Review roundup: Apple's 12" MacBook ahead of its time, but hurt by weak processor, too few ports

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited May 2015
Apple lifted its review embargo on the new 12-inch MacBook on Thursday, and the first early-access reviews began to emerge, praising some of the notebook's futuristic design traits while typically criticizing issues like weak performance and a lack of present-day compatibility.


The Verge

Dieter Bohn of The Verge said that in light of the new MacBooks' thin size, light weight, and Retina display, even his MacBook Air felt "like a heavy, kind of ugly throwback with a mediocre screen."

He nevertheless returned to using the Air, since he found there currently aren't enough adapters and wireless peripherals needed to get around the MacBook's single USB-C port. He also complained that the system's Core M proecessor isn't enough to power through the apps he uses without harming battery life, and that a $1,299 entry cost is "far from cheap." He suggested that eventually, these problems should disappear.


Engadget

Site author Dana Wollman called "most" of the design decisions on the MacBook "well-thought-out," for instance noting that performance is generally quick in everyday use, and that the flattened keyboard is nearly as comfortable as those for other Macs. She also praised the device's battery life, which is similar to an 11-inch Air despite a much higher-resolution display.

Criticisms were leveled not just at the lack of standard USB ports but the Force Touch trackpad, which Wollman said is not as comfortable to use as the ones on the Air or other notebooks.

The product was ultimately described as aimed at "well-heeled shoppers who demand the most portable machine possible, and who also don't want to compromise on screen quality."


Re/code

Re/code's Katherine Boehret considered the MacBook "too extreme" and "too expensive" for most people, based mainly on the lack of standard USB ports or even an SD card slot, and the machine costing $100 more than a top-end MacBook Air. She also found battery life to be worse than expected during intense testing, coming in at a little over five hours versus more than 10 on a previously-reviewed 13-inch Air.

She argued however that the device may appeal to richer shoppers who want a thinner notebook and won't mind present-day port issues. She further suggested that people may eventually look back on it the way they now consider the 2008 MacBook Air, which did away with then-standard Mac features like an Ethernet port and an optical drive.


Wall Street Journal

The Journal's Joanna Stern asked readers not to "give in" to the appeal of features like the Retina display or the trackpad, precisely because like the first-generation Air, there are "too many key compromises" for an "early-adopter price."

For her these included issues with performance, battery life, and the lack of ports. As with some other reviewers, she suggested the MacBook will probably improve in subsequent generations, but said there are more practical options at moment -- including the Air and the MacBook Pro.


Macworld

Writer Jason Snell called the computer "gorgeous," also complimenting the Retina display and Force Touch trackpad, but said the keyboard could be a "deal-breaker," and that overall the product is not for people who need external drives or powerful performance.

The MacBook is finally painted as a "trade-off," the harbinger of an Apple transition to USB-C. "To get the cutting edge technology, you've got to deal with the incompatibilities and limitations that go with it," Snell said.

CNet

CNet's Dan Ackerman also likened the computer to the 2008 Air, proposing that it may appeal to a smaller segment of the public than that served by the "more universally useful" 13-inch models of the MacBook Air and Pro. Those people will still have to cope with an unusual keyboard, missing ports, and limited speed, Ackerman said, but may enjoy the Retina display, slimmer dimensions, and "responsive" trackpad.

He predicts that a future MacBook will come with at least one more USB-C port, and could be worth waiting for.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 133
    cash907cash907 Posts: 893member
    This review, among others, make it pretty clear that the New MacBook is pretty much what everyone secretly feared it would be: an overpriced iPad with non removable keyboard.
    Cook should have just given the Air line a retina screen and held off another year or two on this thing. Or at least figured out how to give it more than one dang port.
  • Reply 2 of 133
    cash907 wrote: »
    This review, among others, make it pretty clear that the New MacBook is pretty much what everyone secretly feared it would be: an overpriced iPad with non removable keyboard.
    Cook should have just given the Air line a retina screen and held off another year or two on this thing. Or at least figured out how to give it more than one dang port.

