Apple MacBook (2016) review: Skylake update improves performance and battery life

macbook-2016-main.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent
  • $1,299.00
  • Average user rating
    5.5

Pros

  • Sleek ultraportable 12-inch laptop weighing just 920g
  • Impressive Retina Display
  • Improved battery life and GPU performance

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Few upgrade or repair options
  • Limited connectivity

The revamped MacBook that Apple unveiled last year was a quintessential Apple product. The design was impeccable, and despite its 12-inch display the new MacBook managed to be both slimmer and lighter than the 11-inch MacBook Air, which had been Apple's most portable laptop up to that point.

But, as always, Apple's uncompromising approach had its disadvantages. Critics pointed to its limited connectivity, relying on just a single USB-C port for both power supply and accessories such as a back-up drive or external monitor. Performance and battery life were also relatively modest, given the laptop's £1,049 (inc. VAT, or £875 ex. VAT) starting price.

One year on, the MacBook has received its first significant update, so we've tested the new model to see if Apple has addressed any of those concerns.

macbook-2016-main-2.jpg

The 2016 MacBook uses 6th-generation Intel Core M processors (with integrated HD Graphics 515) and is now available in Rose Gold as well as Space Grey, Gold and Silver.

Images: Apple

Lighter than (MacBook) Air

The MacBook's design is barely a year old, and so -- apart from the addition of a new 'Rose Gold' version -- that remains unchanged for this 2016 update. It might have competition from rivals such as Lenovo's Yoga 3 Pro, but at just 13.1mm thick and weighing a mere 920g, the MacBook remains one of the lightest and most portable 12-inch laptops currently available.

The build quality is excellent, and the weight is well balanced so that you can easily pick it up with one hand even when the screen is open and in use. There are no moving parts -- not even an internal cooling fan -- so the MacBook is virtually silent at all times.

Like its predecessor, the 2016 MacBook has a 12-inch Retina Display with a resolution of 2,304 by 1,440 pixels (226ppi). This provides a bold, colourful image, with good all-round viewing angles, making it a good option for presentations when you're away from the office. We also found the display bright enough that we could use it at around 50 percent brightness quite comfortably, which helps to preserve battery life.

macbook-2016-keyboard.jpg

If you like a lot of key travel when typing, you might not get along with the keyboard on the very slim MacBook.

Image: Apple

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Our only minor criticism with the design is that the sheer thinness of the keyboard panel means that the keys don't travel well, and feel rather lifeless when you're typing at speed -- despite the patented 'butterfly' hinge mechanism that Apple developed specifically for the MacBook.

Skylake update

The main reason for this 2016 update is the introduction of Intel's sixth-generation Skylake processors -- the first to be used in Apple's laptop range (and, hopefully, an indication that there's a Skylake update also lined up for the long-neglected MacBook Pro). There are two standard configurations available, with prices unchanged since last year.

The entry-level model reviewed here costs £1,049 (inc. VAT, or £875 ex. VAT) with a dual-core Intel Core m3-6Y0 running at 1.1-2.2GHz, along with 8GB of (non-upgradeable) RAM, and 256GB of solid-state storage.

The next step up provides a 1.2-2.7GHz Core m5-6Y54 with 512GB of SSD storage for £1,299 (inc. VAT, or £1,082.50 ex.VAT).

There's just a single build-to-order upgrade available: a Core m7-6Y75 running at 1.3-3.1GHz, which brings the total price to £1,419 (inc. VAT, or £1,182.50 ex. VAT).

The 1.1GHz processor delivered a multi-core score of 5,020 when running the Geekbench 3 benchmark. That's only about a 10 percent improvement on last year's model, although Apple claims that the real improvement lies in the integrated HD Graphics 515 GPU. Running the Cinebench R15 OpenGL benchmark, the MacBook achieved a score of 20.5fps: that's not going to win any awards, but is actually quite respectable for an integrated GPU.

The 2016 MacBook responded quickly and smoothly when browsing through a large collection of high-res photos, so it'll handle routine tasks such as photo-editing or running Microsoft Office with no trouble at all, and might even stretch to some casual gaming when you're off duty too.

