Mac­Book Air 11-inch

Ap­ple’s cheap­est note­book gets a re­fresh, but does it get any im­prove­ments?

Mac Format - - RATED | KIT -

4GB RAM is enough for lower-level tasks, though up­grad­ing to 8GB when you buy would be smart fu­ture-proof­ing

From £749 Man­u­fac­turer Ap­ple, ap­ple.com/uk

Pro­ces­sor 1.6GHz dual-core In­tel Core i5 Mem­ory 4GB Stor­age 128GB, 256GB

Poor lit­tle Mac­Book Air. It used to be the cutest, dinki­est lit­tle Mac – ev­ery­one’s favourite. Now that a younger, slim­mer sib­ling is on the scene in the form of the Mac­Book (see page 8), it’s fac­ing a bit of an ex­is­ten­tial cri­sis. We would say that it’s due a rein­ven­tion, but that’s kind of what the Mac­Book is, so in­stead it’s set­tling for a pro­ces­sor and graph­ics up­grade, fea­tur­ing In­tel’s lat­est-gen­er­a­tion tech­nol­ogy. The new 1.6GHz Core i5 chip is dual-core, and is pretty much the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of the chip from last year’s Mac­Book Air – the chip’s speed is very slightly faster (the old one was 1.4GHz), and it comes with sim­i­larly up­dated graph­ics unit, but oth­er­wise things are much as they were – the ex­cep­tion be­ing the SSD.

Ap­ple says that it’s now putting the same high-level class of stor­age in the Mac­Book Airs as it does in the Mac­Book Pros, and if you look at the re­sults for the 13-inch Mac­Book Air, you’ll see what a colos­sal dif­fer­ence that can make. But not so much in this re­view unit, which is ac­tu­ally slower than last year’s model. Why? Well, Ap­ple has more than one sup­plier of flash stor­age, and the speed of the stor­age can dif­fer dras­ti­cally. The speed dif­fer­ence won’t af­fect most, but when the dif­fer­ence can be full 50%, it’s far from ideal.

Mini marvel?

So, our par­tic­u­lar 11-inch Air of­fered no SSD speed im­prove­ment, and ac­tu­ally no other no­table up­grades, ei­ther. The new In­tel pro­ces­sors are in­tended to bring im­prove­ments in bat­tery life, but this model only beat its pre­de­ces­sor in our test by one minute, man­ag­ing 7 hours and 36 min­utes be­fore giv­ing up. That’s still truly ex­cel­lent bat­tery life, but con­sid­er­ing the big im­prove­ments made in the 13-inch Retina Mac­Book Pro, we were hop­ing for hero­ics here. Sim­i­larly, there’s not much change in the pro­ces­sor and graph­ics per­for­mance: there’s im­prove­ment, but it’s not no­tice­able – though both it and the 13-inch Air can drive 4K dis­plays at 60Hz now, which is great. The 4GB RAM is enough for all low­er­level tasks, though choos­ing to up­grade to 8GB when you buy would be smart fu­ture-proof­ing.

There haven’t been any changes on the out­side ei­ther – there’s no Force Touch track­pad here – so you’ve got the same great full-size key­board, two USB 3.0 ports and a Thun­der­bolt port. The screen is still a 1366x768 panel, and it’s the thing that sin­gles this (and its 13-inch part­ner) as the cheap­est of Ap­ple’s line-up. The res­o­lu­tion isn’t hor­ri­ble, but it’s not just the Retina crisp­ness that it lacks: it has worse view­ing an­gles, rel­a­tively pale, washed-out colours, and much less depth and con­trast. By Ap­ple’s stan­dards, it’s this ma­chine’s weak link.

We don’t know if the Mac­Book will usurp the Mac­Book Air com­pletely over time, but this model is def­i­nitely just hold­ing the line for now. It’s still a lovely lit­tle ma­chine, but this up­date is noth­ing to get ex­cited over about over last year’s model. Matt Bolton

Alas, there’s no Force Touch track­pad on the Airs just yet. And will the Air live on af­ter the new 12-inch Mac­Book?

A Retina dis­play would have lifted the new Airs be­yond their mi­nor up­grades this year.

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