MacBook 2016 review: all of the possibilities, all of the realities

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Last year’s introduction of the 12-inch MacBook — that’s just MacBook, not MacBook Air or MacBook Pro — highlighted some of the best elements of Apple design. The laptop is beautiful, super thin, and lightweight, with a Retina display and a new kind of trackpad.

But its sleekness came with a sacrifice: reviewers knocked it for its performance, and deservedly so. It was a laptop meant to push the entire category forward, maybe to the point where “devices” just totally disappear into our lives — but it didn’t have nearly enough oomph.

Now there’s a new, updated MacBook that’s replacing last year’s MacBook. Really there are two things new about it: one of those things is cosmetic, and the other is the opposite of cosmetic. The result is the same laptop design, with better performance. And yet if you’re wondering which Apple laptop offers the best package, it’s not this one. The MacBook is still meant to push the category forward — but this revision shows that it’s doing it in stages, and at a high price.

The MacBook starts at $1,299 for a model with a 1.1 gigahertz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor, 256 gigabytes of flash storage, and eight gigabytes of memory. (A machine with a 1.2gHz Core m5 processor and more flash storage will cost you $1,599.) You can also upgrade even further, and pay more, for a 1.3Ghz chip with a greater turbo boost. Apple has always been able to command a premium, but these starting prices are still expensive by almost all laptop standards.

The first and most obvious change from last year’s MacBook to this year’s is that the new MacBook comes in rose gold. Last year it was available in silver, space gray, or bling-y gold. And the MacBook Air ships in silver. This means the 2016 MacBook is Apple’s only pink laptop. Is this a draw for some people? Maybe. Like last year’s gold MacBook, pink is a differentiator; it screams, "I’ve got the new MacBook!" when you walk into a meeting or coffee shop.

If the future of computing really is one where devices fade into the background and services stand front and center, then this kind of machine helps make a case for that (much more so, in my opinion, than the iPad Pro and its mobile OS). Devices are getting smaller, while also more ubiquitous; speech technology is gradually powering more of our computing interaction; and companies, including Apple, are emphasizing the importance of getting people hooked into their services, not just buying their hardware. For Apple, hardware is still very, very important. But this MacBook is so wonderfully easy to carry around, so nonexistent, that it feels more like another satellite device rather than a command center for all of your personal computing.

Like other Apple laptops, the MacBook is carved out of solid aluminum. It weighs just over two pounds and is 13.1mm thick, thinner than the MacBook Air. It’s not the thinnest laptop on the market — the HP Spectre 13.3 gets that prize — but it’s Apple’s thinnest laptop. It also has a rich-looking, 12-inch Retina display (2304 x 1440 resolution), which the MacBook Air does not have. The display has a 16 x 10 aspect ratio.