Battery life

If last year's model had an Achilles Heel, it was battery life. There's been a fractional increase in battery capacity for the 2016 model, up from 39.7Whr to 41.4Whr, but the MacBook's slimline design simply doesn't leave much room for a larger battery. Fortunately, Skylake comes to the rescue once more, with Apple claiming that the new processor provides an extra hour of battery life for general web browsing.

Using the BBC iPlayer to stream video did show an improvement, from six hours and forty minutes last year to seven hours and fifteen minutes this year. Lighter use should allow you to get close to Apple's claimed 10 hours of wireless web browsing, but there are still rivals -- including my three-year-old MacBook Air -- that offer even better battery life when you're on the road.

Conclusion

The improved graphics performance and battery life are welcome improvements, and the lightweight design of the MacBook is hard to beat for sheer portability. Even so, there are alternatives that can offer better battery life for long journeys, or more connectivity for office use, and the less expensive MacBook Air will still hold strong appeal for many business travellers.


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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Operating System Apple OS X 10.12 Sierra
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core m3 1.1 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 2.2 GHz
Number of Cores Dual-Core
Cache L3 - 4 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, integrated memory controller
Cache Memory
Type L3 cache
Installed Size 4 MB
RAM
Memory Speed 1866 MHz
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Installed Size 8 GB
Memory
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Speed 1866 MHz
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 0 - 90% (non-condensing)
Display
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
Resolution 2304 x 1440
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 16:10
Monitor Features 226 ppi, BFR/PVC-free, Mercury free, arsenic-free glass, beryllium free
Type LED
TFT Technology IPS
Diagonal Size (metric) 30.5 cm
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 515
Integrated Webcam Yes
Sound Stereo speakers, two microphones
Hard Drive
Type SSD
Specific Type flash storage
Capacity 256 GB
Input
Type Force Touch trackpad, keyboard
Localization & Layout English
Features ambient light sensor, multi-touch touchpad
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Processor
Type Core m3
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 1.1 GHz
Battery
Technology Lithium polymer
Capacity 41.4 Wh
Technology lithium polymer
Run Time (Up To) 11 sec
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 29 Watt
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces USB-C
Headphone output
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple MacBook
Localization English
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility Mac
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Miscellaneous
Color silver
Case Material aluminum
Included Accessories power adapter
Monitor
Diagonal Size 12 in
System
Notebook Type notebook
Platform Apple Mac OS
Hard Drive Capacity 256 GB
Introduced Early 2016
Dimensions & Weight
Width 11 in
Depth 7.7 in
Height 0.5 in
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Environmental Standards
ENERGY STAR Qualified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 32.45 oz
Power
Min Operating Temperature 50 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Apple OS X 10.12 Sierra
Type Apple AirDrop, Apple AirPlay, Apple Image Capture, Apple Keynote, Apple Launchpad, Apple Mac App Store, Apple Mac OS X Chess, Apple Mission Control, Apple Numbers, Apple Pages, Apple Preview, Apple Automator, Apple QuickTime, Apple Safari, Apple Spotlight, Apple Stickies, Apple System Preferences, Apple TextEdit, Apple Time Machine, Apple iBooks, Apple iMovie, Apple iPhoto, Apple Calculator, Apple iTunes, Calendar, Contacts, Dictation, Drivers & Utilities, Facebook, Game Center, Maps, Messages, Notes, Apple DVD Player, Notification Center, Photo Booth, Reminders, Twitter, iCloud, Apple Dashboard, Apple Dictionary, Apple FaceTime, Apple Font Book, Apple GarageBand
Video Output
Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 515
Graphics Processor Series Intel HD Graphics
Notebook Camera
Integrated Webcam Yes
Input Device
Backlight Yes

Topics: Laptops, Apple, Mobility, Reviews

Where To Buy

Price
$1,299.00

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Where To Buy

Apple MacBook 2016 (256GB, silver)

Part Number: MLHA2LL/A
Price
$1,299.00

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