    The Verge is garbage. Ars's review of it was pretty good.

    If you don't like it, buy an rMBP.

    This, however, is the most telling:
    "Another interesting thing to note, though we didn't include it on these charts: the MacBook’s multi-core CPU performance is nearly identical to that of the iPad Air 2. The A8X still has lower single-threaded performance—it needs a third core to match the dual-core Core M—but we’ve gotten to the point where top-end ARM chips and low-power Intel chips have very similar power usage and performance characteristics."

    That should send INTL plunging to the basement, personally, but most analysts are idiots.
  • Reply 3 of 133
    DaekwanDaekwan Posts: 174member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Cash907 View Post



    This review, among others, make it pretty clear that the New MacBook is pretty much what everyone secretly feared it would be: an overpriced iPad with non removable keyboard.

    Cook should have just given the Air line a retina screen and held off another year or two on this thing. Or at least figured out how to give it more than one dang port.

     

    I do agree that Apple really needs to put a Retina screen in the 11/13" Macbook air (and also needs to update their 27" Thunderbolt display to support 4K & USB-C).  But considering this Macbook has a 12" screen, tiny keyboard, weighs only 2lbs, uses a 1.1ghz CoreM processor.. and is only about a thick as a 1st gen iPad.. it was never meant to be much more than an iPad with a non-removable keyboard.  The New Macbook is basically redefining what an "ultra" portable laptop should be.  For those who need more ports or more power.. then Apple still sells the 0.6" thick, 2.95lb Macbook Air and the 0.7" thick, 3.48lb Macbook Retina Pro.

     

    I also dont see having 1-port as an issue, because USB-C is an open standard and supports almost everything, including up to 100w of power.  I'd imagine as the standard gets more popular, we will see plenty of third party adapters that combine a small 3 port hub + a 29watt (or higher) power supply.  Multi-functional adapters like this USB 3.0 three port hub + ethernet adapter do exactly what I'm talking about and cost $14:  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00S5L9K1G/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_1?pf_rd_p=1944687442&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B00S5IA568&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=0F5MV73M7K1DESVZMR6M

  • Reply 4 of 133
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 883member
    cash907 wrote: »
    This review, among others, make it pretty clear that the New MacBook is pretty much what everyone secretly feared it would be: an overpriced iPad with non removable keyboard.
    Cook should have just given the Air line a retina screen and held off another year or two on this thing. Or at least figured out how to give it more than one dang port.

    The problem IMO is that because single port is used for everything, it's all the more inconvenient than if it was a single port for a specific purpose (power, for example). It means people will be constantly fumbling around swapping power/USB stick/phone/whatever, at least if it had one dedicated charging port (a-la MagSafe) and one USB-C port, it'd be much less hassle. But as it is now, if the battery is low and you need to use a peripheral, you have to wait for the MB to charge before being able to swap to the peripheral. Really seems pretty stupid to me.

    I know all this can be "solved" so to speak with multi-port dongles, but to me, that really defeats the point of a portable if you have to lug around a bagful of adapters to make it work with anything. With the MPBr you're pretty much guaranteed it'll work with anything standard; be that Ethernet, USB, MagSafe, etc, without a multitude of dongles.

    I really can't see why Apple didn't add had at least one more USB C port, on the opposite side would have been great.
  • Reply 5 of 133
    DaekwanDaekwan Posts: 174member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by Elijahg View Post





    The problem IMO is that because single port is used for everything, it's all the more inconvenient than if it was a single port for a specific purpose (power, for example). It means people will be constantly fumbling around swapping power/USB stick/phone/whatever, at least if it had one dedicated charging port (a-la MagSafe) and one USB-C port, it'd be much less hassle. But as it is now, if the battery is low and you need to use a peripheral, you have to wait for the MB to charge before being able to swap to the peripheral. Really seems pretty stupid to me.



