New 12-inch Retina MacBook Hands-on: Pros and Cons

SAN FRANCISCO - The new MacBook wants to be the ultimate ultraportable, weighing just 2 pounds and sporting a very sharp 12-inch Retina Display. To get it so compact and so thin, Apple developed an all-new keyboard and touchpad - and ditched everything but a single port. Priced at $1,299, this is definitely a premium laptop, but there's some trade-offs involved.

We went hands on with the new MacBook and came away impressed with the new design. However, it may be too minimalist for some.

The new MacBook is definitely a sight to behold. I tried out the gold version, which looked rather fetching, but the notebook will also come in silver and space gray. Measuring just 13.1 mm (.52 inches) thin, the MacBook is one of the sleekest laptops yet; it's 24 percent thinner than the Air. This is truly a system I'd take anywhere.

In order to get the laptop so thin, though, Apple didn't include an SD Card slot, which I wouldn't want to give up. And instead of a selection of ports, there's just a single USB-C connector that lets you charge the laptop, plus an audio jack. The USB-C port lets you connect an external display or charge a USB device with a $19 adapter. However, if you want to connect a monitor while you charge your MacBook and another device, you'll have to spring for the USB - C Digital AV Multiport Adapter ($79). 

The new MacBook's display is certainly stunning, sporting a resolution of 2304 x 1440 pixels. The colors on the panel looked very vibrant during my hands-on time, and the viewing angles were nice and wide.

The biggest change on the MacBook involves the keyboard and touchpad. Apple employed a new butterfly mechanism instead of a scissor switch, and the result is a layout that feels very different than what I'm used to. The keys don't offer much travel, but I do like the fact that the keys are so large, which gives you plenty of surface area. I'll have to spend more time with the keyboard to see if I could use it for my daily work, but it's certainly better than the keyboard cover on the Surface Pro.

Ready for another big change? The Force Touch trackpad doesn't actually depress at all, but it uses a "taptic" engine to give you haptic feedback. It actually did feel like I was clicking items as I was minimizing windows, and you can adjust the strength of the effect in the control panel.

The Force Touch pad also lets you do things that a traditional pad can't. For instance, I could long press on an address in an email to see it pop up in an Apple Map window. Or you could fast forward a video by pressing and holding down. I'll be interested to see how other Apple apps and third-party apps take advantage of this technology. HP attempted a force touchpad along with Synaptics on the EliteBook 1040, but the effort literally fell flat.  This seems like a much better implementation.

In terms of specs, you're looking at a 1.1-GHz Core M processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD. I would expect that much storage for $1,299. The new MacBook promises 9 hours of battery life (wireless web surfing), which is good but not as strong as the Air's 12-plus hours of endurance. 

Overall, the new MacBook is a bold reimagining of the laptop, but it's one that involves some compromises. We'll have to see if Apple has struck the right balance when we perform our full review.

Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.