With a ridiculously slim and light design, Apple's new 12-inch MacBook looks like a travel-friendly dream machine for mobile workers. But its business credentials are hampered by a few key hardware limitations, including the machine's middling performance and a lack of ports for connecting accessories. That's why the updated version of Apple's 11.6-inch MacBook Air might actually be the better productivity machine.
Apple introduced the new version of its smallest MacBook Air this year, but it offers just a few modest upgrades over last year's model. Other than a slightly faster 5th-generation Intel Core processor and a faster Thunderbolt 2 port, it's identical to the 2014 model in form and function. And, starting at $899, it's still the most affordable MacBook, making it an enticing choice for budget-conscious business users — especially compared to the 12-inch MacBook, which starts at $1,299.
On the other hand, the Air's 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768-pixel display may feel cramped for screen-intensive work tasks like editing spreadsheets; that resolution is pretty modest by today's standards. The 12-inch MacBook blows the Air out of the water with an ultrasharp 12-inch, 2,304 x 1,440-pixel display.
The Air is noticeably more powerful, though, in both its Core i5 and Core i7 configurations. In comparison, the 12-inch MacBook is powered by Intel's low-power Core M chip, which still provides good enough performance for daily work tasks. The low-power Core M chip also enabled Apple to make the 12-inch MacBook (2 lbs., 0.52 inches thick) slimmer and lighter than the Air (2.38 lbs., 0.68 inches thick).
But although you'll lose a little portability with the Air, you gain additional connectivity options. The Air sports two USB 3.0 ports, as well as a Thunderbolt 2 connector and a charging port, so you can easily link the notebook to older accessories and monitors at your work desk. The 12-inch MacBook, in contrast, has just a single USB-C port that doubles as its charging port, so you can't connect most peripherals without a slew of dongles and adapters.
The 12-inch MacBook may be sleek, but if you're a business user in the market for a superportable laptop, you'll likely find the 11.6-inch MacBook Air more practical for work — that is, if you can deal with its low-res display.