On the New MacBook

I’ve been using the new MacBook as a personal travel laptop for the last month or so. I’ve been coding and writing blog posts with it and I wanted to share my experiences.

If you care about these sorts of things, I’m sure you’ve read countless reviews of the device. So I won’t try to cover everything. Instead, I’ll hit on a few specific things that matter to me.1

This thing is liiiiight

So, I bought this sort of on a whim. I had to travel quite a bit recently, internationally and with a lot of luggage already2. I’m working on an app for myself, and using that to learn Swift. I couldn’t justify the weight of a second laptop in my carryon, so I couldn’t/didn’t want to bring my own MacBook Pro in addition to my work laptop.3

For this scenario – a second, lightweight companion laptop – this thing is perfect. Far better than an iPad with a keyboard, because it runs OS X, and light enough that it’s like carrying a book. I hardly notice the extra weight. It’s just awesome.

Yes, the keyboard is weird (trackpad, too)

The keyboard is a polarizing feature. Reviewers seem to love it or hate it. I love it. It does take some getting used to, but once I did, I am able to type on it as fast as I can on my MacBook Pro. Switching between the two keyboards is my biggest problem. I make a few more mistakes when I first get on the Macbook, but it goes away quickly.

The bigger problem for me is that the keyboard layout is actually subtly different. Arrow keys and the Fn keys are the big ones for me. I still haven’t figured out the arrow keys, and still stumble around on those regularly. Thankfully I tend to code in things with Vi keybindings, so it doesn’t mess me up as often as it could.

For what it’s worth, I typed up the Mobile in India blog post on my MacBook (and this post, too).

The trackpad is similarly uncanny valley-ish, but more easily ignored. I sometimes tend to crash down on the trackpad to click it (trying to stop the screensaver from kicking in, for example), but since it doesn’t give, the haptic feedback illusion breaks since it doesn’t match the force with which I hit the trackpad.

Performance is merely OK

The Intel Core M processor used in the laptop is Intel’s attempt to build a tablet/hybrid processor. The processor also limits the amount of RAM. It’s OK for most things, but the laptop does struggle with anything that’s pushing a lot of data around. Overall, I see the beachball a lot more than I ever do on my MacBook Pro.4

That said, I run Xcode, I compile apps, and for the smaller applications I’m working on, it’s fine.

On the other hand, for writing blog posts, emails, and that sort of thing… this thing is PERFECT. I love it so much that I reach for it now when I want to sit down to write. The small screen minimizes the temptation to have distractions visible, and the retina screen makes reading type easy on the eyes.

Should you get it?

Depends. If you prioritize weight over performance, this is perfect. In any other scenario, the MacBook Air or the 13” MacBook Pro is a better choice.

For the developers, this cannot be a primary development laptop, but you can get away with Xcode or Atom or the like running with little trouble. Expect build times to be a lot longer than whatever you’re used to.

Bottom line: I love it, glad I took a chance on it.

  1. Two reviews that I’ll highlight, in case you missed them: Marco Arment’s review (he hated it) and Rene Ritchie’s review.

  2. Ex-pat living note: when you travel back to your home country, it’s expected (neighbors will mock you otherwise) that you maximize your return luggage allowance with everyday luxuries that you can’t buy easily here in India. For example, my last trip I had a suitcase full of baby stuff from our attic, many boxes of mac & cheese, maple syrup, and Clif Bars.

  3. Yes, I like carrying a separate laptop for personal things. I’m always hacking on personal apps and ideas, and I do all my writing on personal gear so I don’t cross the streams. Work is work. Personal is personal.

    I recognize this is like the ultimate first world, self-inflicted problem.

  4. I also installed El Capitan on this, so performance has dropped a little as I’d expect with with a beta OS and working in a beta Xcode