Apple MacBook 2016 Review: The Good, The Bad, The Expensive

by Reads (26,198)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 7
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 5
      • Usability
      • 6
      • Design
      • 10
      • Performance
      • 8
      • Features
      • 8
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 5
      • Total Score:
      • 7.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Great hardware
    • Excellent display
    • Best touchpad on the market
  • Cons

    • Overpriced for its performance
    • Single USB Type-C port frustrating, accessories expensive
    • Display not a touchscreen
    • Shallow key travel makes for uncomfortable typing

Quick Take

With its market-leading hardware and the best touchpad on the market, the 2016 MacBook should be an appealing product. It's unfortunately hindered by a high price that makes the compromises of mobile tech, like its single USB Type-C port, hard to accept.

Apple stuff is expensive. Spec for spec, Apple devices typically cost more than their Windows and Android counterparts. The tradeoff is that Apple stuff is typically well-designed and well-engineered. It’s built to last.

We can state emphatically that the Apple MacBook 2016 is expensive, well-designed, and well-engineered. And despite testing it for only a few weeks, there’s little question it will serve users longer than a cheaper alternative.

But what about that high price, coupled with the compromises inherent in an ultra-thin device? Read this Apple MacBook 2016 review to learn if that combo undermines what would otherwise be an appealing product.

Build & Design

The 2016 Apple MacBook has an excellent build.

The 2016 Apple MacBook has an excellent build.

We’ve run out of ways to describe Intel Core m-powered systems. We’ve called them impossibly light and absurdly thin going back to 2014, and they keep impressing us with not only their svelte builds, but also their construction quality.

The new MacBook is among the best we’ve tested in this regard. Apple’s engineers know how to make a device, and the 2016 MacBook rivals the Microsoft Surface Pro as the best hardware on the market.

From the chassis to the lid, keyboard, touchpad, display, and hinges, it all comes together seamlessly to create an eye-catching notebook. It feels great too, consistent and solid, with no salient weak points. It’s cool to the touch, thanks to its aluminum that completely resists fingerprints, smudges, and minor scuffs; and it measures 11.04 x 7.74 x .14-.52 inches (W x D x H) while weighing 2.03 pounds.

The Apple MacBook 2016 is also one of the few laptops we’ve been able to easily open and close with one hand. It’s a small detail that only slightly aids usability, but that’s the kind of thing that distinguishes Apple products. It’s also very lap-friendly. Even with the lid opened at the max (about 110 degrees), the 2016 MacBook retains its balance with no threat of tipping over.

The 2016 Apple MacBook lid can be opened with one hand.

The 2016 Apple MacBook lid can be opened with one hand.

Ports & Inputs

The 2016 Apple MacBook has just two inputs: a USB Type-C port on the left rear corner, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right rear corner. Unfortunately, the USB Type-C port doesn’t support Thunderbolt, and the headphone jack does not support audio input from microphones or recording devices. There’s also no media card slot on the 2016 Apple MacBook.

The 2016 Apple MacBook has a single USB Type-C input.

The 2016 Apple MacBook has a single USB Type-C input.

We are in the midst of a transition from the old USB standard and its micro alternative to the fast, small, and reversible USB Type-C. During this transition, USB Type-C hubs and adapters to connect old USB accessories are prohibitively expensive, as are the same for external displays and Ethernet connectivity. Apple charges $79 for its USB-C VGA Multiport Adapter, which includes a USB Type-C input, full-sized USB, and VGA port. USB-C to Ethernet adapter costs $35.

Apple MacBook 3.5mm audio input

Apple MacBook 3.5mm audio input

That’s outrageous. And while there are less expensive non-Apple adapters for sale on Amazon, there’s never a guarantee they’ll work as intended with the MacBook. For example, we tested out a $60 Dell USB Type-C with Ethernet, full-sized USB, VGA, and HDMI with the 2016 MacBook, and could not extend the display over VGA (everything else worked fine).

The fact that 2016 Apple MacBook ships with an end-to-end USB Type-C cable and USB Type-C supported power adapter compounds the issue. Had Apple gone with its traditional full-sized USB power adapter and a USB Type-C-to-USB cable, a female-to-female USB adapter (less than $10) and an inexpensive USB hub would likely do the trick. Alas, there’s no way to get around buying expensive adapters.

Granted, the MacBook is intended as a secondary or travel device. And most users, especially those well versed in the compromises of portable tech, will get by with just the MacBook and the cloud. In fact, it’s surprising how much one can accomplish strictly online. However, there will be instances when Wi-Fi is weak or unavailable, and Ethernet is the only option. And how does one load digital camera images from an SD card into the MacBook without an adapter?  

