrabooks, it provided sufficient power to continue charging the laptop even under load. We charged the MacBook from 8 to 98 percent in 2 hours while the Mac was sleeping.

12" MacBook


It's controversial; it's sexy and built as perfectly as any Apple product. That's the 12" MacBook, a 2 lb. laptop that's sturdy enough to throw in your bag with little care, yet it can get any basic computing task done quickly. The biggest problem with the MacBook may be how hard it is to get one. At launch it wasn't available in stores and immediately went to a 4-6 week backorder status. Hopefully, Apple will start cranking them out to meet demand so you can actually buy one if it ticks all the right boxes in your portable checklist. The display is superb, the Force Touch trackpad is the best in the business and the weird keyboard is actually very usable. Clearly this is a second machine for those who have good money to spend, or a primary laptop for those with modest computation needs and great portability requirements. Overall, we left feeling surprised at just how well the MacBook kept up with our daily workload and how easy it is to take anywhere.


Price: starting at $1,299

Related Reviews:

12" MacBook 2nd Gen (2016) Review

13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review

13" MacBook Air Review

HP Spectre Review

2015 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review

Samsung Notebook 9 Review

Razer Blade Stealth Review

Asus Zenbook UX305 Review

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Review

Dell XPS 13 (2015) Review


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Display: 12", 2304 x 1440 IPS Retina display. Intel HD 5300 integrated graphics. HDMI and DisplayPort 1.2 via optional USB-C adapters.

Battery: 39.7 Whr Lithium Ion rechargeable.

Performance: 1.1 GHz Intel Core M 5Y31 with Turbo Boost to 2.4 GHz. 1.2 and 1.3 GHz Core M CPUs also available. 8 gigs of RAM soldered on board and 256 or 512 gig PCIe SSD (also soldered on board).

Size: 11.4 x 7.74 x 0.52 (thickest) inches. Weight: 2.03 pounds.

Camera: 480p FaceTime webcam.

Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Mac OS X Yosemite.

Expansion and Ports: 1 USB-C port (also used to charge the laptop) and 3.5mm combo audio jack.



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