The Good The MacBook Air remains the least expensive MacBook and has finally received a minor technical update. Battery life is excellent and performance for everyday tasks remains flat. This is the only MacBook left with standard USB ports or a MagSafe connection.
The Bad The design seems outdated, with a thick frame around the low-resolution screen. Windows laptops in the same price range offer newer components, higher resolution screens and lighter, slimmer cases.
The Bottom Line The MacBook Air lives up to the fight for another day, thanks to its basic price and long battery life, but this classic laptop is definitely twilight.
Editorial Note, October 31, 2018: Apple has announced the new version of the MacBook Air , which starts at $ 1,199 (£ 1,199, $ 1,849) and has a Retina display, Touch ID and USB-C ports. The version below is still on sale and still starts at $ 999 (£ 949, $ 1,499). The original review, published on August 17, 2017, follows.
The Apple MacBook Air is as close to iconic as it is to consumer technology. It’s the only laptop model you can see everywhere, from college campuses to airports to coffee shops and even offices. And so it was a very long time ago.
That’s the problem. Not counting the build-up to a specific hit in mid-2017, it’s still practically the same MacBook Air as the last 2015 update, and externally it basically had same design since 2010 (when the original design of 2008 made major repairs). In technological terms, this is about forever.
But it is also a testament to how strong the product has been in its heyday. Having a laptop that looks and looks just like it did for so many years, while maintaining a loyal following, is a rare achievement. The MacBook Air is no longer the best for almost any device it has ever been, but it is the least expensive way (by far) to get MacOS on a laptop, so it certainly has room for it. Please note that the Air we tested tested a 256GB Core i7 and SSD processor upgrade for a total of $ 1,349, £ 1,234, or $ 2,039. The air still starts at $ 999, £ 949 and $ 1,499, and can even be found online.
|Price as reviewed||$1,349, £1,234 or AU$2,039 (starts at $999, £949 or AU$1,499)|
|Display size/resolution||13-inch, 1,440×900-pixel display|
|CPU||2.2GHz Intel Core i7-5650U|
|Memory||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 6000|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless; Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||MacOS 10.12.6 Sierra|
And much about the MacBook Air still works. As an old Air user, but also someone who has not spent a lot of time on one over the last few years shooting a 2017 version, felt like visiting an old friend.
There’s a perfectly sized 13-inch screen, still the best balance between visibility and portability; solid aluminum housing that can withstand years of abuse; and the island’s flap keyboard, itself extinct on the rest of the MacBook lineup, has been replaced by extremely small butterfly keys that lack such tactile feedback.
Air is also gaining ground on the latest MacBook with a nice, old-fashioned USB-A port. You know what each mouse, memory key, and other accessory you own falls into. The MacBook Pro and the 12-inch MacBook have both switched to USB-C, which can be sure in the future, but for many it limits the frustration.
In picking it up, I was reminded of another reason I have loved this particular line of laptops for so long: MagSafe power connectivity. A plug that automatically pulls away from the case when you pick up the cord or cross it remains one of the brightest pieces of PC engineering.
Since then, they have been replaced with USB-C power connections, which are convenient for sharing data, power, video and other connections through the same port, but almost not as flexible. This classic MagSafe has saved many, many laptops from a dismal fate over the years, and these are just the ones I almost killed myself.
Feeling its age
But using a MacBook Air, even brand new, in 2017 feels like getting stuck a bit behind the basics. The processor is outdated compared to the new slim laptops – even if the big update of 2017 is a small base processor, from the 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5 to 1.8 GHz, or in our case, the optional 2.2 GHz Core i7. They are all from the same fifth generation of these chips, while Intel is about to announce details of future eighth generation processors.
I would argue that for web surfing, video streaming and social media it is not very important to have an older generation processor, but for a thousand dollars or more you will not be mistaken for wanting something new. However, it is great to get 8GB of RAM as a standard program for the previous 4GB. The optional Core i7 in our test system helped Air keep up with or beat a few thin laptops with newer Core i5 processors. But more importantly, Air is still a battery life of more than 10 hours.
The biggest thing holding the MacBook Air in the past is its display. It is a 1440×900 pixel display, the same as Air, which has been used for generations. It’s also not an IPS display, it’s an in-plane switching technology found on newer laptops that helps with off-axis viewing. Anything above an ultra-budget laptop is not mistaken for a higher resolution, especially in 2017, when even in basement TVs there are 4K panels and an increasing number of mid-range laptops are shooting past 1,920×1,080 to 2,560×1,440 or even 4K.
So many new devices have destroyed the panel, which we call the outer border around the screen. TVs and telephones today are almost without a screen, and high-end laptops are the same as the one used Dell XPS 13 or Samsung 9 Laptop go the same way. In comparison, the wide silver bezel around the 13-inch MacBook Air screen may be the only one that is the oldest in design.
Two years ago , I said, “On air you have a very thick panel, dead space between the edge of the display and the edge of the lid … gives you a less profitable look and feel.” The feeling is now even more pronounced, especially as the MacBook and MacBook Pro combine great, higher-resolution screens with much thinner frames.
This is the price
I know it sounds like I was judging the MacBook Air harshly for not keeping up with the times, but it’s an important mitigating factor that can still make it the right choice for many buyers.
The original MacBook Air launched in 2008 (with one USB port and slow hard drive without SSD!) at $ 1,799 in the US. Over time, it dropped to $ 999 for the base 13-inch Air, where it still sits. That’s $ 300 less than any 12-inch MacBook or the 13 “MacBook Pro Lowest (both starting at $ 1,299, £ 1,249 or US $ 1899), making this the most affordable MacBook in a wide margin.
Spending about the same on a new windows laptop will get a better display, a newer processor and possibly more RAM and SSD (and even a hybrid hinge and touch screen ) – but if you decide to buy a MacOS laptop for Windows 10, this is the least expensive option.
Better yet, while Apple sells a 13-inch MacBook Air for $ 999 and up, many retailers find it easy to find for $ 899 or less, or $ 100 for a premium 256GB SSD configuration. The 2017 models, which are essentially the same in almost every respect, can be found for as little as $ 799.
Years ago, I called the MacBook Air the most versatile laptop to buy, thanks to its great design, long battery life and decent features. Today, its appeal is not so wide, and the design certainly shows its age. But the lower prices available at some retailers, plus decent enough performance, and a battery life that still exceeds 10 hours, gave Air another shot – perhaps the last – to avoid an old retirement home.
|Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2017)||Apple MacOS Sierra 10.12.6; 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-56500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 6000; 256GB SSD|
|LG Gram (13-inch, 2017)||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|Microsoft Surface Laptop||Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit) 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 720||Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD|
|Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2017)||Apple MacOS Sierra 10.12.5; 1.2GHz Intel Core m3-7Y32; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD|
|Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016)||Apple MacOS Sierra 10.12.1; 2GHz Intel Core i5-6360U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel Iris Graphics 540; 256GB SSD|