New MacBook review roundup: Ahead of its time?

Reviewers praise the new MacBook's design, keyboard, and trackpad. But its battery life is so-so, and its inclusion of only a single USB-C port forces users to make some compromises.

Eric Risberg/AP/File
Apple guests and members of the media look at the new MacBook in an Apple demo room on March 9, 2015.

At its “Spring Forward” media event last month, Apple announced a new vision for its MacBook laptop: a thinner screen, brand-new trackpad, edge-to-edge keyboard (a feature which hasn’t been present on a Mac laptop since the PowerBook G4 released a decade ago), and a single port to handle charging and physical connections. Early reviews of the new MacBook are in, and the consensus is that it’s probably the most beautiful laptop ever released, bar none – but that it’s somewhat ill-equipped to deal with the realities of the way most people use computers today.

Body and keyboard

The new MacBook comes in three colors: silver, space grey, and gold. No matter which color you choose, writes The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern, “you’ll still get the most beautiful computer ever created. Much of that beauty has to do with just how insanely thin and light it is.” The MacBook weighs just two pounds, making it almost a pound lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Air and about a pound and a half lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The machine is about half an inch at its thickest point.

Reviewers generally praised the MacBook’s keyboard, which has been redesigned to fit inside the computer’s slim body. The Verge’s Dieter Bohn wrote, “the essential friction and ‘clack’ that make up any great keyboard is still here, just different than what I was used to. I can bang away on this thing or type more softly, and both feel completely satisfying.” Reviewers also found the MacBook’s glass trackpad satisfying to use, although many wrote that its more subtle click feel took a day or two to get used to.

One port to rule them all

Reviewers were somewhat harsher in their assessment of the MacBook’s single port: a lone USB-C jack on the laptop’s left side, accompanied by a headphone jack on its right. “Here in 2015, the majority of us still require two or three ports for connecting our hard drives, displays, phones and other devices to our computer—not to mention a dedicated power plug,” wrote Ms. Stern. There aren’t very many USB-C devices on the market right now, and an adapter that allows the user to plug in HDMI, legacy USB, and USB-C devices to the MacBook costs $80 from Apple.

“Apple’s real bet is that you won’t need that port for much of anything,” writes David Pierce at Wired. “Ditch your external hard drive, the USB-C port begs … forget about your second monitor, because look at this screen!” The MacBook featured a “tiered” battery that crams more power into a smaller space, with the goal of letting people use the laptop all day without needing to charge it. For the most part, reviewers say, this is plausible. The battery lasts nine or ten hours if the MacBook is being used for Web browsing or typing in Microsoft Office. If you watch video or fire up intensive programs such as Photoshop, however, that number drops to six or seven hours – which means you shouldn’t leave your charging cable at home.

A laptop for the future

Many of these complaints will be addressed in time. It’s odd to have only a single USB-C port in 2015, but by next year USB-C devices will be much more popular and we’ll again be able to borrow charging cables from strangers. The MacBook follows largely in the footsteps of the MacBook Air, which also cut out some features considered “essential” when it debuted in 2008, but which is now a standard for laptops. The MacBook “does a few things as well as it can, and leaves the rest to the Internet,” writes Mr. Pierce. “It’s running out a little bit ahead of consumers, but it’s blazing the right path.”

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