12-inch MacBook with Retina Display: Early impressions

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Gizmag shares some early thoughts on the new 12-in Retina MacBook (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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We have Apple's new 12-in Retina MacBook in house, and, though we aren't ready to run our full review, we do have some early observations.

Update: No need to look at our early impressions; we've now published our full review.

The first thing you'll notice is how ridiculously light and thin this puppy is. Our reaction is similar to when we handled Samsung's Ativ Book 9 at CES: suddenly the MacBook Air feels like a heavy brick. These Broadwell Core M machines take the biggest step forward in notebook design we've seen since the original MacBook Air – way back in 2008.

The 12-in MacBook's display looks every bit as good as the screen on the Retina MacBook Pro. It is smaller, but nothing we're going to have a problem adjusting to (and it's still a little bigger than the 11-in MacBook Air's display).

The new MacBook's keyboard does feel a bit different from other MacBook keys. Each key is wider, with less space in between them and – most noticeably – with a shallower travel distance. But this isn't as big a concern as we thought it might be. We were prepared for a days-long (or weeks-long) adjustment process, but it was more like a 5-minute adjustment. So far the new keyboard's changes are no big deal, in our book.

The Force Touch trackpad is nice, and well familiar after using the newest 13-in Retina MacBook Pro.

As for that single USB Type-C port ... well, that's clearly the biggest compromise here. We get why Apple is doing this: pushing us all into a simpler future, where one port rules them all. But right now it's annoying. Just to transfer photos from an SD card requires grabbing an SD to USB 3.0 adapter – and then hooking that up to Apple's US$20 USB 3.0 to USB-C adapter.

What on the MacBook Pro is as simple as popping in an SD card, on the new MacBook involves a card sitting inside an adapter, hanging off of another adapter. It looks like a 6-in noodle hanging off of the notebook's back left side.

Another big annoyance is the fact that you can't charge the 12-in MacBook while using any other accessories (that lone port is also used for charging). After spending more time with it, we'll be able to tell you more about its battery life, and whether we think the two combined are reason to worry.

Performance isn't close to cutting-edge, which isn't remotely surprising for these Core M laptops. But, like the keyboard, it also isn't quite the big concern we were prepared for. The most intensive app I use is Photoshop, and while there was a noticeable slowdown over the Retina MacBook Pro, it still ran PS fairly smoothly. The biggest lag came in previewing RAW images in Finder. Once loading them into Photoshop, speeds weren't too shabby.

... and by the way we're reviewing the base 2.4 GHz (256 GB storage) model, not the faster 2.6 GHz (512 GB) or the made-to-order configuration.

Be sure to check back next week (most likely) for our full review, but right now the new Retina MacBook is looking like a damn sexy machine that isn't quite as compromised as we thought it would be. If this were priced like the MacBook Air, it would be the most exciting notebook launch in ages. But with its $1,300 starting price (the same as the entry-level Retina MacBook Pro), it's more of a niche product – but also more tempting than we were prepared for.

Product page: Apple

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