Product Macbook Air 13in 2013 model
Website Macbook Air
Specifications 13.3in 1440×900 LED display, Intel Core i5 dual-core 1.3GHz or Core i7 dual-core 1.7GHz processor, 4GB RAM, 128GB or 256GB SSD, 802.11ac a/b/g/n compatible WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, 2x USB 3 ports, Thunderbolt port, SDXC card slot, dual microphones, headphone jack, Magsafe 2 power port, integral 54Whr Li-Po battery, 325x227x17mm, 1.35kg
THE ORIGINAL Apple Macbook Air established itself as the benchmark for thin and light laptops, and with its upgrade to Intel Core chips in 2011 it got the performance boost to match its sleek design and build.
The latest 13in model that Apple launched in June is pretty much the same on the outside as the 2011 edition, aside from the addition of dual microphones on the left-hand side. Meanwhile, OS X Lion has been updated to Mountain Lion – though you’ll have to wait until autumn to get hold of a Macbook Air running the latest Mavericks version – but Apple has made some tweaks to get more juice out of the machine.
We’ve been trying out the Macbook Air Core i5 1.3GHz 13in model with 4GB of RAM to see if Apple’s battery promises live up to expectation, helped by a processor from Intel’s latest Haswell processor architecture rather than the previous Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge chips.
Build and design
The 13in Macbook Air doesn’t quite meet its 11in little sibling’s feather-light credentials, but it’s still one of the thinnest and lightest laptops around, partly thanks to its flash storage.
It measures 325x227x17mm and weighs only 1.35kg, adding just under 300g compared with the 11in 1.08kg model, and expanding by just 25mm in width and 33mm in depth. Even with the rise of ultrabooks since Apple first released this laptop a few years ago, PC makers have struggled to drive down weight and size, while retaining decent performance and battery life at a reasonable cost.
Even though the 13in Macbook Air is stick-thin and lightweight, build quality is superb and extremely sturdy, while the unibody design gives the laptop a sleek, high-end look. Apple has included a 79-key island backlit keyboard that is well proportioned for this 13in model, with 12 function keys and four arrow keys laid out in a user-friendly format. The keys have a short travel distance, meaning only a light touch is needed when typing.
Another key area where the Macbook Air surpasses the majority of its Windows based counterparts is the trackpad. The trackpad itself is huge, and more than adequate to perform swiping and pitching gestures comfortably, making it a breeze to scroll up, down and around the screen. But be warned – once you’ve got used to the trackpad, you’ll find it difficult to downgrade back to a normal mouse experience.
It’s easy to tailor the trackpad to work in the way you want it, with options for one, two and three finger clicks, right clicking, as well as dragging up or down the trackpad. The only real downside we’ve found is that the trackpad can get glitchy – for example with the right-click functionality – once you’ve had your Macbook Air for a couple of years or more.
Next: Display, ports, storage.
The first downside to get out the way is that, sadly, Apple hasn’t added a Retina display to the Macbook Air. Retina screens offer up to 2880×1800 resolution on the 15in Macbook Pro models, delivering more screen real estate with amazing colour and definition. However, adding Retina would have likely added cost to the Macbook Air and decreased battery life.
The 13in non-Retina screen on the Macbook Air isn’t a downgrade compared with other laptops, though. It has an LED backlight and comes with a maximum resolution of 1440×900, compared with the 1366×768 maximum resolution on the 11in model. You can also easily change the resolution to a range of preset options depending on your needs: 1280×800, 1152×720 and 1024×640 resolution at a 16:10 aspect ratio, or 1024×768 and 800×600 resolution at a 4:3 aspect ratio.
The display offers sharp colours and brightness, and isn’t very reflective compared with many laptop models we have seen, so you won’t get screen glare apart from in bright sunlight. The display is high quality for watching video or viewing images. The ambient sensor is also a great touch as it automatically adjusts the brightness of the screen and lighting of the keyboard, meaning you can use the Macbook Air in a dark room and still easily see all the keys and screen.
Anyone needing a laptop with lots of native connectivity should look elsewhere. The nearly paper-thin chassis simply doesn’t allow for a wide variety of ports.
On the left-hand side of the 13in Macbook Air, you’ll find the power connector, a USB port, headphone socket and dual microphones. Audio quality is decent on the Macbook Air, although if you’re planning on using the speakers regularly to watch films or TV, or for webconferencing, you’ll want to either invest in a comfortable pair of headphones or buy some extra speakers, as the maximum volume isn’t very loud.
On the right, Apple has added a second USB port, a single Thunderbolt connector and an SDXC card slot, something not offered on the 11in model.
The Macbook Air has been designed for portability, so it’s necessary to chop features like optical drives and even an Ethernet port. However, for those not happy relying on WiFi connectivity, you can purchase an Ethernet adaptor to plug into the USB port, an accessory we’ve found handy over our years using the Macbook Air.
The addition of the Thunderbolt port goes some way towards mitigating the lack of others. Not only does the port provide transfer speeds that are up to 20 times faster than traditional USB, it also allows the Macbook Air to connect with VGA, HDMI, mini Display Port and DVI devices via adapters.
