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(Pocket-lint) - With its 12-inch super glossy Retina display and ultra portability, the new Apple MacBook promises users the chance to live the future of computing not tomorrow, but today.

But by stripping out all the standard ports, has the company refined this particular MacBook so much that it's become unusable? It might be super slim and good looking, but that's not going to suit all when it comes to plugging kit in.

We've been using with the new 12-inch MacBook - the bling gold version, no less - to find out whether you really can live with a laptop without ports.

Small and light

The first thing you'll notice about the 12-inch MacBook is just how small and thin it is. The front panel is smaller than a sheet of A4 paper - measuring 280.5mm 196.5mm - while the tapered design means a maximum thickness of 13.1mm, dipping to just 3.5mm at the very front.

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That makes the new MacBook only slightly thicker than an iPad Air 2, but this one comes with a much larger screen, a keyboard, a trackpad, and much more powerful innards. It is also smaller than the 11-inch MacBook Air, despite the larger screen size by definition.

The second thing you'll notice is how light it is. At just 920g, throwing it in a bag isn't going to be a chore. It's well balanced in terms of weight distribution too, with the lid easily pulled open and, unlike many conventional laptops, the base stays fixed to the spot. That's a pretty tough trick to pull off.

Thankfully, the small, thin and light design does not make it impractical to use. We had no issues using the MacBook on the train, both on our lap or on the small pull-down trays on the back of seats. The size makes a lot of sense.

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Clad in aluminium you get the choice of the traditional silver, space grey, or if you are feeling extra special, gold. The thin design means the glowing back-lit Apple logo on the lid has been replaced with a mirrored logo identical to that found on the iPad instead. Talk about iPad Pro.

Without ports

You've got over the size, you've got over the weight, and then it hits you: there are no ports. Well, not the ones you are used to seeing. There are just two found in the new MacBook: a 3.5mm headphones jack on the right and a USB-C socket on the left. One handles music, the other is for power.

So how are you supposed to connect stuff? Well, for the majority of the time you aren't. It's a bold move from Apple. This is the Cupertino company telling us that you don't need full-size USB sockets, Ethernet, an SD card slot, Firewire, or, well, anything really. But there was a time when laptops all had optical drives, the MacBook takes that evolution and runs with it.

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For some users that will be fine - iPad users don't complain at the lack of ports (microSD excluded) - where sourcing everything from the cloud is the norm. But right now not everyone works that way, what with USB sticks, SD cards from cameras and so forth.

In Apple's world everything is now wireless, right down to downloading the latest operating system. Connections like 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth mean everything is accessed from the web or through the cloud, and really, what do you need to connect anything for anyway? Buying the new MacBook means you are ready to embrace the carefree wireless world of the future.

If that all sounds a little brave then there are adapters. There are official USB (3.1) and HDMI (or VGA) options, but these cost £65 and aren't in keeping with the attractive design. A cheaper USB-C to standard USB is available for £15, but that means swapping between power cable and USB.

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Third party devices can be picked up for Ethernet and other connections, but without one "master adapter" to cater for all through the single USB-C port, so if you're looking for the traditional laptop experience with lots of peripherals plugged into it then the new MacBook simply won't be for you.

The butterfly effect

Despite no standard sockets on the MacBook, it does squeeze a full-size keyboard into the design. However, the keys don't feel how they normally would.

To make the device so thin, Apple has had to change the mechanism under the individual keys - as the standard traditional method was too cumbersome for the design. The result, now referred to as a "butterfly mechanism" is a much punchier, stiffer keyboard that doesn't have the same level of individual key travel as previous MacBook outings.

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It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you do you'll think all other keyboards are decidedly soft and cushioned.

New trackpad

Moving on to the trackpad. On the surface it looks the same as any other, but this one uses what Apple calls Force Touch.

Rather than physically move in the same way a traditional trackpad depresses, Apple has used haptic motors - or "taptic technology" as the company likes to call it - to vibrate the trackpad when you press it rather than the trackpad moving at all. It means that no matter where you press on the trackpad your touch is registered.

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Even more surreal is that when you press physically harder, there's a second layer of response for additional control possibilities, called Force Click. For this "deeper" press you'll swear that not only is the trackpad moving, but that you are pressing it down into a second deeper level. But that's all in your head: it doesn't move at all.

Force Touch benefits

With this level of control you get a much greater array of options for controlling things. Pressing harder or softer affects apps in different ways.

Force Touch controls have already been baked into OS X Yosemite, with perhaps the biggest noticeable change in Mail. Now hard-pressing the trackpad with the cursor over a contact reveals that contact's details within the Contacts app; hard pressing on a URL or an attachment gives you a preview; while you can now use an iPad stylus to control your line width and weight when marking up attachments or signing your name in Preview.

