The 2017 version of the MacBook is a minor update compared to the 2016 model. The processor and SSD have become faster, while the keyboard has received a little more travel. Battery life and image quality are, as with previous MacBooks, very good. Only the contrast and brightness are not impressive. It is the thinnest and lightest MacBook you can buy, but the small size of the laptop also brings disadvantages. The keyboard has hardly any travel and there is only room for one USB-C connection.
- Excellent battery life
- Excellent screen
- Compact and light
- Bad keyboard
- Casing springs along
Apple announced a number of hardware upgrades for its MacBooks at its annual developer meeting, wwdc. The MacBook Air gained a few hundred megahertz but unfortunately remains stuck on a Broadwell processor. The MacBook Pros, which until now had a Skylake processor, will be equipped with Intel’s latest Kaby Lake processors, just like the thinnest MacBook, the 12-inch model.
In addition to a new processor, the latter model also received a new keyboard, and in this short review we not only look at that keyboard, but also at the influence that the new processor has on speed and battery life.
Exterior, keyboard and touchpad
We can be brief about the exterior of the laptop; except for one point, nothing has changed. The casing is still made of metal and weighs only 914 grams on our scales. The casing is not only light, but also very thin. So thin that a USB-C connection on the left and a mini-jack connection on the right just fit on the laptop. Two generations after the first 12″ MacBook, USB-C is already more common, but not yet as ubiquitous as we had hoped. A hub with USB-A and HDMI on it is therefore no superfluous luxury. If you buy one from Apple, then you have lost 79 euros, but cheaper alternatives are now widely available.
The MacBook’s keyboard has received a lot of criticism in previous reviews from us, mainly due to the key travel. Because the laptop is so thin, the keyboard also had to be made thinner, which is why Apple opted for switches with virtually no travel. The 2017 model is equipped with the updated, second generation of those switches, which can also be found in the MacBook Pro and, above all, have more travel. That sounds good, but the improvement is small. The keys are provided with a small dimple, so that your fingers are automatically guided to the center of the key, but they are then still barely possible to press. Although there are people who swear by the MacBook keyboard, we still can’t get used to it.
The touchpad, on the other hand, works great. The surface takes up almost all of the vertical space under the keyboard and is made of glass. Multi-touch movements are followed without any problems and of course the touchpad is equipped with the Force Touch functionality, which allows you to assign more functions to the touchpad with a ‘deep’ click. During ‘force touching’ and typing, the casing can flex somewhat, which we did not expect from the otherwise sturdy, metal casing.
The best way to see the effect of the new processor is to run it through some benchmarks. Under macOS we run Cinebench, Lightroom and Photoshop, and under Windows we run 3DMark and PCMark.
The speed increase in Cinebench is clearly visible. This is not only because Kaby Lake is clocked higher than Skylake, but also because Apple no longer provides the MacBook with the slowest m3 processor. The entry-level 2016-generation model featured a Core m3-6Y30. However, the m3-7Y30 was not chosen for the 2017 model, but the 7Y32. The latter processor has a turbo frequency of 3GHz, instead of the 2.2GHz of the 6Y30 or the 2.6GHz of the 7Y30. In short, the CPU is clocked much higher and you notice that in the benchmark results, but also in Lightroom, for example, in which the same export takes only 105 seconds instead of more than two minutes.
The SSD has also become faster and we bench that speed under Windows. Although we moved to PCMark’s storage benchmark, we also ran AS-SSD because it gives us more benchmarks to compare with older MacBooks. On paper, the speed increase looks impressive, with sequential write speeds up to 80 percent faster. In practice, however, you hardly notice it. The laptop feels fast and software starts quickly. The speed difference with the previous generation is not very noticeable, but of course a nice bonus.
The screen has a screen size of 12″ and an aspect ratio of 16:10, which gives a little more vertical space than most other laptops that have a 16:9 ratio. The screen is laminated, but has a glossy finish, which makes you are more likely to be bothered by reflections than with a matte screen.
Since the 2016 version, the MacBook Pro, the bigger brother, has received a better screen. That improved screen has a higher maximum brightness and also a wider color gamut. As far as we’re concerned, Apple could have put such a screen in the regular 12″ MacBook, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Instead, we have to make do with the same panel as in previous generations, and there’s not much wrong with that .The contrast and brightness are comparable to the previous generation and compared to other laptops in that price range it works well, but the values are not impressive.The calibration is, in both tests the screen achieves a ΔE- value less than 3, which means that you would not be able to see the deviation from the srgb standard with the naked eye.
Finally, we naturally look at the battery life. The Kaby Lake processor should not be more economical than its Skylake predecessor and the battery has not become larger. Nevertheless, we note a longer battery life for the 2017 model, both when browsing and watching video.
Apple often releases new “revisions” with hardware updates when a new model is introduced to keep up with the times. The 2017 version of the MacBook is such a small update and the result is accordingly. The processor is up to twenty percent faster in benchmarks, the SSD scores higher in our synthetic benchmark and the keyboard has also been improved. With that you have had all the changes.
USB-C is still somewhat impractical and the keyboard taps unpleasantly, but: there is no thinner and lighter MacBook. If you can live with the drawbacks and are looking for a thin and light MacBook, the 12″ model is the solution. The price is high at 1400 euros, but unchanged from the previous model and in that sense it offers 2017 model a ‘free’ upgrade over last year’s model.