PROS / With category-leading battery life you can use the 13-inch MacBook Air all day long.
CONS / Its once impressive design is showing its age with a low-resolution display and thicker-than-average dimensions.
VERDICT / The Apple MacBook Air 13 is affordable and portable, but its design has lost its shine with a low-resolution display and chunky dimensions.
The Apple MacBook Air helped launch the ultrabook category, combining portability and performance in a way that few laptops had before. We reviewed the base model of the MacBook Air 13, one of the most affordable options on Apple’s Mac lineup, which comes configured with an Intel Core i5-5250U processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage (equivalent to a solid-state drive, or SSD). That’s half the memory and half the storage space of competing systems, but you can get the MacBook Air with standard memory options. For a bump in price, you can buy the MacBook Air configured with a 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 processor and 8GB of RAM, which is more in keeping with the competition.
The MacBook Air managed to produce good results in Laptop Mag’s performance tests and should be more than capable of handling your day-to-day web browsing, media streaming and basic productivity uses. Test results promise decent performance, scoring 5,783 points in Geekbench 3 and completing Laptop’s spreadsheet test – which tests raw speed in a demanding processing task – in four minutes three seconds, a respectable speed for a less-expensive system.
Graphics performance is also pretty good, though you wouldn’t know it to look at the test results. It was unable to run the Windows-only 3DMark tests, but in World of Warcraft, it produced 45 frames per second, a perfectly playable score. While the MacBook Air isn’t made with gaming in mind, it should still be able to handle an occasional low-intensity game like World of Warcraft or Candy Crush.
Even after a few years as the prototypical example of ultrabooks, the MacBook Air still turns heads; the narrow wedge of unibody aluminum gives the chassis a distinctive appearance, and the glowing Apple logo on the back is unmistakable. Despite this, the once category-defining thinness of the Air makes it one of the thickest models we reviewed, measuring 12.8 x 8.9 x 0.68 and weighing 2.96 pounds. Even the thickness and weight aren’t that big of a problem, as the Air is still immensely portable thanks to a category-leading 14 hours of battery life.
It’s also quite comfortable to use, with square chiclet-style keys, 1 millimeter of key travel and a glowing backlight to help you type in the dark. The trackpad is also quite good, though it lacks the pressure sensitive Force Touch features offered on the Apple MacBook Pro.
The 1440 x 900 pixel display isn’t nearly as impressive as the 2560 x 1600 Retina display used in the MacBook Pro, but the difference has a positive impact on both the price and the battery life, being less expensive than higher-resolution displays and burning through battery at a slower rate. With a brightness of 334 nits, the display is still vivid and readable in all sorts of lighting, but the color accuracy is a little off, with an average DeltaE rating of 4.3 – closer to zero is better.
The display is surrounded by thick bezels, a design quirk that has only become more obvious as competitors have found ways to shrink display bezels to almost nothing. You also won’t find any touchscreen options on the Air, since OS X only supports touch features on the trackpad. If you want to tap and swipe on the screen while using your ultrabook, you may want to look at a Windows system.
The slim MacBook Air 13 has two USB 3.0 ports, a single Thunderbolt 2 port and an SD card slot. While there is no HDMI port, the Thunderbolt port can be used for both data transfer and video output, either as a functional mini DisplayPort or using an adapter for VGA, DVI or HDMI connections. The slim system has 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, but wired networking is also available via another adapter.
The MacBook Air is covered with Apple’s standard one-year warranty, but free phone support is only offered within 90 days of purchase. For longer support and coverage, you need to buy Apple Care for an additional $249, which gives you three years of warranty coverage and phone support. Apple also offers live support chat online and has an extensive, well-organized library of help materials available. Apple’s support services are some of the best in the industry and have top ranking in Laptop’s Tech Support Showdown.
The Apple MacBook Air 13 is starting to show its age a bit, but after several years with only minor hardware changes, the slim laptop is still one of the most recognizable members of the ultrabook category. It no longer leads the pack, but it’s still worth considering for its category-leading battery life, solid performance and familiar design.