Not your father's MacBook: The pros and cons of Apple's tiny ultrabook

With all the griping about the new MacBook Pros, how does the mid-range MacBook stack up? I've been using one almost full time for the last two months. Here's the good and the bad on this tiny ultrabook.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

I've been using the MacBook for hours every day -- doing everything from writing to light gaming and photo and video editing. Here's what I've learned about the mid-range 'Book.

Not your father's MacBook

The two-year-old MacBook reboot is nothing like its namesake. It costs more than the MacBook Air, the machine that once defined Ultrabooks. That buys features that make the once elite MacBook Air the entry-level Mac notebook:

  • Excellent Retina display.
  • Just over 2-pound weight.
  • Force Touch trackpad.
  • Quiet, fan-less design.
  • Clean keyboard backlighting.

The MacBook Air's chief spec advantage is its Thunderbolt 2 port. Useful if you plan to use it as a desktop, too.

Versus MacBook Pro

The non-Touch Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro has better specs. For $50 less than a loaded MacBook, you get two Thunderbolt 3 ports, better graphics, faster CPU, larger display, and almost a pound of more weight. MacBook portability costs.

I chose the MacBook for portability as a quad-core Retina iMac handles my desktop chores. Versus the 12.9-inch iPad Pro? Here's the rundown..

The good news: The MacBook price is in line with similarly spec'd Windows Ultrabooks. No Apple tax.


I'm an unfussy touch typist. The MacBook keys have little travel. If you like hammering the keys, you probably won't like it. But after a few days, I got used to its light touch.

Another surprise: The MacBook keyboard backlight has no light spill. More pleasant in low light conditions.


I mostly write in lightweight text editors, and sometimes in Apple's Pages. But Scrivener, the long-form writing app I'm using for a novel, has several hundred megabytes of research and is just as perky on the MacBook as it is on the quad-core iMac.


The MacBook is not a gamer's machine, but it runs Valve's Half Life 2 and the puzzle game The Witness well. The action is smooth and the system responsive. The MacBook gets warm, but not much.

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In theory, Intel's 515 graphics aren't as good the Intel 6000 graphics on the MacBook Air -- with 48 shader processing units -- but I don't see any difference. And, of course, the 515 is in a 5-watt part, while the 6000 is 15 watts.

Video editing

I have a 50GB video project. Full HD video, with the FCP Library stored on the MacBook system SSD. No heavy effects -- jump cuts, simple titles -- and skimming is painless, tool switching is fast, and the display is lovely.

Downside: The m7 processor chokes on transcoding. If you use a camcorder that writes ProRes, the MacBook would work for rough cuts. It's amazing that it works as well as it does on this tiny machine.


The MacBook ran flawlessly for 34 days before I shut it down for an OS upgrade. My mail and browser are open all the time, as well as a VPN, and a variety of other apps are opened and closed daily. Solid!

The Storage Bits take

The display was the main reason I upgraded. I recently got high-end lens implants in both eyes and now can tell the difference between Retina and non-Retina displays.

But I've also noticed that my 3-pound, 13-inch MacBook Air was getting heavier, so the 2-pound MacBook was an upgrade there too. Finally, the 7 hour battery life of my 2012 i7 MacBook Air had caused me problems, which the MacBook's 10-hour battery eliminated. And the performance isn't much different.

But is the top of the line -- fast 500GB SSD, 8GB RAM, 1.3GHz m7 -- MacBook worth it? For email and browsing, absolutely not. Save hundreds with a MacBook Air, or more with a consumer Windows machine or a Chromebook.

But I'm a pro user. I'm always working remotely, even in my home office, and my livelihood depends on reliable kit.

So, that's the final piece of the puzzle for me. Apple notebooks are simply more reliable than other brands. Reliability is an investment that pays long term dividends.

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Courteous comments welcome, of course.

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