Emerging Technology

GADGET WATCH: MacBook Air

Patrick Stafford /

Another year, another update for the MacBook. Apple replaced the entry level version with the MacBook Air last year, and is attempting to make every laptop it sells as thin as it can, while still maintaining a good battery life and decent power.

Does the latest MacBook Air manage to live up to the challenge?

Hardware and Features

There are a few different versions of the MacBook Air, but Apple has introduced some updates for every model.

The Air comes in four versions. There are two categories – the 11-inch screen and the 13-inch. In the 11-inch category, the model comes with 64GB of flash storage, and 128GB, although the second model is upgradable to 256GB or 512GB.

In the 13-inch model, buyers can get either 128GB or 256GB, upgradable to 512GB.

The 11-inch features a 1.7Ghz dual core i5, with 3MB shared l3 cache, while the 13-inch model features a 1.8Ghz processor. All models feature 4GB of 1600Mhz DDR3L onboard memory.

The models are just 0.3-1.7cm thick, and both feature Intel HD Graphics 4000, along with USB 3.0, SD slot, Thunderbolt connectivity and a 720pFaceTime HD camera.

What’s the consensus?

The casing of the MacBook Air hasn’t changed much since the last version. Over at The Verge, the publication notes the unibody aluminium casing is still one of the thinnest laptops it’s ever seen, and notes “Apple’s hardware is hard to beat”.

However, it did say some of the features that have remained the same seem less impressive, as a result of other manufacturers copying those same features. For instance, the black backlit keyboard, which Verge notes “doesn’t quite depress as much as I’d like”.

It also noted the trackpad is “better than any PC trackpad we’ve seen”, calling it smooth, responsive and accurate.

However, Engadget said it wished the casing could be just “a little more durable”.

“Anyone who’s spent time with a unibody Mac can tell you that smooth metal finish is as scratch-prone as it is beautiful. Unless you handle it with kid gloves, the likelihood that you’ll ding it within the first day is fairly high, which kind of saps the fun out of unboxing a new $1,200 toy.”

One of the disadvantages of using a MacBook is knowing the MacBook Pro features a much better, higher quality Retina display. However, Engadget still says despite that disappointment, the MacBook Air 1440×900 LED screen is still quite good.

“It’s crisper, for one, and also offers satisfying contrast and fairly wide viewing angles. At times, you might have to adjust the screen angle to compensate for glare, but nonetheless, you shouldn’t have a problem crowding around the laptop with a friend or two to re-watch that bombshell of a Mad Men finale.”

The real deal-breaker, however, is performance, where Apple has put the most amount of change into the device.

CNET notes the move to third-gen Intel processors means fast overall speeds, but does say it’s not as dramatic as the previous generation.

“Side-by-side with the slightly faster 1.8GHz Core i5 processor in the 13-inch Air, the 1.7GHz Core i5 in the 11-inch produced very similar results, and wasn’t even far off from the performance of the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro.”

“From a pure CPU performance standpoint, the 11-inch Air impresses. Boot time is extremely fast, too: our Air went from off to Wi-Fi on and booted in 13 seconds.”

Battery wise, the publication scored five hours and 17 minutes for the 11-inch model, up by 41 minutes from last year. The 13-inch model ran more than two hours longer.

Who’s it for?

The MacBook Air may lose some features its competitors have, but remains the most powerful laptop on the market for the price. If you’re looking for an ultrabook to get some work done, and you need a quality product, then the Mac is probably your default option, unless you really prefer Windows.

If you can get past the fact the screen is a little bare given the Pro version has a Retina model, then it’s a good investment. But start at the 13-inch version if you want more battery life.

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Patrick Stafford

Patrick Stafford is a freelance journalist and a former deputy editor of SmartCompany.

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