Q&A: Apple 12" Retina MacBook

I've been playing with the 12" Retina MacBook for the last few days, and showing it to some of my family and friends. Here are my answers to a few of the questions they had about it.

Q) Is is a good computer?

A) Yes.

The Retina MacBook is a super portable, premium laptop that can do basic tasks really well. It's the easiest Apple laptop to carry around all day. It's much more practical than carrying an iPad with an external keyboard, and easier to use if you're used to OS X. It's also very, very pretty.

Q) I need a new computer, and the 13" Retina MacBook Pro is the same price. Should I get that instead?

A) Probably.

you should definitely get the 13" Retina MacBook Pro if this is going to be your main computer. It's heavier, but is much better value for money. It has more ports, a larger display, a faster processor and better graphics.

Q) I'm looking for a small, second computer, and the 11" MacBook Air is $140 cheaper. Should I get that instead?

A) No.

The Retina MacBook is definitely better than a similarly specced 11" MacBook Air. The Retina MacBook is smaller than the already diminuitive 11" MacBook Air, whilest packing a bigger, sharper, and brighter display. It doesn't have as much power as the 11" Air, but that won't be a big issue if you already have a faster desktop or laptop.

Q) What can I plug into the Retina MacBook?

A) All sorts of things!*

*After you buy a $129 adapter.

The MacBook uses a new port that handles power, data transfer and video output over a single plug. It's so new in fact, that there's not much you can really buy for it. However, if you're happy to fork out $129 Multiport AV adapter, you'll be able to connect the MacBook to an external HDMI monitor, recharge it with the standard power adapter, and connect a single USB 3 device.

I didn't really miss the ability to easily connect a USB flash drive to the MacBook. If you're using a service like Dropbox to back up all of your files, you can easily send a link to the file to share it. Alternatively, if the person is near you and has a Mac, you can send it to them with Airdrop.

Q) The keyboard feels weird. What's wrong with it?

A) Everything, and nothing.

There's nothing wrong with it, Apple meant to it feel like that. In order to get the MacBook so thin, Apple has made a new type of keyboard where the keys don't move as much as a normal laptop keyboard. Because of this, the MacBook's keyboard feels like no other laptop keyboard. It makes my hands hurt a bit, and I think it sounds odd when I type on it.

Q) And the trackpad?

A) I know, it's incredible.

The MacBook uses a new type of trackpad called 'Force Touch'. Believe it of not, but it's not actually moving. It has tiny sensors that sense how hard you're pressing, and a little vibration motor to make it feel like you're clicking on something. This means that if you press lightly you get a normal click, and if you press harder it'll something else. It's awesome, and quickly being adopted into the rest of Apple's lineup.

Q) Can I make music on the Retina MacBook?

A) Yes, but not much of it.

The MacBook is an OK tool to quickly jot down ideas in Garageband while out and about, but forget about using Logic Pro X with anymore more than 10-20 tracks with a few plugins. For a more pleasant experience to demo out ideas, you're better off using any iPad with Garageband for iOS.

Q) Can I design things on the Retina MacBook?

A) If you're desperate.

I was able to run Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC and Indesign CC with no problems. However, because Retina MacBook is limited to 8GB of RAM thanks to it's power efficient 5 watt Intel processor, so you won't be able to have many documents open at once.

I did a bit of work in Sketch while I had the MacBook, and it handled alright. I wouldn't rely on it as my main computer for graphic design, but it can manage a pretty large project if you're in a pinch. The only thing the choked it up was exporting heaps of assets in multiple sizes, something that a lot of Sketch users would do regularly. If you're going to be doing a lot of designing, buy a MacBook Pro.

Q) Should I buy it right now?

A) Probably not.

There's probably going to be a much better model coming out in a few months time, with a faster processor and proper 60hz 4K video support. I'd hold out and wait to see what Apple does with the next revision.

Jack Alexander