Display, Speakers, & Camera

The Apple MacBook 2016 has a 12-inch IPS display with a 2304 x 1440 resolution, which results in a cinematic 16:10 aspect ratio and 226 pixels per inch. Just about all displays are phenomenal at the market’s high end, and the MacBook belongs alongside the Surface Pro, Galaxy TabPro S, and VAIO models.

The MacBook speaker is powerful.

The MacBook speaker is powerful.

The colors tend toward the warmer end of the spectrum, and the display has wide viewing angles with an impressive contrast and sharp details. The 2016 MacBook also does an excellent job shrugging off glare thanks to its resistant panel rather than excessive brightness.

As with all other MacBooks, the 2016 Apple MacBook does not have a touchscreen. Even though Mac OSX El Capitan is not as touch-friendly as Windows 10, this is still a liability. Touch is fundamental to device navigation these days, and Apple’s reluctance to embrace it for MacBooks is confounding.

Also confounding is the MacBook’s 720 x 480 front-facing FaceTime camera. That’s an insultingly low resolution for a premium device. Even the iRULU WalknBook, which costs about $160 as of this writing has a higher-resolution shooter.

Yes, megapixels are the only element that matters when it comes to digital imaging, and yes, the MacBook’s front-facing camera is near exclusively meant for video chat, but all the Apple magic in Cupertino won’t stop users from looking poor and pixelated on the other end of video calls. And that’s unacceptable on a device that starts a dollar short of $1,300.

We typically dismiss thing notebook and tablet speakers as ranging from bad to worse, but the 2016 Apple MacBook speakers are surprisingly powerful. They are great for personal use, and pump out enough sound to fill a large room when maxed. They sound shrill at the high end, and the Surface Pro 4 has more robust output. Still, we can’t help but be impressed with their oomph.

Keyboard & Touchpad

The MacBook's keys are spacious, but lack adequate travel.

The MacBook’s keys are spacious, but lack adequate travel.

The 78-key backlit keyboard is comfortably large, extending end to end across the MacBook. The island-style keys are a good size for comfortable typing (about .7 x .7 inches), and Apple’s unique butterfly mechanism underneath provides a sturdy key with good snap.

These elements combine to make the keyboard as good as it can be, considering the MacBook’s slender design only allows for about half a millimeter of key travel. That’s just not enough. Devices with twice the key travel distance, like the VAIO Z flip model and Galaxy TabPro S are uncomfortable still, hitting the digits as each keystroke bottoms out. In fact, the new Surface Pro Type Cover is arguably the best in the high-end of the mobile laptop market, with keys that travel about 1.3mm.

The touchpad measures about 4.45 x 2.75 inches, and it remains the best. It’s fluid and responsive, and the prefered way for navigating OS X. Apple MacBooks are the only laptops we’d prefer use the touchpad in lieu of a mouse, and the touchpad’s performance goes a long way to forgetting about the non-touch display.

The touchpad also has Apple’s Force Touch, which adds an extra click level with increased pressure. Similar to its iPhone counterpart, it’s a fine addition to Apple’s operating system, bringing up shortcuts, previews, and enabling quick access to common tasks. It’s still very limited with non-Apple software, but users that embrace it will be happy they did.


We’ve had good things to say about the sixth-gen Intel Core m series of processors, as they do a fine job balancing processing power with mobility. They are very efficient and don’t require a fan, so Core m is the go-to processor for thin-and-light devices.

Our 2016 Apple MacBook came with a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.2GHz) with 4MB L3 cache and 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3 RAM. Apple also offers a configuration with a Core m5 processor (1.2GHz dual-core, Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz).

As we’ve stated in previous reviews, Core m devices prove stable in day-to-day use, and there is an almost unperceivable difference between any of the sixth-gen Core processors up to a certain point. They all power up devices and run basic programs, including Chrome with a handful of tabs open, just fine out of the gate.

Anything beyond that reveals Core m limitations, especially AAA title gaming, and more relevant to Mac users, 4K video editing and image editing. The Core m can handle a relatively demanding workload, but not without sputtering.

The 2016 Apple MacBook scored 5026 on the Geekbench 3 multi-core test. Here’s how that stacks up against like devices.

geekbench 3

Our MacBook shipped with 251GB of flash storage, of which about 228 is available out of the box, with Apple’s preloaded apps taking up about 8GB. There’s not much in terms of bloatware, as the apps generally prove useful.

