Artist Review: Macbook 12-Inch for Graphic Design and Art? (2015 model)

This review is for artists and designers wondering if the Apple 12-inch Macbook is good enough for graphics work. The short answer is yes it's powerful enough but it has serious limitations. It's just not the right laptop to do the job. However, I was still interested enough to see how it actually fares so I borrowed a unit to test it out.

The unit that I have is the dual-core 1.1GHz, 8GB RAM, 128GB flash storage and Intel HD Graphics 5300.

Hardware



When I first hold it in hand, I'm really impressed by the size and weight. It's actually just slightly bigger than my old 9.7-inch iPad Air. It's also about the same thickness. It weighs just 920 grams.


It's actually smaller than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro that weighs 713 grams, and that's without the keyboard.

Here's a table comparing the Macbook and the Macbook Airs.

Macbook 12-inch MBA 11-inch MBA 13-inch
Weight 920g 1.08kg 1.35kg
Screen size 12-inch 11.6-inch 13.3-inch
Resolution 2304 by 1440 1366 by 768 1440 by 900
Processor Dual 1.2Ghz (max) Dual 1.6Ghz Dual 1.6Ghz
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 5300 Intel HD Graphics 6000 Intel HD Graphics 6000
Ports 1x USB-C 2x USB 3, Thunderbolt 2, MagSafe 2 power port 2x USB 3, Thunderbolt 2, MagSafe 2 power port, SD card slot
Battery life 9 hours 9 hours 12 hours
Price Check on Amazon Check on Amazon Check on Amazon

Macbook's screen is a LED-backlit IPS panel so colour reproduction and viewing angles are great. The only downside is its glossy screen, but that also makes the colours more vibrant. Personally, I prefer matte screens.


Speakers are just above the keyboard and they sound good.



The keyboard almost fills the whole of the bottom part and there's a large trackpad.

Unfortunately, the keyboard isn't comfortable to type on. Vertical space of the buttons is reduced. There's almost no feedback when pressing the buttons. It's almost light typing on a piece of paper. Go ahead, put a piece of paper on your table and pretend to type on it. It feels similar to that.

There's only one USB-C port


There's only one port on the Macbook and that's the USB-C port. Yup, nothing else. I personally find it quite limiting because having a normal USB port, that rectangular one, would have so much more useful.

This USB-C port also doubles as a charging port.

The people who won't be affected would be those who work in wireless mode all the time. When you want to transfer files, you either have to transfer it to the cloud, maybe to Dropbox or Google Drive first before you can sent it to someone else. If you want to transfer files from your Apple desktop, you can use the AirPlay function but I find that it does not work consistently and because of that it can be quite frustrating to even transfer a file to another computer.


If you need to use any USB devices, such as plugging in your iPhone or iPad, you'll have to buy a USB-C adapter. The Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter sells for more than USD $70 on Amazon. USB-C technology is new so the accessories are more expensive, and Apple's official accessories even more expensive.


The Multiport Adapter is quite useful though as it has a USB-C port, standard USB 3 port and a HDMI port. So you can still charge the Macbook with the adapter and use the USB port at the same time.

Cheaper multiport adapter are available on Amazon too, thankfully.

As for the HDMI port in the adapter, that's only good enough to run a 1080P resolution. If you plug the HDMI into a monitor with higher resolution than 1080P, such as a 27-inch monitor with 2560 by 1440 resolution, everything will appear pixelated. Even though the Macbook technically is powerful enough to power a 4K screen, the thing is you'll need a DisplayPort adapter and that means you'll have to spend extra money again.


While the trackpad on the Macbook is awesome, I still prefer using a Bluetooth mouse (Logitech M557) I find more productive to use.

Running graphics software

IMPORTANT: Before you get this Macbook, or any of the laptops from Apple that has Retina screen, check whether or not your software has been updated to take advantage of the higher resolution.

This Macbook runs a resolution 2304 by 1440 which is just slightly lower than my Dell U2711 with 2560 by 1440. The user interface on the Mac appears to extremely sharp and the screen's a pleasure to surf the web or watch a video with.


However, if you're running older graphics software, you might have a problem. Deal breaker: Graphics software like those from Adobe CS5 and CS6 are not optimized for the Retina screen. As such, their user interface will appear pixelated. Not only that, the files, your graphics will appear pixelated too. It's a common complaint you'll see on the Apple forums, and it's common because many artists and designers did not realize that old Adobe software will not be supported in this new Macbook. Yes you can still use the software, but you won't feel like using them because of the pixelation. It has been years since Apple released laptops with Retina screens and Adobe has not released any updates for their CS5 and CS6 software to take advantage of the higher resolution screen.


This is a 100% crop from Adobe Illustrator CS5. Unacceptable.

In short, if you plan on using Adobe software on this 12-inch Macbook, you'll need to use Adobe CC. If you're running older Adobe CS, you have to factor in the extra cost of upgrading. And guess what, this only affects Mac users because on the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, the Adobe CS interface looks sharp and fine.

Thankfully, there are other graphics software out there. When it comes to drawing and painting, I recommend Mischief and MediBang Paint Pro both of which are free and a pleasure to draw on.


Adobe Lightroom 5.7 supports Retina screen. However, photo editing on this Mac is really slow. I tried to export ten 12MP photos and it took me 40 seconds. Macbook Air would have been much faster and the Macbook Pro significantly faster.


Sketchup runs fine but there's lag with a complicated high poly-count scene with texture.

Conclusion

Even though the 12-inch Macbook has a Intel Core M dual 1.2Ghz processor, it still runs snappy and has no problems working 2D graphics files, digital painting and some basic 3D modeling with Sketchup. Personally, I feel that the 12-inch screen is a bit small for creating graphics.

This Macbook is not the right laptop for processor intensive tasks, such as rendering photos or videos. I did not even try exporting any videos. A 15-minute export of a 1080P video with my Mac Pro would have taken 1 hour on this laptop.

Who's this Macbook for?

It could be for people who write a lot but the keyboard sucks. It's fast enough to run graphics software but the screen is small and the USB-C port is so limiting. So my guess is, it's for those who want to surf the web or occasionally need to write, like posting comments on websites. LOL. Basically, it's for those who want to use the laptop like the iPad but want a bit more functionality because of the desktop software available.

The main selling point for this Macbook is the portability. It's light (920g) and thin. Other than that, I feel other laptops are better value for money. In fact, I would recommend, for the price you pay for the 12-inch Macbook, it's better to get the 13-inch Macbook Air, Surface Pro 3 or Surface Pro 4 with their Type Cover.

If you're really into Mac, the 13-inch Macbook Air is a much better deal. It is still light and compact relatively speaking compared to other laptops. The lower resolution of the Macbook Air (1440 by 900) is not a downside. And the USB 3 ports extremely useful.

So my overall recommendation is to avoid the 12-inch Macbook is you're an artist or graphic designer. There are better choices out there.

Here are the pros and cons at a glance:

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Sharp 2304 x 1440 resolution screen
  • IPS screen has good colours and viewing angles
  • Lightweight at 920g
  • Compact
  • Battery life at 8-9 hours

Cons

  • Keyboard sucks
  • Only one port and it's a USB-C port
  • Expensive adapter required to use other USB devices
  • A huge compromise between portability and functionality

Availability

Check out more reviews on Amazon:
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