    I know all this can be "solved" so to speak with multi-port dongles, but to me, that really defeats the point of a portable if you have to lug around a bagful of adapters to make it work with anything. With the MPBr you're pretty much guaranteed it'll work with anything standard; be that Ethernet, USB, MagSafe, etc, without a multitude of dongles.

     

    You literally solved your own proposed dilemma in your post.

     

    If you are "constantly fumbling around swapping power/USB stick/phone/whatever".. why would you buy this tiny computer instead of a "MPBr you're pretty much guaranteed it'll work with anything standard; be that Ethernet, USB, MagSafe, etc, without a multitude of dongles."

     

    Anyone who always has the need to plug that much stuff in.. should not be buying this.

  • Reply 6 of 133
    schlackschlack Posts: 688member
    for $99 they should sell a dongle that is a docking station with multiple monitors support; multiple USB; SD card slot; ethernet; thunderbolt; etc.

    that could ease the transition pain
  • Reply 7 of 133
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,756member
    Daekwan wrote: »
    You literally solved your own proposed dilemma in your post.
    It isn't a delemma, it is a real short coming of the device.
    If you are "constantly fumbling around swapping power/USB stick/phone/whatever".. why would you buy this tiny computer instead of a "MPBr you're pretty much guaranteed it'll work with anything standard; be that Ethernet, USB, MagSafe, etc, without a multitude of dongles."
    The problem here is that a lot of people will be interested in such a computer, if it simply supported enough I/O to remain flexible to their needs. Even Google was smart enough to put two USB-C ports in their latest.
    Anyone who always has the need to plug that much stuff in.. should not be buying this.

    Certainly, but you should be able to grasp the frustration this machine produces in people. If the machine didn't give up so much functionality it would have been a great machine for people needing a bit more than an iPad.
  • Reply 8 of 133
    Perhaps but this isn't a big deal. Remember back when the original MacBook Air came out many were making similar statements and it got better and more powerful as time went on and has become the defacto standard for laptop designs and has become the go-to laptop for thousands.

    I fully expect the same to happen here.
  • Reply 9 of 133
    mr omr o Posts: 1,046member
    This Macbook would be perfect for my dad.

    Last year he got himself a top of the line 15 inch Macbook Pro - just because he can - and now he keeps asking me what all those ports are for ... he mainly uses his computer to Skype, mail and Google ...
  • Reply 10 of 133
    Apple already has a 3 way adapter in the online store. Allows you to charge, plug in 1 usb device, and has HDMI.

    I would personally prefer if on the wall charger block, there were 2-USB ports.

    If I take my laptop somewhere with no charger, I probably won't plug anything into it. If I grab my computer bag, with charger and other cables and plan to use it heavily then I have the adapters to plug things in.

    Still can't believe they got rid of mag safe functionality for this
  • Reply 11 of 133
    The reviewer at Ars Technica wrote [I]"Don’t get a MacBook and expect it to do a MacBook Pro’s job."[/I]

    Now, watch as people ignore that advice and complain about how slow/limited/unsuitable the new MacBook is.
  • Reply 12 of 133
    auxioauxio Posts: 1,980member

    I think most of the complaints about lack of ports are from people who really can't actually see what's happening with externally connected devices.  Let's take a moment to think about this:

     

    USB memory sticks: In most cases can be replaced by Dropbox or some other cloud-based file-hosting service (and email is fine for small files).  It's rare not to have decent internet access these days.  And media professionals who need to transfer large video/audio/image files will be using a MBP anyways.

     

    Headsets: Most are going with wireless Bluetooth nowadays

     

    Large storage devices: Typically are being connected to desktop machines.  How many people carry large drives around with them these days other than perhaps media professionals (covered above)?

     

    External monitor: Probably the most compelling use case.  But again, how often is the average, non-professional laptop user connecting their laptop to a monitor (especially with a retina display)?

