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Apple Macbook

Apple MacBook (12in) review: Upgraded internals – and prices – for 2017

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Apple Macbook 2016
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,249

The Apple MacBook 12in has received another yearly upgrade, with a faster processor and improved graphics

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MacBook 12in 2017 upgrade

Although Apple has not relaunched the MacBook brand since 2015, it continues to make a steady stream of small updates to its iconic laptop, which straddles the line between the more cost-effective MacBook Air and the powerful but pricey MacBook Pro. The most recent updates came in 2017, when Apple upgraded the standard 12in MacBook's processor, GPU, and keyboard.

Not much else has changed with the design of the 2017 12in MacBook over the 2016 model. It's got the same chassis, same display, and the exact same number of ports. Apart from the keyboard alterations, which you'd have to look closely to notice, it looks identical.

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In addition to the base spec MacBook upgrades, Apple's prices went up in 2016. The cheaper MacBook costs £1,249 for a 1.2Ghz 7th gen Intel Core m3 processor and 256GB storage. The more expensive model, with a 1.3Ghz 7th gen Intel Core i5 processor and 512GB storage, is a hefty £1,549. Both updated models have an Intel HD Graphics 615 card, a base 8GB RAM, and the second-gen butterfly keyboard.

As usual, both models can be configured to higher specifications on the Apple store. A fully upgraded 12 MacBook with an Intel Core i7 processor will set you back £1,864, over £100 more than the latest 13in MacBook Pro.

Apple MacBook 2017 updates (base spec model)
Processor1.2GHz dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core m3 processor, Turbo Boost to 3.0Ghz
GPUIntel HD Graphics 615
KeyboardSecond-generation butterfly mechanism
Price£1,249

Our original MacBook review continues below.

When I first laid my eyes on 2015’s MacBook, it was a sight to behold. For me, it was very clear that this was the direction the laptop market was going in; seriously svelte, lightweight yet some decent performance to back it up. This was the laptop you could carry around with you all day and have zero issues with.

The thing is, that 2015 MacBook was marred by a particularly drab flaw. That Core M processor just wasn’t good enough for me. That MacBook felt more like a companion for your desktop rather than your sole work device and it and I never really hit it off. Speed to the present, though and there’s a new MacBook in town, and I’ve fallen in love with it already.

The MacBook is back, and it’s more impressive than ever. Keeping everything I loved about the original (that super-thin chassis still makes me swoon) but plonking a faster core M processor inside as well as faster RAM and a speedier SSD.

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I want to preface this by saying that if you’re someone who demands a lot of raw processing power from their machine, this still isn’t something for you. For that, you need to turn your attention to Apple’s recent MacBook Pro refresh, with its touch bar impressive internals able to cater to any demanding workload. The bog-standard 2016 MacBook is for light on the go use you see, and it’s a killer.

Apple MacBook review: Build quality

I’m pleased to say that nothing has changed on the outside. The MacBook’s 13.1mm thick aluminium chassis is a thing of beauty and, one year on, this laptop has lost none of its initial impact. As soon as you pick it up, you realise how thin and light it really is. Weighing just 920g, this is a laptop I can comfortably hold by one corner without fear of dropping it.

Despite its slim figure, build quality hasn't been compromised in the slightest. This is Apple at its very best, as it's made a gorgeous metal chassis that can withstand the day-to-day pain of being carried around in a bag. Even though the screen is just 1.8mm thick, the strong, aluminium back means there's very little flex. Tapping on the back won't send any ripples through the LCD, either.

There is one change this year: Apple has introduced a rose gold version, adding another colour to last year's gold, silver and space grey models. Of course, whether you're a fan of rose gold will be a matter of personal preference, but the colouring is subtly done and it means you can now match your MacBook to your iPhone, Watch and iPad.

Apple MacBook Space Grey and Gold

Apple MacBook review: USB-C

When the MacBook was first introduced last year, the one thing that really stood out was it only had two ports: a 3.5mm headphone port and a USB-C port. So, one year on, does this really matter? Not so much. USB-C is a clever and versatile connector that both charges and, via adapters, supports regular USB devices and even displays. The connector is reversible, too (unlike regular USB), making it easier to plug in the cable. While Apple has its own range of adaptors, the best thing about a standard like this is that you can easily buy cheap third-party adaptors instead and save a little cash.

Apple Macbook 2016 ports

That said, you will have to get used to using adaptors as part of your daily work cycle. For example, with no built-in SD card slot, you’ll need to use an adaptor to plug in a separate card reader to get photos off your camera. Likewise, you can’t charge the laptop and have other devices connected at the same time, unless you buy an adaptor that allows this, of course. For me, this is more of a minor inconvenience, as day-to-day, the lack of ports isn’t something that particularly bothers me: most of my files are stored in the cloud and it’s rare that I have to plug anything in, but this may not be the case for other users.

Apple MacBook review: Keyboard

To fit the keyboard inside the incredibly thin chassis, Apple ditched its old scissor mechanism last year and went for a butterfly mechanism instead. This removed any key wobble and gave the keys a shallower stroke. This can feel a little strange at first, but once you've got used to it, the MacBook soon develops into one of the best keyboards I’ve ever used.

