Small Mac Notebooks, January 2018 Edition

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

Use Cases

This evaluation is for a machine that is excellent at the following tasks:

  • Photo editing with Photos
  • Playing HD movies
  • Using Word processors like Pages and Word

The following tasks are not a priority:

  • Playing high-powered 3D games
  • Video editing


  • Must run MacOS[1]
  • Must be relatively quiet (fan noise only in extreme usage scenarios)
  • Long battery life (6+ hours)
  • Lightweight/portable/easy to store in most bags
  • Sturdy (doesn’t feel plastic-y or cheap)
  • High-quality touchpad and keyboard
  • High-resolution screen (i.e. “retina”)
  • At least a solid I5 Kaby chip
  • At least 8GB of RAM


Since portability is a requirement, we’re going to take a look at two smaller models, leaving out the 15" MacBook Pro, which is more of a high-end, developer-style machine.

12-inch MacBook Pro


  • Runs MacOS
  • No fan, so it’s dead silent
  • 10-hour battery life
  • Under 1kg and smaller than a sheet of Letter-size paper
  • 12" Retina display with native 2304-by-1440 resolution
  • Full-size keyboard and large touchpad with Force Touch
  • 1.3GHz i5 (turbo to 3.2GHz) or 1.4GHz i7 (turbo to 3.6GHz) (both Kaby)
  • Available in Space Gray, Gold, Rose Gold and Silver


  • Lo-res Webcam (480p)
  • Only has one port USB-C port for everything—including charging. You have to dongle everything off of that.
  • USB-C port doesn’t double as a Thunderbolt 3 port
  • At 12", screen space is limited; you can increase resolution, but sacrifice readability. Only 81% of 13.3" MacBook Pro.
  • Graphics card is weaker than MacBook Pro, but probably more than enough for a non-gamer

Macbook Pro


  • Runs MacOS
  • Experience shows the fan comes on rarely, even under medium load
  • 10-hour battery life
  • Under 1.5kg and just a bit larger than a sheet of Letter-size paper
  • 13.3" Retina display with native 2560-by-1600 resolution
  • Full-size keyboard and giant touchpad with Force Touch
  • 2.3GHz i5 (turbo to 3.6GHz) or 2.5GHz i7 (turbo to 4.0GHz) (both Kaby)
  • Available in Space Gray and Silver
  • Hi-res Webcam (720p)
  • USB-C ports are also Thunderbolt ports
  • Has an HDMI out that can drive a 5k display
  • Speakers are pretty good for a laptop


  • Lo-res Webcam (480p)
  • Has two port Thunderbolt/USB-C ports for everything—including charging. You have to dongle everything off of that.

General Comments

  • The standard SSD size of 128GB is a joke if you have any movies, photos or songs. Anyone who’s been accumulating data for a while is going to need at least 256GB, if not 512GB. Apple’s default size is set with a cloud user in mind. Most home users will not need that much space, but 512GB is a good sweet spot for me (I have 82GB of pictures and 112GB of music).
  • Not a heckuva lot of ports. The MacBook only has one. That said, you can get an adaptor or two for when you’re hooked up at home. They each cost about $50.– to $70.–, though.
  • The screen size is small for developers, but just fine for everyone else, I think. MacOS accommodates full-screen apps really well, letting you quickly navigate between windows and desktops.
  • The TouchBar looks interesting and having a fingerprint sensor would be nice, but I just don’t see this feature being used that much. I’ve seen it in stores and it seemed kind of interesting, so it’s up to the user.


You’re going to have to know for yourself, but here are the specs I would recommend for each model:

12" MacBook

  • 1.4GHz Processor
  • 512GB Storage
  • 8GB RAM
  • Multiport adaptor for USB devices/charging

13.3" MacBook Pro

  • 2.3GHz Processor
  • 512GB Storage
  • 8GB RAM
  • Multiport adaptor for USB devices/charging


The following reviews were helpful:

[1] There are certain killer features like Time Machine, integration with iPhone, the Photos application, restore-windows-on-restart that are a must for the user in mind.