MacBook 2015 Review: Can this thing code?

I have recently found myself in need of a personal laptop upgrade.  Work has provided me first a 15" retina and now a 13" retina, so I've had experience with some of Apple's trimmest hi-res screened machines.  While the 15" was a powerhouse (maxed to the gills) I have been rather taken with the smaller size of the 13".  Turns out that I don't max out any of my machines all that often (until I enter Google Hangouts...).

But, this would be a second machine I'd be traveling with.  I'm willing to sacrifice some (or a lot) of power for sheer portability.  

My use-case here might be different than yours.  I travel at least one week a month and I must bring along my 13" retina.  I will often pair that with an iPad Air for media consumption, but I like to work on small personal side projects (like experimenting with apps and new tools) and it's typically considered taboo to mix your work machine with these small side projects.

There really is no Mac that is more portable than the MacBook but it's not really a powerhouse, so I had questions about whether it would handle my typical coding load.  On the other hand, while the same money gets me way more machine, the thought of carrying around two 13" retinas, as light as they are, while I'm running from one gate to the next in an airport is not appealing.

So imagine my delight when I walk into my local Apple Store and find out that they have an extended holiday return window.  From now until January 8 you can return any mint-condition item you purchase.

The choice seemed pretty clear: get a MacBook, try it out and if it performed poorly while I was coding return it for a 13" retina.  I walked out with the top tier model:  8GB RAM; 1.2GHz/2.6GHz boost Intel Core M processor; 512GB SSD. 

I've been doing some light coding on the MacBook over the past few days.  Much to my delight, it has performed adequately.  Having multiple instances of XCode open is no problem whatsoever.  Simulators spin up, albeit a bit sluggishly, and don't seem to lag.  I can have many multiple tabs open in Chrome, though I've seen the occasional stutter when pulling up heavy pages.

All in all, the slowdown is not sufficient to make me rethink my purchase.

But that is not the whole story, not by a long shot.

The sheer portability of this thing is astounding!  It actually feels more portable than an iPad, and more useful.  Its thinness when closed is almost awe-inspiring.  There is something crazy about how easy this thing is to just carry from room to room.  It weighs nothing and feels even thinner.  I have coded in more places in my house with this machine in three days than I have with any other machine in three years.

It almost inspires you to move.

Of course, this is not the whole story.  There are open questions and there are definitely compromises.

First off, there is the weirdness of the single USB-C port.  You basically have to have an adapter, and the adapters are expensive, at least for the moment.  The Apple adapter which gives you a USB-C, USB and an HDMI port is $79.99.

This, however, is not as big as it seems.  The great thing about this machine is that you can move around.  If you're going to do that, you're not going to take your monitor with you.  That doesn't answer the question of things like attaching iOS devices to it, but those adapters are more common and much cheaper.

Then there is the keyboard.  It's...  different.  It's extremely shallow but very tactile.  The arrow key configuration is driving me crazy.  I have to look at them to use them.  I'm sure that will change with time, but this is a very different typing experience, so be prepared.

And finally, an open question:  How will this machine handle a full stack?  It runs XCode and the accompanying simulators just fine, but what if you have to add a Node backend to that?  I'm sure the old Flurry stack would take 5+ minutes to load itself on here.

So, in the end, I'm likely going to keep this machine.  Of course, it is a first rev, so if you can hold off, I bet that next year's model will be much improved.  But the real game-changer here is how thin, light and portable this machine is.  Every machine should be this way.