12" MacBook: A year in review

12" MacBook: A year in review

I received an email from Best Buy this morning. It said that last year, on 8/24, I bought my 12" MacBook. I thought, well, now that I've had a good amount of time with a computer that was introduced with a less than enthusiastic response, I'd write up my thoughts on the machine.

I bought the MacBook for its portability. I have to lug around a large 15" Dell laptop for work, and my previous personal laptop was old and tired. I was itching for an upgrade and I needed something that when combined with the weight of my work machine, my back would remain intact. Due to the coupons and discounts available at the time, I eventually settled on the 12" MacBook!

Hardware

The model of 12" MacBook I bought is the 2016 12" MacBook with the m5 processor and 512GB of SSD storage (model number A1534 - pictured above). I spent $1200 USD on the machine by stacking a student coupon on top of a sizeable open box discount. This model has the first generation butterfly keyboard, which I'll talk about later, and 8GB of RAM.

For the fast reader, here's the list of specs:

  • 12" Retina display (max resolution: 2304x1440, effective resolution: 1280x800)
  • 1.3GHz Core m5Y51 dual-core processor w/ Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz
  • 8GB RAM
  • 512GB SSD Storage

Performance

Okay, so you're probably thinking, what's a computer science student doing with a tiny, underpowered laptop? And I'll stop you right there, because this computer really just does not feel underpowered. Yeah, 8GB of RAM and a passively cooled dual-core processor are limiting, but if you're doing lots of documentation, web browsing, and some Node.js development - it's plenty. It really is. It can also handle more demanding tasks like Photoshop CC and a Windows 7 virtual machine just fine. It started giving me the dreaded beach ball of death with two VMs running, but I realistically did not need to run two VMs simultaneously for more than a few minutes at a time.

Honestly, though, there have been very few occasions where I really felt limited by the hardware of the machine - it's perfectly capable of doing what I need it to do, and I do a lot more than your Average Joe.

Battery life

This is the one point where I'll complain, but not much. I get about 5 to 6 hours of battery life on the machine. Here are the CoconutBattery stats for my machine:

macbookbattery

As you can see, I've only amassed a relatively small amount of charge cycles in a year, so the battery is in great health. Unfortunately I can't give up Chrome for Safari, which theoretically has better battery life than Chrome. Call me stupid if you'd like, but I just don't want to compromise my browser of choice for an extra hour of juice.

However, my previous laptop tapped out at 3 hours of battery life with very conservative brightness settings, so I can't complain too much. I'm just a bit sick of laptop manufacturers making battery life seem more impressive than it actually is with real-world usage.

The Butterfly keyboard

Okay, so this is the controversial part. The new Butterfly gen 1 mechanism on the 12" MacBook garnered a lot of hate, and you know what? I don't think it's justified.

I'm not a keyboard snob by any means. I use a Logitech Wave K350 at work and a Corsair K70 at home. They're both nice and they both work great at making letters appear on my computer screen.

Is the new Butterfly keyboard a bit shallow, and jarring to use at first? Yeah. But once you sit down and use the machine for a year, you get used to it.

I'm no typist. At home on my K70 (which is a mechanical keyboard using Cherry MX Red switches), I average about 80 WPM with about 92% accuracy. On the 12" MacBook, I average 80 WPM with 93% accuracy. It's definitely not as nice as typing on a mechanical keyboard, but I don't feel like my typing ability suffers as a result.

Software

I'm not afraid to admit that, even as a professional .NET developer, I still prefer running a Unix-based machine. In fact, I stopped paying for a Windows dedicated server and run everything off of a $20 CentOS VPS from Vultr. So I fell in love with macOS.

I would describe macOS as "the version of Linux everyone wants because the UI isn't hot garbage." I apologize if you like desktop flavors of Linux, but in my opinion, they just don't have the software support I like, and for the most part, they all look worse compared to Windows and macOS.

MacOS is the best of both worlds, since you can still use a lot of the Linux tools you're used to - bash, vim, you name it. It's a lot easier to SSH up to a server with a native terminal than worry about Putty. I love the gestures and desktop.

I do have 128GB partitioned for a Windows BootCamp partition, but I have honestly not booted it up once in the past year.

Display

My previous laptop has horrible ghosting on the screen, so really, anything would have been an improvement for me. And Apple always makes great displays - that's one thing I love about them. Text and graphics are always vibrant and clear on my 12" MacBook. It gets really bright and the coating helps reduce glare. There's really not a lot I can say about the display that hasn't already been said in someone else's review of this machine, so I'll just say it's great and leave it at that.

#Donglegate (or, the single USB type-C port)

Yes, the computer only has one USB type-C port. No, it doesn't bother me. I connect a Bluetooth mouse to the computer and I suspect for most people, that will also be the extent of connected peripherals.

I don't particularly enjoy having to carry around USB type-C to type-A and a USB type-C to HDMI converters, but the single port has never been a problem for me. I don't plug shit into my computers often enough. If you do, this computer definitely isn't for you, but you've probably come to that conclusion on your own by now.

Final thoughts

I never could afford an Apple machine in the past. I do still think the cost of entry is too high, but at least you still get a machine with great build quality. I know you can Hackintosh other machines, but using macOS on genuine Apple hardware really is a treat. I really don't think the 12" MacBook gets enough credit, as people are quick to dismiss it as weak and underpowered.

I think most people would be very pleasantly surprised if they gave the 12" MacBook a fair chance.

If you got this far and you're still curious from the photo - I have a Black Dragon dbrand skin on the top of the machine and I love it.