A Digital / Graphic Designer’s Review of the 12″ MacBook

About six weeks ago, I put in an order for a customized 12” MacBook to replace my aging 2012 MacBook Pro. I wanted to see if I could get away with using the 12” laptop on a daily basis.

As a graphic and digital designer (and front-end web developer), my needs aren’t insane. But I do spend a bit of time in and out of some power-hungry apps every day.

I use Photoshop to edit images, Illustrator for logo mockups and vector work, and InDesign for print design. I’m also going back and forth between Adobe XD and Sketch for digital design.

I spend most of day hanging out with files around 250mb in Sketch. These files have a couple dozen artboards in them, a ton of pages, and quite a few images. To manipulate the images, I’m usually running Photoshop in the background and exporting updated images as I go.

Most of the time, I’m also running a couple browsers, streaming music, and working in a couple text editors. But none of that requires too much power.

And for most people, I’d guess that this laptop has more than enough power — especially for anybody running Office, working on documents in the cloud, or browsing the web.

In other words, for many people — millions of people — the 12” MacBook is powerful enough.

And for the record, if I was willing, I could make it work too.

But let’s say you want to keep everything running in the background all the time. I do this every day. Photoshop is almost always going in the background, and it almost always uses up a ton of CPU without me realizing it.

These little MacBooks don’t have fans. So at some point, the laptop needs to cool down — because Photoshop is warming it up. And to cool down, it simply throttles the speeds of the laptop. So the mouse gets laggy and Sketch gets a lot harder to use.

Now, I could quit Photoshop, but all of this is a bad omen for use as a daily driver.

Let me repeat that: this isn’t the MacBook for you if you plan on using it as a daily driver. It won’t end well.

However, this MacBook shines as a laptop.

This is where Apple got it right. This is a gorgeous, paper-thin, tiny, featherweight of a laptop. It weights practically nothing in my bag and feels like carrying around an iPad, but it’s so much more capable. And if my primary machine was a desktop, I’d absolutely want to carry around this 12” laptop. Because it’s very capable.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that you could probably do just about anything on it for a few hours at a time.

But after a few hours, it starts to get noticeably slower (in my use case). Maybe I had a bum machine, but I didn’t feel like swapping it out for a new one.
Instead, I just ordered a new laptop. One of those 13” MacBook Pros with a Touch Bar. It’s not that I need all that power, but I do think I need a fan.

If you’re a designer, or a developer, and you’re wondering if you should get the 12” laptop, I do have some advice for you. Get the 12” MacBook only if you plan on using it primarily as a laptop away from your powerful desk machine. This can’t do both, and it can’t be a primary laptop. Not yet. Maybe in a year or two (in fact, I’d be surprised if it took longer than that), but not yet.

If you’re not a creative professional, or a demanding computer user (a video editor, computer scientist, audio engineer, or the like), you should honestly pick up a 12” MacBook. It’s got all the computer you need in a tiny, lovable little body. It’s quiet, thin, and sleek as heck. I fell in love with mine. I was sad to return it.

November 3, 2016Posted in Tools