Five months with the 2015 MacBook

Last August, I switched from a 13-inch retina MacBook Pro to the 2015 12-inch MacBook (space gray, 512GB). While I do an increasing amount of work and play on my iPad and iPhone these days, I have still used my Mac for a number of tasks over these months.

If you want the simple verdict: I definitely recommend this machine. But more so than with other Macs, I think it’s very dependent on both your day-to-day and long tail needs.

Context

To start, I’ll give you some quick context about my needs for a MacBook:

  • I’m mostly a writer these days. I help app developers talk to their customers and about their products, I also have a monthly column in MacLife Magazine and freelance elsewhere, and of course I write here.
  • I am working on resuscitating the Finer Things in Tech podcast, which means I need a light podcast recording and editing workflow in both hardware and software.
  • I am a photography and music hobbyist, so I have probably far too many consumer, possibly prosumer, but certainly not capital-p-Pro photo editing and music making apps.
  • I prefer small and light now over heavy and powerful. My first Mac back in the day was the original 12-inch PowerBook, but I quickly switched to a large iMac. Then I went mobile again with a 17-inch PowerBook, then 15, then 13. Now I’ve come full circle to this 12-inch MacBook.
  • I don’t need a ton of stuff on screen these days. At most I usually have a browser or writing app front and center, and possibly a chat or Twitter app open next to it. I really, really like Apple’s new Full Screen and Split Screen features in OS X (and especially iOS) for quickly placing two apps side by side.

Unlike my multimedia student days when I was learning complex Photoshop tools, Final Cut Pro video editing, and creating 2D and 3D motion graphics, I don’t push a Mac very hard anymore.

Day to Day

This thing is just fantastic. I actually prefer this keyboard to any other I’ve ever used, Apple or otherwise. But sure, this (inarguably superior, more productive) keyboard takes some getting used to, as does everything else in life that you’ve never used before the day you learned about it.

There have been a few days where I’ve second-guessed whether my MacBook was in my backpack; it’s that light, which makes me happy. Having a retina screen in a package like this is borderline magical. I really thought retina would come to the Air before Apple built anything that out-Aired it. I think it’s fair to say this is the MacBook alternative for iPad customers, in the same way that the iPad Pro is the iPad alternative for MacBook customers.

I’m able to do just about all of the tasks I mentioned without much thumb twiddling or waiting for the MacBook to catch up to my request. I do notice some occasional sluggishness on particularly long or heavy browsing sessions (Safari), but it isn’t deal-breaker material to me and not very different from when other MacBooks have been under a similar load.

One place where I have noticed some prohibitive sluggishness is in Photos, when making any moderately significant edits to decently high-res shots from, say, my iPhone 6S Plus. That’s one place where it’s bad enough that I just don’t want to do it on the MacBook, but I’m ok with this for two reasons: 1) I usually don’t make big or complex edits, and 2) I mostly use my iPad for photo stuff these days. However, simply organizing these photos and creating albums is just fine.

The Cable thing

I very, very rarely plug things into my Mac these days, so I went into it betting this singular next-gen, and therefore not broadly-supported-yet port wouldn’t be much of an issue. For the vast majority of the time, I’ve been right.

Still, I hedged my bet and bought a couple of Apple’s adapters, specifically the USB-C to USB dongle and the Digital AV Multiport Adapter. I can think of two to three cases where I’ve had to juggle cables because something was plugged in, usually power, and I had to plug in something else, usually my iPhone, to make a QuickTime screen capture or for doing something heinous and unholy with iTunes.

If you are more cable-prone than me, but still interested in this MacBook, I think some good options are emerging for you in the form of clever multi-port adapters that are more flexible and better designed than Apple’s. Put another way, I think we’re in the period where the market is catching up to The New Thing and answering the call. It also helps that, unlike Lightning, USB-C is taking off as a new industry standard, so lots of companies have incentives to make all manner of accessories for it.

Case in point: HyperShop’s USB-C 5-IN-1 Hub. It’s small, only $50, and offers a couple traditional USB ports, a couple flash storage slots, and a USB-C port for pass-through charging and 4K video. It’s basically a great little mini-dock, and there are plenty more like it appearing to solve all manner of connectivity situations. You have options.

Wrapup

I am thoroughly pleased with the 2015 MacBook. Again though, I think this Mac takes a little more scrutiny than previous models, due to some unique trade offs worth considering:

  • Power: It has a mobile Intel CPU, not a typical Core i5 or i7, and you can definitely tell if you start pushing it for certain types of tasks. But if you don’t do those things, don’t worry about it. The catch is: you really need to get real about what you actually do on your Mac versus the well-intentioned-some-day-but-won’t-happen stuff.
  • Size: It’s the smallest Mac Apple makes right now, but it scored a retina screen before the MacBook Air. If screen size is important to you, losing an inch from the Air and Pro lines is no small thing. But I’m a firm believer in the notion that we are one of the most adaptable species on the planet. If the weight and/or retina screen are also important to you, I believe in you. You can do this.
  • Ports: Cord non-cutters beware. It’s pretty clear that USB-C will become the new industry standard moving forward, and the ‘don’t have to care which way you plug it in’ factor is a small but very satisfying improvement. However, the industry is only now beginning to catch up with accessories and adapters.
  • Style: It’s the first Mac to start coming in the same colors as iOS devices. I know some of you are scoffing at this right now, but don’t underestimate how attractive this will be to some customers.

All this said, here’s where I land on the new MacBook: I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last MacBook I buy and keep for a few years. But if I’m still doing the same work down the road and I end up needing a new one, I’ll be happy to buy its successor.