Why the 12-inch MacBook is Apple's Most Stylish Computer

Vintage, but still sharp

Key Takeaways

  • The 12-inch MacBook was recently termed a vintage device by Apple, which means you might have trouble getting service.
  • While it's not the most practical laptop, the 12-inch MacBook might be the best-looking computer Apple has ever made.
  • The sharp screen and poor keyboard of the MacBook makes it better suited as a consumption device rather than for creativity.
Lifewire.com on a 12-inch MacBook

Sascha Brodsky / Lifewire

Pulling my 12-inch MacBook from my backpack makes me feel like a samurai drawing a katana from its sheath.

The 6-year-old MacBook was recently labeled "vintage" by Apple, but its distinctive, sharp design still trumps the latest trend towards square shapes. As an older product, the 12-inch MacBook may no longer be repairable, subject to parts availability. But while this laptop has its flaws, it’s still a fantastic machine.

Micro Mac

Apple officially discontinued the 12-inch MacBook in 2019, and some users celebrated its demise. Haters hated it for its shallow keyboard and sluggish processor.

Some users even moan that the 12-inch MacBook isn’t an actual laptop due to its shortcomings. But the model still reigns supreme as one of the most portable ways to use the Mac operating system. It was the thinnest Mac Apple had made at about half an inch, and the lightest MacBook at 2.04 pounds.

Those slight specs came at a price, however. I was among the users who initially had doubts after I bought the MacBook in 2015. The keyboard is miserable, and until I got used to it, I was sprouting typos.

12-inch MacBook laptop resting on a bed

Sascha Brodsky / Lifewire

A few months of use and the MacBook grew on me. Think of the 12-inch MacBook not as a laptop, but as an iPad on steroids, and you’ll understand its appeal. It was the only Mac with a fanless design, which made an enormous difference in practice. This made it totally silent, and combined with its ability to wake nearly instantaneously from sleep, made using the MacBook feel more like a tablet.

The MacBook wasn’t competing with other laptops so much as it was going head-to-head with netbooks, a category dominated by Windows machines that were woefully underpowered and often made out of ugly plastic. By contrast, the MacBook offers a vibrant screen and Apple’s signature aluminum body. It has a high-resolution Retina screen that was much sharper than the one offered on the MacBook Air at the time.

Small Has Its Drawbacks

As crisp and bright as the screen on the MacBook is, though, I find it’s too small to get serious work done. My aging eyes even do better on the 12.9 inch iPad Pro with an attached Apple Magic Keyboard.

The snail-like processor on the MacBook isn’t getting any faster, either, since it was released. Its Core M system takes its sweet time loading apps.

"Think of the 12-inch MacBook not as a laptop, but as an iPad on steroids, and you’ll understand its appeal."

Other parts of the MacBook have aged surprisingly well. It’s got a USB-C port, matching the ones on my current MacBook Pro 16-inch and iMac 24-inch. And even after all these years, the battery life is still acceptable, usually getting around six hours of light web browsing and word processing. 

The click-free pad, which Apple calls the Force Touch trackpad, is far better than most competing designs on Windows machines. There’s not much good to say about the keyboard, however, except that it works.

In some ways, the shallow design of the keyboard highlights the fact that the MacBook is more of a consumption device rather than a creation machine just as iPads are meant to be. The 12-incher is the perfect coffee shop companion. It takes up hardly any space on a shared table and works well to catch up on the news or tap out a few emails.

Like an iPad, the 12-inch MacBook works best as a companion to another computer. Or even, if you are lucky enough to have the cash to spare, as a third computer. A desktop such as an iMac is best for heavy-duty work, a MacBook Pro or Air for on the go, and a 12-inch MacBook for those times when you need to get stuff done, but not too much.

These days, Apple seems to be trying to turn its iPads into laptops with the ultrafast M1 chip and the ridiculously expensive, but incredibly useful, Magic Keyboard. But the 12-inch MacBook makes a compelling case for the tiny laptop. Just don’t try writing a novel on this thing.

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