Our Apple MacBook 2016 review unit has the following specifications:

  • 12-inch IPS display (2304 x1440 resolution),226 pixels per inch and 16:10 aspect ratio
  • OS X El Capitan
  • 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core m3 processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.2GHz) with 4MB L3 cache
  • Intel HD 515 integrated graphics
  • 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3 onboard memory
  • 256GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual-band Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 480p FaceTime camera
  • Built-in 41.4-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
  • Dimensions: 11.04 x 7.74 x .14-.52 inches (wdh)
  • Weight: 2.03 pounds
  • 1-year standard parts and labor warranty, 90-day free telephone support
  • Ships with USB Type-C AC adapter
  • Available in Rose Gold, Space Gray, Gold, and Silver

Price as configured: $1,299


The Apple MacBook has a built-in 41.4-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery, which serves it well as a mobile device. Streaming Netflix over Wi-Fi in Chrome with the screen brightness set a max, the Apple MacBook lasted 5 hours and 40 minutes. This near the bare minimum users can expect from the notebook on a single charge.

Compared against similar Windows 10 devices, the MacBook outperforms the Core m-powered Surface Pro 4, but not the Galaxy TabPro S. This is likely due to the TabPro S’ power-sipping AMOLED display.


The 2016 Apple MacBook also charges relatively quickly for a notebook, hitting about 33% battery capacity after 30 minutes of juice.


$1,299 is an awful lot for a Core m-powered notebook. Apple also offers a more powerful MacBook with an Intel Core m5 processor (1.2GHz dual-core, Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz) with 512GB PCIe-based onboard flash storage for $1,599

A Surface Pro 4 with a Core m3 processor and 4GB of RAM costs $899 as of this writing, and ships with an excellent Surface Pen. A similarly-excellent Surface Type Cover brings that total to $1,030, or $1,060 for a Type Cover with Fingerprint ID reader. A $900 Samsung Galaxy TabPro S has similar specs as the Pro 4, and ships with a keyboard folio.

Sticking with Apple, a 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard runs $970, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard costs $750.

With the MacBook, you’re paying for a device that will last thanks to its excellent build quality and consistent performance. You’re also paying for the Apple logo. It’s a lionized brand that commands a higher price all other things being equal.   


MacBook LidThe Apple MacBook 2016 is an excellent piece of hardware with all the compromises and frustrations common with mobile tech. The single USB Type-C port is the hardest to swallow, especially given that USB Type-C accessories are prohibitively expensive.

In a few years, USB Type-C accessories will be cheaper and this will be a moot point. But during this transition, we’re annoyed that a $1,299 laptop doesn’t ship with any extras to take the edge off.  We can look past the other drawbacks — the lousy camera, shallow keyboard, and non-touch display — but the single port hinders productivity.

The 2016 Apple MacBook ultimately serves best as a secondary or travel device for Apple users that want a more robust operating system than iOS, and need the added storage and accessory support. It’s a spec bump from the 2015 MacBook that doesn’t offer enough to justify an upgrade. Apple loyalists willing to ignore the price tag or sporting an aging MacBook or MacBook Air will be pleased with its overall performance and hardware quality. But that’s a narrow band of users, and we suspect that most potential MacBook buyers could do just as well with a less expensive iPad Pro.

Windows users might want to give Force Touch a try and gawk at the MacBook’s build. But this MacBook doesn’t offer enough to justify the switch from Windows and/or any premium devices that run it.


  • Great hardware
  • Excellent display
  • Best touchpad on the market


  • Overpriced for its performance
  • Single USB Type-C port frustrating, accessories expensive
  • Display not a touchscreen
  • Shallow key travel makes for uncomfortable typing



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  1. xitongzou

    Yeah.. only Apple fanboys will get this. There’s way better alternatives, the Surface Pro, SurfaceBook are all in the same price range. HP released the Spectre which is similar to Macbook except has a Core i5 ULV processor and way more ports while being just as thin. Its a way better deal.

  2. hazeblaze777

    I’m not really sure the MacBook had qualified as market-leading hardware for the last two years or so. In fact, in everything but battery life, the Surface Pro is a much better laptop. Samsung and HP have both had preferable hardware in that timespan as well.

    I’m probably in the minority, but Apple products as a whole have been on the decline in the last year or two to me.

  3. johnatrott

    The several downsides, as admirably highlighted in this well written review, are not only a deal breaker for me, but insulting to Apple purchasers in general.