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Other apps benefit as well. A hard press in Safari when browsing pops-up a preview in the Dictionary, while in QuickTime you can fast-forward through your videos faster by pressing harder.

Apple has also confirmed that the mechanics behind the Force Touch trackpad will be available to app developers. You can expect a plethora of new apps that will allow you to, for example, draw straight into an app using a finger or stylus, and because nothing physically moves that will be much easier - especially when it comes to selecting or clicking.

Apple's trackpad has always been not only state of the art, but industry-leading in terms of responsiveness, and the Force Touch trackpad catapults its credentials further.

The display

With Apple's Retina-designated display available on the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro range, its absence in the MacBook Air range has been something of an anomaly. While the Air misses out, yet again, the new MacBook doesn't, helping to make it stand out.

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Here there's a 12-inch display that is as bright and colourful as it is crisp. Text and images look as sharp as they do on the iPad thanks to the 2304 x 1440 resolution panel.

Any MacBook Air users will certainly notice the difference, although we recommend opting to disregard the "default" display settings to gain more display space if you aren't used to working full screen for all your apps. The taller screen ratio is also far more useful in terms of space to use than the 11-inch MacBook Air.

Power and battery

The new MacBook has powerful innards, although it's not MacBook Air or Pro powerful. Apple has made sure some of the shortcomings of the processor have been offset with fast SSD storage and 8GB of RAM as standard. 

In most cases, given what the average non-power Mac user will be expected to do with this laptop - whether on the go or from the sofa - the Intel Core M processor at its heart will work through tasks quickly in short, sharp bursts.

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That'll be enough for most. From HD movie streaming, through to basic photo and video editing within Apple's Photos and iMovie apps, we've had no problems.

For the majority of users the performance won't be an issue. But when you start to push consistent and persistent demands on the processor you do start to notice a difference: this isn't a device for heavy duty graphics work or gaming, but then you probably knew that already.

For our review device Apple sent us the 1.1 GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor with Turbo Boost speeds up to 2.4GHz, paired with Intel HD Graphics 5300, and supported by a 256GB SSD. The top-of-the-range model, complete with 1.3GHz (2.9GHz boost) dual-core Intel Core M processor and 512GB SSD costs a considerable £1,434.

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On the battery front, depending on how you use it, you'll easily get a day's worth of battery when on the go - we've been achieving upwards of nine hours per charge. That's probably because the new MacBook is made-up of about 90 per cent battery.

However, compared to the MacBook Air, with its more capacious battery, that's a little less longevity per charge. So that's something to keep in mind.

Being picky

Nothing is ever perfect and, overall, the MacBook still has things missing (aside from the obvious ports conundrum). 

We are still surprised that Apple hasn't gone touchscreen with the display. Steve Jobs might have said that touchscreens on a laptop don't work, but anyone who's used an iPad with a keyboard knows that isn't always the case. Looking to Windows and Microsoft has already proved there's a definite calling for it too.

The other perplexing absence is Touch ID - the fingerprint scanning technology - which hasn't appeared on any Apple laptop to date. It has revolutionised the way we use the iPhone and iPad, and we feel that the same could and should be considered for laptop users, especially when it comes to login and security.

That thin display casing also means the front-facing camera is only a 480p FaceTime camera with 848 x 480 pixel resolution. That's just about passable for video conferencing but is not great. We really expect a better camera here.


The 12-inch MacBook is all about portability. Apple has focused on creating a laptop so thin, so sleek, so light, that everything else has been pushed by the wayside.

For some that will be too much, with the lack of ports too futuristic to make it a plausible consideration. We suspect we won't be saying that three years from now, though, when all laptops will be like this.

However, if you're already a cloud-focused user who never plugs anything in then the MacBook will be an ideal and attractive laptop proposition, albeit an expensive one. But if you still demand Ethernet, full-size USB, HDMI or SD card slots then, well, it goes without saying the MacBook is unlikely to suit.

Unless you consider it from another angle: as an "iPad Pro" complete with keyboard and trackpad. The MacBook is more powerful than the iPad, of course, but the lack of ports in that context is less relevant.

Whatever your stance, embracing the future ahead of the curve does mean you'll have to wait for everyone else to catch up, which at times might mean you'll end up getting caught out. We haven't been brave enough to go out without the USB dongle also in the bag, for example.

The future is exciting, but now without its flaws. And there's no doubt about it: the 12-inch MacBook is the future of laptops. The question right now, however, is whether we're ready for that just yet.

Writing by Stuart Miles. Originally published on 11 May 2015.