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Apple MacBook (2017) review: Apple's mini MacBook gets it right

Apple Macbook 12-inch 2017
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Now the 12-inch MacBook has adopted that improved second-gen butterfly mechanism from the Pro line. While the keyboard looks the same, I can totally tell the difference -- there's a noticeable 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. My favorite laptop keyboard of late is probably the traditional island-style one on the new Surface Laptop ($585 at Amazon), and this one is still not as friendly to long-form typing. But, if you ruled out a MacBook previously because of the keyboard, it's more than earned a second look.

Apple Macbook 12-inch 2017
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Power-up

New here is a jump to current-gen Intel processors -- Intel calls 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. It's not as universally useful as the very mainstream U-series Core i CPUs found in most premium laptops, but frankly it's fast enough for everyday tasks like writing, web browsing, video streaming and social media.

Dive into the configuration options offered by Apple, and you might be surprised to see low-voltage Core i5 and Core i7 Intel CPUs are now available as (expensive) add-on options.

Apple Macbook 12-inch 2017
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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.

Now, before getting all excited about seeing Core i5/i7 processor options, keep in mind these are Y-series Intel CPUs. Faster than the default Core m3, but still very efficient parts designed for battery life over raw performance. In previous generations, Intel would have called them Core-m chips, but the current versions have been "promoted" to the Core-i name.

Apple Macbook 12-inch 2017
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The Core m3 model is the one tested here. In everyday multitasking and performance tests, it performed as expected, faster than the previous generation of 12-inch MacBook, but still not a match for something with a standard U-series Core i5. More important for most, I suspect, is battery life. Here, there's been little movement since last year, with the new MacBook clocking in at 10:26 on a streaming video battery test. That's still near the top of the list when it comes to laptop battery life, although many Windows laptops are playing in the same ballpark now. Laptops everywhere are running longer now, and that's good for everyone.

Ready for prime time

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. 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.

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Keeping those limitations in mind, the improved keyboard and the faster CPU options feel like a real step forward. This is, simply put, the best version of the 12-inch MacBook yet. The only thing that stops me from calling this the new default MacBook you should consider is that the more powerful, more flexible 13-inch MacBook Pro (minus the optional Touch Bar) has gotten a price cut to the same $1,299 -- though that only includes half the storage (128GB) of the 12-incher at the same price. One is a mainstream powerhouse, the other is an exercise in strictly enforced minimalism. If I had to choose between the two, as a frequent coffee shop laptopper, I'd put a thumb on the scale for this 12-inch MacBook (and yes, I'm typing these words on the new 12-inch MacBook at a Manhattan coffee shop right now). 

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

LG Gram 13
570
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2017)
671
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016)
702
Dell XPS 13 2 in 1
734

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)


Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Microsoft Surface Laptop
8,578
Dell XPS 13 2 in 1
6,893
LG Gram 13
6,647
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2017)
6,490
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016)
5,879

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance



Streaming video playback battery drain test

LG Gram 13
690
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016)
633
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2017)
626
Dell XPS 13 2 in 1
536
Microsoft Surface Laptop
505

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)



System Configurations

Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2017) Apple MacOS 10.12.5 Sierra; 1.2GHz Intel Core m3-7Y32; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) Apple El Capitan OSX 10.11.4; 1.2GHz Intel Core m5-6Y54; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 515; 512GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Laptop Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
LG Gram 13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 2 in 1 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-7Y75; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD

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