For the last month, I’ve been using Apple’s new 12-inch Retina MacBook almost exclusively. There’s no denying that’s it’s underpowered when compared to other models on the market, but is its portability worth the performance sacrifice? Can you really get anything done with a relatively small display, an Intel Core M processor, and more importantly, zero traditional USB ports?

This won’t be an in-depth review of features and performance (check out Zac’s take on the MacBook for an in-depth look), but instead, I’ve mainly focused on my personal experiences over the month I’ve been using it. Does the Retina MacBook live up to the hype? Let’s go ahead and find out…

I don’t normally review computers, but I’ve grown very fond of this MacBook. Other than one thing that I happen to do regularly for professional reasons, all of my other tasks have been done on Apple’s smallest laptop. The only time I switched to another computer was during video editing sessions, because this little machine unfortunately isn’t powerful enough to handle them.

The 12″ MacBook is lightweight, thin, and super portable, but what makes the case for buying a compact $1,300 laptop? That’s the real question here. Honestly, thanks to its Core M processor, this is Apple’s netbook, though whether or not you’d like to perceive it in that way is up to you. But since I managed my expectations going into it, I’m perfectly fine with that.

Design

Apple’s latest design is as slick as it gets. This computer is so damn thin, Apple had to redesign major components to make them fit. First off, this is a fan-less MacBook: it doesn’t make a peep, as there are no moving parts inside. Apple also redesigned the keyboard specifically for this MacBook, using new “butterfly switches” that provide a 40% thinner keyboard assembly and 17% larger keys. Although it’s certainly not a keyboard for everyone, it’s actually a pretty easy keyboard to get used to, believe it or not. It took me a little while to feel this way, but I now prefer typing on this keyboard over my 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Watch our 12-inch MacBook review video below:

Along with the keyboard, Apple introduced a new Force Touch trackpad that provides a handful of new features that I rarely use. Most of these features were accessible on prior MacBooks using three-finger taps. If you’d like to check out some of those features, check out this article. Over time, Force Touch may well become better, and even though it’s thinner, the trackpad does feel just like using prior Apple trackpads.

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In addition to being beautifully thin, the new MacBook is available in a few different colors as well. I chose the Space Gray version, but honestly prefer the executive-style look you get with a black leather skin; it’s a stunning combination. For productivity, this is an iPad killer: it’s not much larger than an iPad with a keyboard case attached, has a larger, beautiful screen, and runs OS X.

I’m a big fan of the Retina display; it’s awesome. If there’s any main selling point for this computer, it’s the size and quality of the screen. Apple’s display comes in at 12-inches diagonally with a 2304 x 1440 resolution, packing 226 pixels per inch and a 16:10 aspect ratio. It’s a great looking screen. At the center of the display’s top bezel you’ll find a 640×480 FaceTime camera. It’s not that great, but will get the job done for video calls.

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Along the top edge of the keyboard, you’ll find a large speaker grille. Despite the machine’s small size, these are without a doubt the best sounding speakers I’ve heard on a MacBook. They are pretty loud with nice warmth and treble. I was genuinely shocked by the sound quality here.

From a peripherals standpoint, there’s only one USB-C port and a headphone jack on this MacBook. This will create a problem for most people, but I really don’t have an issue with it. I rarely use USB ports as it is, and most of my files are stored in the cloud. Apple offers several adapters you can lug around if that’s what you need, but I haven’t been bothered by the lack of ports, as I managed my expectations long before this MacBook shipped. Sure, another port or two would be excellent, and we’ll probably see that on the next model.

Performance vs Portability & Battery life

Sadly, the size of this MacBook is only possible by compromising performance; it doesn’t do well with CPU or GPU intensive apps, such as video rendering tasks. The major benefit here is portability, and I love that about this MacBook. Unfortunately, my professional work is difficult to do on this computer, but I can do everything else.

There’s really not much else to say about performance. It’s not the fastest computer on earth, but it’s not the slowest, either; it’s still a Mac, just not a screamer. If you’re looking for a higher performer, you may want to consider Apple’s 13-inch or even 15-inch MacBook offerings. If you’re interested in benchmarks from the 12-inch MacBook, check out our unboxing and overview article here.

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As for battery life, this is another area where you’ll need to manage your expectations. It’s a small computer loaded up with batteries, but it’s not going to get you anywhere near Apple’s claimed 9 to 10 hours. I usually get around 4.5 hours of continuous usage out of a full charge with the brightness set at around 50%. I’d normally have Firefox (10-15 tabs), TweetDeck, Excel, iTunes (playing music), Messages, Notes, and HipChat running simultaneously. Fortunately, it charges in around 2.5 hours from 0 to 100%. You can even charge it with a portable battery pack and the proper adapter when on-the-go.

Bottom line

Do you need this MacBook? Nope. In fact, there are several other choices from Apple and other manufacturers that offer more performance and screen real estate for the money. But is it a very cool piece of tech to own? Yep.

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The 12-inch MacBook is certainly a beautiful piece of engineering and design, but not a must-have. I love everything about its design, but unless you’re using this under a certain set of expectations, it won’t satisfy all of your needs. This is the perfect size for traveling via plane and train, but lacks the performance to become my main computer. That being said, it’s the perfect sidekick to accompany my Mac Pro.

This computer is nearly perfect for the average consumer, but far from a win for the traveling creative professional. It’s also a damn good looking computer, but you should look elsewhere if you need a computer for a lot more than its design and portability. So even though it doesn’t satisfy 100% of my needs, it will work for the majority of users across the types of things most people are doing with their Macs today.

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