Apple 2016 MacBook one month review: The song remains the same

Although the MacBook has changed little since last year, it is much improved.

If the song remains the same, it now lasts longer and has a faster tempo.

That’s because Apple uses newer Intel Core M processors. Intel’s updated chip gives the MacBook a speed boost and at least an extra hour of battery life.

Apple Core

The review model has a 1.1GHz Intel Core m3 processor. It is the anchor model in the range and costs NZ$2400.

Pay NZ$2900 and you can move up to a 2016 MacBook with a 1.2GHz Intel Core m5 processor. If you go down the built-to-order route, there’s an optional 1.3GHz Core m7 model at NZ$3170.

That option might not be the best approach if you’re looking for more mobile power. You wouldn’t choose a MacBook for grunt.

And anyway, reports say Apple will launch a new Retina screen MacBook Pro later this year. It is likely to more compact than existing MacBook Pros.

More than a speed bump

The newer Intel chips represent more than a simple speed bump. My review MacBook was faster than last year’s model. Some applications run 25 percent faster.

That speed boost is significant. The 2015 MacBook was more than enough for most office type applications. It could be sluggish at times if you pushed it with more advanced creative tasks.

To be fair, I never found that’s a problem. It struggled with games. I’m not a gamer, at best I dabble, but the old MacBook would sometimes lag. You wouldn’t say that about the 2016 model. The difference is like night and day.

Computer power is a curious thing. For years constant upgrades were essential because software demands ran ahead of hardware capability. That hasn’t been the case for over a decade, yet people often think they need more power.

Often they don’t. Most of the time we browse, answering mail, write, listen to music, watch videos and using cloud apps. Only a tiny fraction of users push the limits with apps like video rendering. Unless you know you plan to use demanding apps, the 2016 MacBook will more than meet your power needs.

Gimme just a little more time

For most mobile worker battery life is more important than processor power. This is where the Intel processor upgrade is more important.

My older MacBook Air can go a full working day away from home on a single charge. The battery doesn’t last as long as it once did, but it is still good for nine hours.

The 2015 MacBook couldn’t make it to the end of eight hours without charging. By about 4 PM on a normal, away-from-home working day I’d be getting battery alerts. I’d put that at about 7.5 hours of usable life.

In comparison the 2016 MacBook has at least another hour in the tank. In testing it would go for almost nine hours before the alerts started. I’d be making my way home before needing a charger.

An extra 90 minutes and 25 percent more processing power amount to a big improvement.

This, by the way, has been Apple’s launch pattern: a new product appears, then a year later it gets a performance boost.

A rose by any other name

The only other change of note is cosmetic. The 2016 MacBook now comes in Apple’s ‘rose gold’ finish.

Otherwise it’s still the same beautiful tapered aluminium slab. Sitting closed it looks like it could be a tablet. The body is 13mm deep at its thickest point and about the size of an A4 sheet of paper. The 2016 MacBook weighs 900 grams.

Apple stuck with the 12-inch Retina display. At first sight it looks small in comparison with other laptop screens. In use, the lit 2304 by 1440 pixels look beautiful. Photos display in great detail. Text is always crisp and easy to read, even at small point sizes.

Can you feel the force?

The Force Touch keypad feels great, although there are few applications making use of it.

Not everyone warms to the keyboard. It’s shallow and offers little travel. You may take a while to adapt to it. Here’s the odd thing about the MacBook keyboard.

When I’m working on the MacBook, it feels fine to me. I don’t notice any obvious shortcomings. There are no ringing alarm bells in my head. My typing productivity is normal. Perhaps a few more typos, but the speed is still there.

And yet when I returned to my MacBook Air after a month with the 2016 MacBook, I was like going back to a warm, comfy chair. I didn’t feel the step down to the 2016 MacBook, I did feel the step up back to my regular keyboard.

Oddities for now

Many reviewers and users complain about the lack of ports on the MacBook. You get one headphone jack and one USB-C port. This handles power supply as well as any wired peripherals.

Critics say if you buy a MacBook you need an adaptor to back-up to an external drive or use a monitor while charging. It’s clumsy looking and jars with the MacBook’s minimal vibe.

That’s true. Yet in practice I found I never need to use an external screen with the MacBook. My back-ups are all handled by wireless connections. For that matter, I use Bluetooth to connect external speakers.

The MacBook forced me to update some old-fashioned ideas. I still have a cable back-up drive, but it’s third level back-up behind a NAS drive and a Seagate wireless drive. That clumsy looking adaptor spends most of its life in a drawer.

The future MacBook

In some ways the MacBook is still ahead of its time. Many users, particularly those working for companies with strict technology policies may feel restricted. I find it liberating.

For me mobility, simplicity and all-day battery life trump most other considerations. One day most laptops will be like this.

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