Apple MacBook Air (2018)
Apple revamps the MacBook Air at last, but it loses some of its appeal in the process.
Even as we head into 2019, the MacBook Air remains an iconic laptop.
It brought Apple laptops into the mainstream, and its combination of style, size, weight, and battery life made it a classic.
With Apple leaving the marque to gather dust since 2015, however, its appeal has slowly but surely waned. While other MacBook models gained Retina displays, features and more powerful innards, the old 13in MacBook Air was left looking progressively more underpowered, old-fashioned and out of touch.
Apple is looking to fix all that with this much-anticipated, long-awaited overhaul.
So what does the modern MacBook Air look like?
The headline addition is the feature everyone has been requesting for years: a Retina class display.
With a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 and pixel density of 227ppi, it’s a huge upgrade over the 1,440 x 900 resolution of the previous 13in MacBook Air.
The screen wasn’t the only area ripe for upgrade, though.
Inside, at long last, the Air gets a boost from the fifth-generation Core processor of the previous Air and now has a selection of eighth- generation Intel CPUs to choose from.
Plus, Apple has included a selection of subtle tweaks to bring the laptop into the modern age.
The question is: can it recapture what made it so appealing to the masses?
Despite the much-needed revamp, Apple hasn’t reinvented the wheel here.
Instead, the company has brought the MacBook Air into line with the 12in MacBook and the 13in MacBook Pro in terms of its features and looks.
You’d think Apple might have made more of an effort to distinguish the Air from the Pro, though.
Sit the two open next to each other on a desk and you’ll struggle to tell one from the other.
The Air is fractionally thicker at the rear and thinner at the nose, while the Pro maintains the same thickness front to back, and the Air is 120g lighter.
Otherwise, the dimensions are the same down to the millimetre. Both are 304mm wide and 212mm deep, and the design elements are very similar.
The MacBook Air, just like the MacBook Pro, has a flush-fitted display with narrow, black bezels.
It has a pair of Thunder bolt 3 USB-C ports on the left edge and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right.
Stereo speakers flank the shallow-travel keyboard, which has a Touch ID fingerprint reader nestled in its top-right corner, and a large glass-topped touchpad occupies the majority of the wristrest beneath.
The eagle-eyed might spot that the touchpad is ever so slightly smaller than in it is on the MacBook Pro,
but the difference is minor and, with Apple’s excellent Force Touch technology in place, it feels just as good to use.
The only major visual difference between the MacBook Air and its pricier sibling is that it’s now available in Rose Gold, as well as the classic Space Grey and silver colours.
If you’re desperate to tell the world. you own a new MacBook Air, then Rose Gold is the one to go for.
The display is a big improvement on the original MacBook Air.
It’s sharper and easier on the eye than the original’s screen, has narrower bezels and, generally, it’s exceedingly colour accurate.
At first glance, it’s all the things you would expect of an Apple laptop display in 2019.
Except that it doesn’t reach the level I would have liked it to, especially given how good its rivals have become. It’s disappointing, for instance, that peak brightness reaches only 321cd/m2, which is 180cd/m2 below that of the MacBook Pro.
That’s fine for office use, but in bright conditions – such as in the garden or with the sun streaming through your commuter train’s window – you might struggle to read it clearly.
The contrast ratio is fine, but at 951:1, it falls a long way short of the MacBook Pro’s 1,451:1. Finally, sRGB coverage, while very good at 93.2%, is again a few marks shy of the MacBook Pro’s 99%.
Of course, a big part of the appeal of the new MacBook Air overhaul is not just the new design and display – it’s the performance.
The previous model, which is still on sale, was stuck with a processor dating back to 2015, so the 1.6GHz eighth-generation dual-core Intel Core i5-8210Y in the new model comes as a welcome boost.
Before progressing any further, though, you must be aware of one key fact: this is the lowest performing variant of Intel’s eighth-generation Core i5 CPUs: a Y-series CPU.
The chips we’re more used to seeing in rival laptops at around this price are U-series parts, which typically perform much better.