The strangeness comes from the fact that the keys barely move, and the sensation takes a little while to get used to. However, Apple has made sure that there’s plenty of feedback, so once you get used to the keys, typing quickly is no problem. In fact, I wrote this entire review on the MacBook and not once did I wish to switch keyboards. Throw in individual LED lighting for each key and Apple really has thought of everything.

Apple MacBook Keyboard

Apple MacBook review: Trackpad

Apple introduced the Force Touch Trackpad last year and it’s rapidly turned into Apple’s best Trackpad yet. Rather than using a pad that moves with each physical click, this Trackpad is static and instead uses haptic feedback to mimic that familiar clicking sensation. It's rather remarkable, and I would swear that the trackpad moved if I didn’t know better.

As well as being extremely responsive and working perfectly with the all OS X's multi-touch gestures, there’s an additional trick, too: Force Touch. Activated by clicking and then pushing a little harder to operate a secondary click, Force Touch gives you another way to interact with OS X. This can be to pop up a preview window or to quickly rename a file; in all cases, it’s just a neat way to do something quickly.

Apple MacBook review: Display

Even though the 12in screen is comparatively small, it certainly doesn’t feel that way. Thanks to the almost edge-to-edge display, all you see when you open the lid is that screen. With its high resolution of 2,304x1,440 and pixel density of 227ppi, everything looks beautifully sharp and crisp.

Apple New MacBook hero shot

This year, Apple has also added wider aperture pixels, which let in more light while using less power. Image quality is similar to last year, with a maximum brightness of 367cd/m2 and a contrast ratio of 917:1. With 92.6% of the sRGB colour gamut covered, this really is one of the best screens out there. It helps that it has excellent viewing angles, too.

Apple MacBook review: Performance

If there was one thing I wanted from last year's MacBook, it was more performance, and I’m pleased to say that this year my prayers have been answered thanks to Apple's new choice of Core M processors. The entry-level model has a dual-core Core m3 processor, which runs at 1.1GHz, but can Turbo Boost to 2.2GHz. It also has Hyper-Threading to add two more virtual cores into the mix. I also tested the faster dual-core Core m5 processor, which also has Hyper-Threading. This runs at 1.2GHz, but can Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz.

Of course, neither device is designed to be a heavyweight powerhouse, and each model's benchmark scores reflected this. In our tough 4K benchmarks, the m3 model scored 24 overall, while the m5 model scored 27. This might not look like much on paper, but that's still a performance increase of 12.5%. What's more, last year's MacBook only scored 20 overall, so even the Core m3 model is a real improvement by comparison.

Apple Macbook 2016

Of course, in real terms, the MacBook isn’t going to replace the MacBook Pro for performance users that edit a lot of photos, but for most people, there’s plenty of speed here for day-to-day jobs. Editing the odd photo and using mostly cloud-based apps, this laptop was more than quick enough for me.

Faster Intel Graphics 515 also help with the impression of speed, with smoother transitions and window movements. It’s definitely a step up from last year’s model, and the 2016 MacBook is now a laptop that will suit the majority: I could definitely use this as my everyday computer.

Apple MacBook review: Battery life

Better batteries, which fill the case, a screen that uses less power and a more efficient processor all add up to the point where this MacBook lasts one hour longer than the previous model. In the Expert Review battery test, which plays a video back with the screen brightness set to 170cd/m2, the MacBook lasted an impressive 10h 12m. That shows it's got more than enough charge to get you through a day’s work, and the choice of processor won't affect things either, as the Core m3 and Core m5 models lasted just as long during our tests.

Apple MacBook review: Storage

Again, there’s a choice of a 256GB model or the faster Core m5 model with a 512GB SSD. Both SSDs are faster PCIe models and they're seriously quick: I measured write speeds of 834MB/s and read speeds of 933MB/s. This makes the whole MacBook feel a lot more responsive, with apps, in particular, loading much quicker.

Apple MacBook review: Conclusion

As good as last year’s model was, I felt like a really needed an excuse in order to justify buying one. This year’s model, however, with its better battery life, faster storage and quicker CPU is a laptop that needs no such vindication.

If portability is the most important thing to you, there's simply nothing else like it. However, if you need more power, this probably isn't the laptop you're looking for. Instead, check out the Expert Reviews best laptop guide to find the laptop that's right for you.

Core specs
ProcessorDual-core 1.2GHz Intel Core M5 (Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz)
RAM8GB
Memory slots (free)None
Max memory8GB
Dimensions280x197x13.1mm
Weight920g
SoundApple
Pointing deviceTrackpad
Display
Screen size12in
Screen resolution2,304x1,440
TouchscreenNo
Graphics adaptorIntel Graphics 515
Graphics outputsUSB-C
Graphics memoryN/A
Storage
Total storage512GB
Optical drive typeNone
Ports and expansion
USB ports1x USB-C
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0
Networking802.11ac Wi-Fi
Memory card readerNone
Other ports3.5mm audio
Miscellaneous
Operating systemOS X 10.10 El Capitan
Operating system restore optionInternet

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