MacBook Air 11-inch
Apple’s cheapest notebook gets a refresh, but does it get any improvements?
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.
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.