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The new 12-inch MacBook has 3 stealth upgrades

It still has a single port, but the new MacBook keyboard is a huge improvement. Extra RAM and faster Core i chips are an option -- if you pay extra.

Now playing: Watch this: A better keyboard boosts Apple's 12-inch MacBook

For its third generation in three years, Apple's mighty little 12-inch MacBook has gotten some updates. But before you ask, yes, it's still got just that one USB-C port.

Despite that, this remains one of my favorite current laptops, and this third-generation version fixes one of the major complaints that I, and many other people, had about it.

James Martin/CNET

No, it's not the premium price or limited ports. The biggest complaint I heard over and over again about the 12-inch MacBook was that its superflat keyboard just never felt entirely right. It lacked tactile feedback and the keys were too different from the standard island-style keys found on nearly every other laptop in existence.

When the MacBook Pro series adopted a similar flat keyboard last year, it at least had an improved butterfly mechanism (the x-shaped trigger under the individual keys on the keyboard), which made the typing experience feel more substantial, even if some people still preferred the old-style traditional MacBook Pro keyboard.

James Martin/CNET

Now the 12-inch MacBook has adopted that improved second-gen butterfly mechanism from the Pro line. Even using it in just a few initial typing sessions, I can totally tell the difference -- there's a click and spring to the keyboard that was lacking before. 

As someone who has typed hundreds of thousands of words across both previous generations of the 12-inch MacBook, I'm very pleasantly surprised by how good this keyboard feels.

Power play

Also new is a jump to current-gen Intel processors -- they call this generation Kaby Lake, but it's really the seventh generation of Core-series CPUs. The default is still the Intel Core m3, which is a lower-power chip designed for slim devices that need very long battery life, but that aren't designed for extreme multitasking or high-end video editing. Frankly, it's fast enough for everyday tasks like writing, web browsing, video streaming and social media.

James Martin/CNET

But a big surprise is that low-voltage Core i5 and Core i7 Intel CPUs are now available as (expensive) add-on options. The base 1.2GHz Core m3 model is still $1,299, while a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 is $1,599 and a dual-core Core i7 is $1,749. System RAM can now be bumped up from 8GB to 16GB for an extra $200, and Apple says the included SSD storage is now up to 50 percent faster.

The extra performance you'll get from the Core i5/Core i7 CPUs options is something we'll have to wait to see in action to properly judge. We're currently testing the Core m3 version of the MacBook and will report on benchmark and battery life results in a future full review.

James Martin/CNET

Still not perfect, but getting closer

The 12-inch MacBook has remained fairly stable over its three generations, with the same slim 2.03 pound body and high-res Retina display. The improved keyboard and the faster CPU options feel like a real step forward, although the system is still not quite as updated as we'd like. 

You're still stuck with the same not-great 480p webcam, and there's just that single USB-C port for all your power and connectivity needs, which will be a deal-breaker for many. But if you can work with those limitations, this is the best version of the 12-inch MacBook yet. 

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