Apple's new MacBook might make a good travel companion for work — but only if you prize portability above all else. The amazingly compact new MacBook is slimmer and lighter than most other notebooks out there, but you'll make some compromises if you adopt it as a mobile workstation. Here's a rundown of the new features, with a focus on how they might impact your work.
For starters, the new MacBook sports a 12-inch Retina display. In terms of dimensions, it's right in between the line's old 11- and 13-inch models. That's a key stat, since small laptops can start feeling cramped in a hurry when you need to work on them. I've always thought that a 13-inch screen hit the sweet spot between portability and productivity, offering just enough space to feel comfortable. But although you get less physical screen space compared with the 13-inch model, consider that the new 12-inch version has a higher resolution: 2,304 x 1,440 pixels, compared with the 1,440 x 900 panel on last year's model. That will go a long way toward making the new MacBook's screen feel roomy enough for everyday business tasks. It worked for the Surface Pro 3, which has a comparable resolution of 2,160 x 1,440 for its 12.2-inch screen.
If you've ever been frustrated trying to fit your laptop onto an airplane tray table, the new MacBook might be your dream machine. The device is vanishingly small, weighing just 2 lbs. and measuring 13.1 millimeters at its thickest point, and quickly tapering to an even thinner front end. Apple says it's about 24 percent slimmer than the old 11-inch model. In comparison, Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro is a uniform 12.8-mm thick, but it has a larger 13-inch display (and therefore a bigger footprint), and it weighs more at 2.6 lbs.
Regardless, the new MacBook will certainly be easy to carry on your commute, and you should have no trouble sliding it into the side pocket of your work bag.
Intel's new Core M processor helped Apple slim down its MacBook. That's because the new chip is efficient enough to cool itself passively, without the need of a spinning fan. That makes for smaller, thinner devices, and it also allows the new MacBook to run silently. More importantly, Core M provides more than enough power for everyday business tasks.
Apple has long produced some of the best keyboards and trackpads on its MacBook machines. Now it says those components are even better on the new model.
Without diving into technical details, Apple says the keys were engineered to depress more uniformly, so they're less wobbly and more comfortable for typing. The trackpad is also more sensitive, and able to detect "force" touches (basically, harder taps) for some nifty gestures.
It's also important to note that despite its small dimensions, Apple made good use of the space that was available. The new MacBook features a full-size, edge-to-edge keyboard, and a roomier trackpad than you'll find on most other machines this small.
If you thought the selection of ports on the old MacBook Air was sparse, you haven't seen anything yet. While both the 11- and 13-inch models include two USB 3.0 ports in addition to a Thunderbolt port, charging port and SD Card reader, Apple has whittled that collection down into a single USB Type-C port. You read that right — aside from the headphone jack, the new MacBook has just one single port that's used for both charging and connecting accessories. That means that out of the box, it's not compatible with any of your current gear; your USB thumb drives, hard drives and mice won't work without an adapter. Nor will Thunderbolt accessories, so you'll also need an adapter to connect the new MacBook to a larger monitor at the office.
It's a radical change for business users, who will probably need a slew of dongles and adapters to make up for the lost ports. And if you want to plug in multiple accessories — or even just use one accessory while charging your MacBook — you'll need a splitter or a hub.
The benefit of the new USB Type-C format is its versatility. In addition to powering your device, the port can handle data transfer (at twice the speed of USB 3.0) and video out, including HDMI, VGA, DisplayPort and Thunderbolt formats. Plus it's reversible, so you won't have to fuss with flipping it over until it fits.