     

    So where is the need for a large number of external ports?

  • Reply 13 of 133
    macinthe408macinthe408 Posts: 1,050member
    n(plus)1 = number of ports one needs, where n is the number of ports one has.

    I'm mad because my Mini "only" has four ports. It never ends.
  • Reply 14 of 133
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,756member
    The Verge is garbage. Ars's review of it was pretty good.

    If you don't like it, buy an rMBP.
    The problem is for many they like the basic concoct but can't put up with the stupidity of the single port. I'd be personally more interested if the charger had broken out some ports but apparently they couldn't see value in that.
    This, however, is the most telling:
    "Another interesting thing to note, though we didn't include it on these charts: the MacBook’s multi-core CPU performance is nearly identical to that of the iPad Air 2. The A8X still has lower single-threaded performance—it needs a third core to match the dual-core Core M—but we’ve gotten to the point where top-end ARM chips and low-power Intel chips have very similar power usage and performance characteristics."

    That should send INTL plunging to the basement, personally, but most analysts are idiots.
    That should in fact do that, especially considering that the processor will speed step to a much higher frequency than the ARM processor Apple is using. Apple could benefit from speed stepping technology them selves or simply bump up the clock rate and put Intel in terrible light. That doesn't even consider that Apple could boost instructions per cycle with A9, add cache, cores or whatever and still have a lower wattage solution than Intel.

    I can't wait to see what A9 looks like. I'm not sure if they will milk the current core and just add clock rate or go beyond that with a refined architecture.
  • Reply 15 of 133
    2008: MacBook Air reviews: ahead of its time, but hurt by weak processor, too few ports.

    *yawn*
  • Reply 16 of 133
    virtuavirtua Posts: 207member
    For me I wish it could use thunderbolt too.
    Form factor is going to be amazing I'm sure....I used to love the 11" air.
    Maybe 2nd gen will have 2 c ports and more power.
  • Reply 17 of 133

    I think I can count the times I've plugged something besides power into my rMBP13 on two hands since I purchased it in 2013. TB to ethernet for a week when I had to go into the office, external SSD in a USB3 enclosure when using CCC to clone my internal SSD, followed shortly after by USB flash drive for a clean install of the OS, ...

     

    I would guess there are a fair number of people in the same type of situation that would find the single port acceptable. For those that can't, there are still the Air and Pro lines.

     

    I would however, expect this to replace the MBA in the coming years and perhaps they'll add another USB-C port.

  • Reply 18 of 133
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mr O View Post



    This Macbook would be perfect for my dad.



    Last year he got himself a top of the line 15 inch Macbook Pro - just because he can - and now he keeps asking me what all those ports are for ... he mainly uses his computer to Skype, mail and Google ...

    Bingo, mr O. That's what I think Apple is saying with this product. It'll be my next Apple computer.

     

    I've tried the minimalistic approach with just an iPhone, ATV, and an iPad as my only tech gadgets and I think one still needs a computer as well.

     

    Best

  • Reply 19 of 133
    captain jcaptain j Posts: 313member
    The one port is my problem with it. It's a non start having one port that is also the power plug. The main use might be using it somewhere needing to plug it in and wanting to charge/sync your iPhone. It's a no go. I frequently charge my phone in my laptop port on the road where sockets may be few and far between
  • Reply 20 of 133
    2008: MacBook Air reviews: ahead of its time, but hurt by weak processor, too few ports.

    *yawn*
    The 2008 MacBook Air wasn't a very big seller, though; more people opted for the regular white MacBook, which was much cheaper at the time, and actually more powerful. The Air didn't become what it is now until the 2010 and 2011 models, which added a second USB port and brought the price down to the white MacBook's level. We might have a similar situation here, with a few more revisions needed before this thing really takes off.

    Still, though, at least it doesn't have an ARM processor, like people on here were predicting, so it's got an actual software library.
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