So, while this 2018 update is much faster than the old MacBook Air, it falls significantly short when compared with its rivals at this price, including the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, most of which run the beefier variant of the Intel chip.
For example, while the new Air scored 49 in our benchmarks the Surface Laptop 2 scored 84.
Dell’s Core i7-equipped XPS 13 managed 96, while the 13in MacBook Pro with a quad-core Core i7-8559U romped to 151.
As expected at this price, there’s no discrete graphics chip in the Air, just Intel’s UHD Graphics 617. This does the job, but it won’t have you playing demanding games at high detail and frame rates.
Again, the Air lags behind most of its Windows-based rivals, which employ the more powerful Intel UHD Graphics 620 integrated graphics.
The Surface Laptop 2 scored 70.4fps in the off-screen Manhattan 3 test, for instance, while the MacBook Air could only manage 46fps.
The good news is that the storage speeds are stupendously quick.
Testing with the BlackMagic Disk test utility revealed average read and write speeds of1,871MB/sec and 1,065MB/ sec respectively – speeds that outstrip those ofthe Surface Laptop 2 by around 200%.
Even heavy duty applications launch in a trice, so this is a laptop that feels very fast in use. And battery life is pretty good, too.
In fact, this is another area where it outperforms the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, lasting 8hrs 34mins in our video rundown test, which we run with the screen set to 170cd/m2 brightness and Flight mode engaged.
The Surface Laptop 2 lasted for 7hrs 7mins, with only the Dell XPS 13 outperforming the Air with a life of 10hrs 7mins.
All of which adds up to a mixed picture when it comes to performance.
You’re clearly not getting the most bang per buck when it comes to raw speed, but the Air compensates with good battery life and an exceptionally quick SSD.
Let’s talk money
One reason the MacBook Air has had such a cult following over the years is that, for many, it was their first Apple laptop.
And it was their first because it offered a sensible balance between portability, great design and, most importantly, a reasonable price.
The new MacBook Air, in my opinion, misses the mark on that last front.
The cheapest model, which has a dual-core 1.6GHz 8th generation Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, starts at £1,199 (prices rise by £180 if you want 16GB of RAM, and by £200 per extra 256GB of SSD storage).
That’s only £50 cheaper than the 12in MacBook and the lowest price 13in MacBook Pro.
The other potential problem for the MacBook Air is that there’s now a much bigger selection of well-designed Windows portables for people to choose from.
Take the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, which starts at £979 – a full £220 cheaper – and which has a comparable core specification.
There’s also a broad choice of rivals that are either cheaper, or more powerful, or both.
For £1,169, you can buy a Dell XPS 13 with an eighth generation Core i5, 8GB of RAM and twice the MacBook Air’s storage at 256GB. The Asus ZenBook 13, meanwhile, will set you back even less at £900.
Instead of delivering what MacBook Air fans desperately wanted – a laptop almost as good as a MacBook Pro but for significantly less.
– what they’ve ended up with is a very good laptop that’s almost as expensive but nowhere near as good. That’s not to say the Apple MacBook Air is a bad laptop.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s slim, attractive and beautifully made: Apple has improved it in all of the places that count, adding a better keyboard, a superior touchpad, faste connectivity and a Retina display.
This is very much a MacBook Air for the modern Apple era. The trouble is, in doing
so, Apple has abandoned territory it used to call its own.
- Microsoft Surface Laptop 2: Is this the perfect ultraportable laptop?
- Microsoft Surface Pro 6 Review
- Dropbox Business Advanced Review: Pros, Security….
- Best of Laptops at CES 2019: CES Showcase
- Intel Core i9 (9900K) : A brilliant performer with great over clocking potential
- Adobe Photoshop Elements 2019 : what’s new?
- Fitbit Charge 3 – Great Design, Fitness Device Review
- Best Gadgets & Technology of CES 2019
- Apple iPhone XR Detailed Review and Verdict
- The Google HomeHub – is something of a revelation