The arrival of Apple’s 12-inch MacBook earlier last year marked the beginning of the end for its MacBook Air lineup. At least, that’s what people said at the time.The new MacBook is more portable, lighter, has a gorgeous high-resolution display and can go for almost as long as the Air on a single charge. Who would pick a machine stuck in the past over a laptop from the future?
MacBook Air Full Specification, Features, Price, Release Date And Review
As it turns out, the future’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The new MacBook’s inconvenient USB Type-C port, controversial keyboard and moderately powerful Intel Core M chip have proved a compromise too many for some people.
Now that Apple has refreshed its 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air models with Intel’s fifth-generation Broadwell processors, Intel HD Graphics 6000 and Thunderbolt 2, they’re suddenly looking much more appealing, even if it’s business as usual on the outside.
The most recent MacBook Air is two years old at this point, and while Apple hasn’t changed much with its most affordable laptop offering, you can currently snag one for yourself at Best Buy for a mere $799 in the US. That’s $200 under MSRP, so you may want to act now if you want to score a MacBook Air on the cheap.
In other news, the next round of MacBooks may revive the long sought-after MagSafe adapters famously used by the MacBook Air. If a patent filed by Apple itself is to be believed, the company is toying with the idea of a “magnetic adapter,” which could easily translate to USB-C charging cables.
Lastly, if you were considering buying a laptop from anyone other than Apple, you may want to think again – at least if you want the battery life promises to hold true in real-world applications. That’s because, as consumer watchdog Which has discovered, MacBooks are the only laptops that live up to manufacturer battery life claims, according to their own internal testing.
Speaking of which, the MacBook Air’s design has now remained unchanged for five long years. If Apple didn’t feel the need to tinker with it before, there’s even less chance that it’ll change any time soon now that the 12-inch MacBook is out there. Which is a shame, because the Air’s classic design could really benefit from slimmer bezels and an overall reduction in footprint.
Still, the old “if it ain’t broke” mantra applies – up to a point. The MacBook Air’s aluminium unibody design, which supports the main enclosure and the display, is as durable as ever. Its lid can be easily raised with a single hand and doesn’t droop in any position, and you have to press really hard to detect flex on the machine’s base or lid.
The 13-inch MacBook Air is more interesting than the 11-inch model due to housing flash storage twice as fast as its predecessor – or so Apple claims. It’s available in two configurations starting at £849 ($999, AUS$1,399) for a 1.6GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz) Core i5 CPU, 128GB of flash memory and 4GB of RAM.
We reviewed the top-spec model, which starts at £999 ($1,199/AUS$1,699) and gets you a 1.6GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz) CPU, 4GB of RAM and 256GB of flash memory. Our unit had been further configured to ship with 8GB of RAM, adding a further £80 (around $124, or AUS$170) to the total cost.
- CPU: 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz) with 3MB shared L3 cache
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000
- RAM: 8GB 1600MHz DDR3
- Screen: 13.3-inch, LED-backlit glossy widescreen display (1440 x 900)
- Storage: 256GB PCIe-based flash storage (configurable to 512GB flash storage)
- Optical Drive: Not included
- Ports: Two USB 3.0 ports (up to 5Gbps); Thunderbolt 2 port (up to 20Gbps); MagSafe 2 power port; SDXC card slot
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology
- Camera: 720p FaceTime HD camera
- Weight: 1.35kg (2.96 pounds)
- Size: 32.5 x 22.7 x 1.7 cm (W x D x H)
One advantage of the MacBook Air versus the 12-inch MacBook is its wider selection of ports. On the left-hand side is a MagSafe 2 connection for power, one USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack. On the right is a Thunderbolt 2 port, another USB 3.0 port and a full-sized SDcard slot. The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro doubles the number of Thunderbolt ports compared to the Air, and adds HDMI.
OS X 10.10 Yosemite is the version currently shipping with Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air. Introducing a new colourful visual style, Yosemite marks a welcome change from the cold, grey tones of Mavericks, though some have decried it as unprofessional-looking compared to its predecessor.
Manufactured on the 14nm fabrication process, the 13-inch MacBook Air’s Broadwell CPU is a die shrink of Intel’s 22nm Haswell chip. It means better battery life versus last year’s MacBook Air models, although the gains aren’t on the same scale as the switch from Ivy Bridge to Haswell. Still, battery life was staggering, clocking up more than 13 hours when looping a 1080p video over Wi-Fi.
- Cinebench R15 Single Core: 103cb cb; Multi Core: 255 cb
- Cinebench R15 OpenGL: 24.91fps
- Geek bench 3 Single Core: 2,873; Multi Core: 5,768
- Xbench (CPU and disk): 469.55
- NovaBench (Overall): 634; Graphics: 42
- Unigine Heaven 4.0 (Medium); FPS: 14.4; Overall: 438
- Blackmagic Disk Speed test: Write average: 612.4 Mbps; Read average: 1302.4 Mbps
- Battery, streaming 1080p video via Wi-Fi: 13 hours and 24 minutes
Broadwell brings performance gains too, even if they’re nothing to shout about. The MacBook Air scored 5,768 on Geekbench 3’s Multi Core CPU test, representing a 9% gain over the 13-inch Air from 2014. However, it proved 20% slower than the 2.7GHz Core i5 chip in the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, which is to be expected considering that machine’s faster clock speed.
Apple’s claim that the 2015 Air’s storage is twice as fast as the 2014 version stands up. The MacBook averaged write speeds of 612.4 Mbps, and average read speeds of 1,243 Mbps, which gives the MacBook Air MacBook Pro-level storage speeds for the first time.
The MacBook Pro with Retina’s Iris Graphics 6100 proved 38% faster than the MacBook Air’s HD Graphics 6000 in Unigine Heaven 4.0’s benchmark. That said, Intel’s decision to allocate die space to graphics on the CPU has been paying off for some time, and the MacBook Air is capable of playing a wide selection of games on low-medium settings with the resolution dialled down – especially when installed on a Windows partition using Boot Camp.
If the MacBook Air’s consistency of design can grow stale over time, this reviewer is happy for the keyboard to remain unchanged. Its slightly convex keys are the best I’ve used yet on a computer, and that includes the new MacBook, Lenovo’s ThinkPad notebooks and Logitech’s well-regarded Mac keyboards. Even the MacBook Pro with Retina’s keys, which are hardly uncomfortable, feel stiff in comparison. The keyboard is also backlit and easy to clean.
Apple’s decision to put a 480p camera in the 12-inch MacBook was a poor one, and thankfully it hasn’t followed suited with the MacBook Air. At 720p it’s up to the task of Skype and Google Hangout sessions, producing sufficiently clear and defined images.