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

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.


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'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.


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'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.