Thursday, April 9, 2015

The 12-inch MacBook

The way Apple’s presentation focused on the new MacBook’s keyboard, you might think it was better for typing, the way all keyboards would be someday. Jason Snell finds otherwise:

Apple seems to have realize that the reduced travel has made this keyboard less appealing, and has attempted to offset the change with a bunch of other changes that improve the typing experience. There’s a new butterfly key mechanism atop stainless steel dome switches, which Apple says increases key stability, and the keys are all a bit wider than on a traditional keyboard, so there’s more area to hit on each key.

These changes help, but they don’t really offset the reduced travel. The MacBook keyboard’s better than I expected it to be—I was able to score 118 words per minute on TypeRacer using it—but it never felt particularly comfortable. If you’re not a keyboard snob, you may not even notice the difference, but if there’s any single feature that would make me reluctant to buy a MacBook, it would be the keyboard.


The Esc key has been elongated and the function keys narrowed, which didn’t really bother me. However, the redesign of the arrow keys really shook me–the up and down arrows are still half-height, but the left and right arrows are now full sized. It turns out that I used the gaps above the left and right arrow keys on prior keyboards to orient by feel, so I knew which arrow key was which. On the MacBook’s keyboard, there’s no longer a gap–and I kept having to look down to make sure I was tapping the up arrow key.

Jason Snell:

I’ve got to say that I’m not a fan of the new keyboard. Apple played the other enhancements that the keyboard offers, such as increased stability and wider keys, as attempts to offset some of the costs of the reduced key travel. That makes me hopeful that Apple sees this keyboard as what it is—a pretty serious compromise in order to get the computer thinner—rather than some breakthrough new keyboard that will be replicated on every other Apple keyboard in the next year or two.

If you don’t type a whole lot, or very fast, you may not care about the substantially reduced key travel. And you can get used to it. But it’s just a tiny step up from typing on flat touchscreen glass.

Jim Dalrymple:

The arrow keys took the most time to get used to. Surprising, I know. However, I use the up and down arrow keys a lot to navigate email messages and RSS feeds and those keys are quite close together—in fact, they are the only two keys on the keyboard that are so close together. It’s like the person that designed the keyboard doesn’t use those two keys and put them together like that because it looked better. At any rate, those keys are just taking a bit longer for me to use without error. I hope for a change in the future.

Keyboard aside, it sounds nice for what it is. It’s not for me, though. After the 12-inch MacBook was announced, I bought an 11-inch MacBook Air to use as an auxiliary Mac. It’s small enough to fit on the desk next to my main Mac, much faster than the 12-inch MacBook, and has a Thunderbolt port for connecting my drive dock.

Update (2015-04-24): Thomas Brand:

I made the same decision to purchase an 11-inch MacBook Air last year to use as my auxiliary Mac.

In addition to having Thunderbolt and twice as many USB ports as the new MacBook, my 11-inch MacBook Air comes with the security of MagSafe, the expandability of upgradable storage, the compatibility of Mavericks, the availability of an easy to install battery, and the comfort of a familiar keyboard. For those who care, the new MacBook does have a retina display, Force Touch, and a gold exterior, but as an auxiliary Mac such features come with a noticeable price tag. (Both machines have comparable performance.)

Note that Bare Feats compared the 11-inch MacBook Air from 2014, which runs at 1.4 GHz rather than the 1.6 GHz of the current model.

David Sparks:

I typed about 500 words of text on it and it didn’t repel me, but it most certainly is different. The key travel is shorter and would take some getting used to. The lower amount of travel might be a deal breaker after using it for a few days but after just a half hour, it felt more strange than terrible.

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

"Keyboard aside, it sounds nice for what it is. It’s not for me, though."


Yeah, bad trade-offs, from my POV. But it's sweet, if overpriced, for a certain consumer niche.

The thing that struck me about Snell's review was that he was still able to type 118 wpm on the keyboard. I'm a touch typist too (though I only max out at about 110wpm) and if the new design is capable of supporting that high a speed, Apple clearly did something right. It's not clear if Snell just didn't have enough time to get fully accustomed to the reduced travel, or if he's just really picky about the feel of his keys.

@jburka It sounds to me like (1) Apple did what they could, given the physical constraints, (2) Snell is a really good typist, and (3) quick typing is not necessarily pleasant typing. So it’s a big step up from those iPad keyboard cases but not in the same league as a regular Mac keyboard.

[…] He hates the new trackpad so much that he just bought a discontinued MacBook Pro with the old one. I think everyone else I’ve read has liked it, though. I remain happy with my new Air. […]

[…] April 24, 2015 Auxiliary Mac […]

[…] trackpad was fine. The computer is thin, but it did not feel like a significant improvement over my 11-inch MacBook Air. So the keyboard seems like a poor […]

[…] other words, if there’s a MacBook that tries to be as close as possible to an iPad, there should be one that’s as close as […]

[…] The 12-inch MacBook, Mistake One, The Developer’s […]

[…] the writing on the wall, I bought one right after the 12-inch MacBook was announced. It’s still going strong and one of my favorite Macs ever. Nothing that Apple […]

[…] numbers for the MacBook seem really low to me. The 2% (1.68% before rounding) includes both the MacBook One and the plastic MacBook that was discontinued in early 2012. The 12-inch MacBook never seemed […]

[…] would have thought so, but the lackluster MacBook starts at $1,299, the $999 MacBook Air hasn’t been updated in 785 days, and the $899 MacBook […]

[…] been about 2 1/2 years since the 12-inch MacBook introduced USB-C to Macs. How are the hub and dongle choices still so poor? At first I thought […]

Leave a Comment