Apple reinvented the notebook computer with the incredibly
slim Air. Available at 13in or ultra-portable 11in sizes, it’s still the most
desirable of all laptops and - with improved performance and battery life as
long as 12 hours - a superbly usable companion.
Total portability is the Air's primary selling point. It hasn’t
changed visibly since its introduction in 2010, but updates like USB 3 and
802.11ac are significant, and more recently it’s seen a leap from five to nine
hours’ battery life for the 11in, while the 13in claims a staggering 12 hours, beating
even the iPad. A 9% increase in battery capacity accounts for only a small part
of that: it’s Intel’s Haswell processor architecture that’s made all the difference.
We didn’t quite manage the full times quoted by Apple in our own battery tests,
but not far off.
Macbook Air 11in
Pros and cons
The 11in Air is really easy to slip into a bag and could change
the way you use a Mac, being a real go-anywhere, always-on, never-run-out-of-battery
companion. Do consider, though, whether the 169 screen might be too cramped. At
1366 x 768 there are enough pixels for almost any single task, and OS X makes
it feel natural to flip between apps in full-screen mode rather than arrange
them in multiple windows. But jobs like comparing two documents side by side
could be a struggle. The 1440 x 900 13in looks crisper than the 1280 X 800
MacBook Pro and is comfortable for text editing and creative apps.
You wouldn’t expect an ultra-slim, ultra-light machine with
ultra-long battery life to major on performance, but the Intel HD 5000 graphics
in all the Air models gives them a boost compared to say, the Mac mini. The
weak point is the 1.3GHz dual-core CPU, which is below the requirement for many
games, although older and less demanding titles will run fine. Expect to turn
down settings and resolution before big new titles have a chance of running.
Gaming may not be what you have in mind, but it's an indication that the Air
isn’t a good choice for serious creative work either. (The $197.94 1.7GHz
option will help a little.) As an everyday Mac, it’s brilliant. That’s partly
thanks to its flash storage, which is far quicker than a hard disk (we got a
median of 624.4MB/ sec reading 181.1MB/ sec writing on the 13in, 6012MB/ sec
and 290.6MB/sec respectively on the 11in) and makes general operation feel
At its front edge, the Air is just 3mm thick. It tapers to 1.1011
at its broadest. The 13in model measures 325 x 227cm and weighs 1.35kg, while
the 11in is 30 x 19.2cm and 1.08kg, almost beating the proverbial bag of sugar
The FaceTime HD camera in the centre of the top bezel is
complemented by dual microphones, visible as pinpricks on the left-hand side, which
OS X uses to zero in on your voice and cut background noise. Stereo speakers
are also built in Even the 11in Air has a full-size backlit keyboard as well as
a glass multi-touch trackpad. One external monitor can be driven at up to 2560
x 1600 at the same time as the Air's own screen
Macbook Air seen from the right side
There's not much room for sockets in a machine 1an thick, but you
get one Thunderbolt and two USB 3. 802.11ac wifi and Bluetooth 4.0 are also
built in, but if you need a wired network connection, choose carefully. Apple's
$41.24 Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adaptor will take up your only
Thunderbolt port, leaving no way of connecting an external monitor or Thunderbolt
peripherals while it's in use The USB version would make more sense, but it's USB
2 and limited to 100 Mbit/sec. A third- party USB 3 to Gigabit Ethernet
adaptor, such as Startech’s, will be faster and slightly cheaper.
MacBook Air seen from the left side
Your Air's initial spec is baked in; nothing can be changed later.
4GB of memory and 128GB of flash storage may be adequate for a general purpose
notebook, but if this will be your sole Mac, or you want to keep things like
photos and videos on it, think seriously about opting for a bigger SSD, and if
you plan to do more than text editing and web browsing, or keep lots of apps on
the go at once, consider paying the extra $131.96 for 8GB of RAM.