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12-inch MacBook hands-on: Great keyboard and trackpad, but only one port

Susie Ochs | March 11, 2015
OK, there are two ports—if you count the headphone jack. But the new 12-inch MacBook didn't get so thin and light without making tradeoffs.

macbook screen
The MacBook's thin bezel seems to fade away as you look at the gorgeous Retina display. 

What's lighter than Air? The all-new MacBook. Apple's newest, goldest laptop is lighter and thinner than the MacBook Air, and sports a gorgeous Retina display like the top-of-the-line MacBook Pros. But this isn't an Air or a Pro. It's just a MacBook, and yet... it changes everything.

The first thing I noticed during my hands-on time is the MacBook's screen. The colors are bright and vivid, and the 2304x1440 resolution shows all the detail you're used to seeing on a Retina display. The bezel around the screen has shrunk significantly. The screen doesn't go completely edge to edge, but it's pretty darn close.

The laptop is incredibly thin and light, but keyboard real estate doesn't suffer. Apple put a full-size keyboard on the new MacBook, and even decreased the space between the keys a little bit--the keys themselves are actually 17 percent bigger than those on current Mac laptops. My fingers didn't feel cramped like they do when using a keyboard that's sized for the iPad, for example.

Apple replaced the scissor-switch key mechanism deployed in current MacBooks with a new kind of switch the company calls the butterfly mechanism. With this new hardware, your keys go straight up and down no matter where on the key you press. Conversely, on a scissor switch keyboard, if you happen to tap the edge or the corner of a key, you can feel the key "lean" that way.

But the new MacBook's keys feel the same no matter where your fingers strike them. The keyboard is backlit, but each key gets its own LED light, so they'll all have the same brightness level.

Speaking of LEDs, the Apple logo on the MacBook doesn't light up. I know, I'm a little bummed too. But the new MacBook is still capable of turning heads since it's the first Apple laptop available in gold--you know, to match the gold-toned iPad and iPhone. (And who knows, maybe Apple will bring back the light-up logo in a future iteration.)

Force Trackpad
The MacBook's trackpad has some cool advancements too. The trackpad on existing Apple laptops hinges at the top, so a physical click at the top of the trackpad feels different than a click at the bottom. But on the new MacBook, there's no hinge, so no matter where you click, it feels the same.

OK, this change sounds pretty minor, but the hinge-less design enables the trackpad to have a new Force Click gesture. You can tap or click something to select it as normal, but when you push down harder on the fully pressure-sensitive trackpad, you initiate a Force Click, which is a shortcut to new capabilities.


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