It’s hard to think of a more contentious laptop in recent times than the 12-inch MacBook. Apple’s decision to give it a sole lonely USB-C port was applauded by some and met with confusion and anger by others. It’s either the ultimate portable laptop or a freakishly limited netbook with the price tag of a high-end ultrabook.
After reviewing the MacBook last year, I knew that it was a beautiful, unique, capable machine – and my decision not to swap one for my MacBook Air wasn’t taken lightly. I stopped short because the 12-inch MacBook had one too many quirks to fit into my life at the time.
Times have changed, and the 12-inch MacBook is now my main laptop. It arrives with me in the morning and slips into my bag to go home at the end of the day, every day. Let’s be clear: the MacBook isn’t suddenly going to suit everybody, but almost one year down the line there are now these five reasons why you should reconsider.
1. USB-C hubs with pass-through charging
USB-C connectors and hubs came onto the market shortly after the MacBook launched, but there’s a now much wider range of cheaper third-party alternatives to Apple’s official adaptors – and two of the most vital ones just launched at CES 2016.
California-based companies Satechi and Hyper both unveiled USB-C-powered 5-in-1 Hubs, which bring back two USB 3.0 (Type A) ports while adding a microSD slot, an SD slot and a USB-C port that supports pass-through charging for the first time. In my current setup, I would insert a 5-in-1 hub first and then connect my other USB-C adapter that provides HDMI, USB-A and USB-C. For the first time, I would be able to hook up my external monitor, a wired mouse, wired keyboard, USB thumb drive, micoSD and SDcards, in addition to a charger, by connecting one small adapter into the side of the machine.
Before you begin to scream “uni-port apologist!” at me, no: it’s not a particularly elegant setup. However, it is relatively tidy, fast and makes having a single USB port less of an issue – plus the two adapters slip snugly into my MacBook’s carry case.
2. Apple’s Magic Keyboard is superb
The 12-inch MacBook’s keyboard has been almost as divisive as its USB-C port. Apple completely redesigned it to suit the machine’s thin profile, reducing the amount of key travel in the process. Its keys are sturdy thanks to a new Butterfly hinge underneath its enlarged keycaps, but if you couldn’t get used to the keyboard the first time around then you probably won’t now.
Thankfully, Apple’s Wireless Keyboard received a redesign when the company re-launched its 27-inch 5K iMac in 2015. Thin, light and lasting a long time on a single charge, the new Magic Keyboard is a great companion to the 12-inch MacBook. The amount of key travel it offers feels just right, lying halfway between the 12-inch MacBook and Apple’s old Wireless Keyboard.
There’s bound to be the odd occasion where you’ll have to rely on the 12-inch MacBook’s keyboard to get you through – when sitting on a train, for example – but for day-to-day use, the Magic Keyboard is an enjoyable workaround.
3. The return of Magsafe
Even Windows die-hards tend to agree that Apple’s MagSafe laptop power connector is the best around, and its omission from the 12-inch MacBook felt like a step backwards. Not before time, Griffin has introduced the BreakSafe, which adds MagSafe tech to the laptop by attaching to the end of a 6-foot charging cable connected to an adapter in the USB-C port.
It sticks out of the side of the laptop a little bit which isn’t ideal, but given the choice between sending your MacBook flying off a table with one swift leg movement and disconnecting a small piece of plastic, it’s a no-brainer.
4. Portable productivity monitors
Using third-party apps like SwitchRes, the MacBook can scale all the way up to 1,920 x 1,200 while (just) remaining usable; however, its 12-inch size remains a limiting factor when it comes to productivity.
That’s about to change with the introduction of USB-C-powered portable monitors such as the Asus MB169C+, which takes advantage of the USB-C’s faster connectivity speeds (versus the older USB 2.0 spec). Featuring a 1080p IPS panel, I’m hopeful that the MB169C+, which was unveiled at CES 2016, will be completely free of latency issues while offering superb viewing angles.
Weighing just 800 grams, Asus’ portable monitor could turn the 12-inch MacBook into the ultimate portable productivity station – and it should be great for streaming entertainment too.
5. OS X El Capitan runs smooth as butter
The 12-inch MacBook now comes with OS X 10.11 El Capitan, which doesn’t so much steady the ship as give it jet-propelled oars.
The MacBook was a little cranky under OS X 10.10 Yosemite, and it made the machine live up to the “netbook” insult that is often used by its critics. While Apple’s latest OS doesn’t turn the MacBook into a powerhouse – after all it’s still the same Intel Core M processor under the hood – El Capitan makes a tangible difference to the MacBook’s usability.
El Capitan brings other benefits too: Split Screen mode lets you use two apps side-by-side, you can hide the menu bar to give you even more space on the desktop, and giving your cursor a wiggle makes it larger so that you can pick it out from behind windows easier.