Unfortunately, only a power cable is provided in the box, with everything else needing to be purchased as an optional extra.
While the 11in Macbook Air received a storage upgrade with the latest batch of releases – the 13in models were missed off the upgrade list, coming in the same 128GB and 256GB formats.
Next: Operating system.
One downside of rushing out to buy a new Macbook Air right now is that it ships with Mac OS X 10.8.4 Mountain Lion, so when the Mavericks OS update comes out this autumn you’ll have to pay to upgrade. Mavericks will add several handy new features, including the ability to save and group files by tags rather than folders, and multiple monitor support.
However, Mountain Lion is still a well-designed and user-friendly OS, and won’t take those new to Mac OS much time to get the hang of if they’re switching from a PC for the first time. This is something that can’t be said for users moving from older Windows versions to Windows 8, in our opinion.
Out of the box installation takes just a few minutes, and simply requires a Mac ID to be created, internet configured and then you’re off. You can also replicate content from an older Macbook onto the new model, which will make the process of getting all your files and favourites even smoother, although this will add time to the setup process.
Mountain Lion sticks with the multi-touch gestures seen in its predecessor. Swiping three fingers upwards on the trackpad activates Mission Control, which automatically rearranges the screen to display all programs in a bird’s eye view. Mission Control groups similar programs together so a specific webpage or document can be found easily in a raft of open windows.
Additional multi-touch functionality includes pinch to zoom, plus the ability to rotate images and swipe between apps using the trackpad. When using a webpage, it is also possible to swipe left and right to go backwards and forwards between the pages, another small but time-saving feature.
Unlike on a PC, users are required to swipe up with two fingers on the trackpad to move downwards on a page and vice versa, although this didn’t take long to get used to.
Notable additions in Mountain Lion include a Notification Center, which is accessed by tapping the newly added logo on the right-hand side of the screen or by swiping two fingers from left to right on the trackpad. Scroll up while in the Notifications Center and you’ll see a toggle button that enables you to switch on-screen alerts on and off, if you don’t fancy being bothered by a pop-up bubble every time you get a Twitter notification or email.
Apple’s iCloud is more deeply integrated into Mountain Lion, which is excellent news for Mac owners who have also forked out for an iPhone or iPad. Once you’ve signed in with your Apple ID, iCloud lets you pick and choose which services you want to sync, including Mail, Contacts, Calendars & Reminders, Notes, Safari, Photo Stream and Documents. Once you’ve selected your choices, Apple will begin syncing the data from your iOS devices onto your computer and vice versa.
In the latest version of the Safari browser, Apple catches up with Google Chrome with its Smart Search address bar and fast loading times. Its extended tabbed browsing and multi-touch gestures make flicking through multiple websites easier than ever, and its new “sharing” feature is another nice addition, enabling users to share web pages via Twitter, email or iMessage. Our only complaint is the removal of RSS feeds from the web browser, and from the Mail application.
Next: Performance, battery.
The upgrade to Intel Haswell architecture Core chips in the latest Macbook Air won’t give you a noticeable performance boost over previous Macbook Air models. We regularly use a 2011 Macbook Air, and this is more than capable of handling everyday tasks, and running resource-hogging apps like Adobe Indesign.
We tested the latest 13in model running an Intel Haswell based Core i5 dual-core 1.3GHz processor with 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3 memory, which can be upgraded to an Intel Core i7 dual-core 1.7GHz processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz. Using the Macbook Air for a few weeks as our work machine, we found that the performance on offer was similar to that of older models. Applications are very quick to open, browsing the web is smooth and fast, and OS X is simple and easy to navigate around. However, for heavy duty work like regular video editing and processing or CAD, we’d advise going for the Macbook Pro or desktop models.
Where Haswell has made the difference is battery life. Apple devices typically come with excellent battery life and the latest Macbook Air improves even further on this, which is especially impressive for such a lightweight device.
Apple quotes up to 12 hours of wireless web access, or 10 hours of iTunes film playback for the 13in Macbook Air from its built-in, 54Whr lithium-polymer battery. In our real-world tests, we were pretty happy with the battery life, especially compared with our 2011 11in model. With the energy settings set to default and auto adjust for brightness, we managed to get a full eight hours out of the 13in model, including two separate 30-minute periods in sleep.
This might not quite reach the heady heights of 12 hours as quoted by Apple, but we were running the Macbook Air in dual monitor format in pretty bright conditions, and running a range of multiple applications throughout the day. And compared with the three hours our 11in 2011 Macbook Air manages, eight hours is bliss.
Despite connectivity limitations, the design and raw power make the Macbook Air a worthwhile purchase for Apple users or those looking for a change from Windows. You can run any applications you’ll need for general day to day use, and the trackpad and Mac OS X make the Macbook Air a pleasure to use.
The good news for first-time Macbook Air purchasers is that they’ll be getting Intel Haswell based models at a cheaper price than the 2012 Macbook Air laptops. However, savvy buyers might want to wait until autumn to get their hands on a Macbook Air running the Mavericks release of OS X. µ
Lightweight, slimline design, great battery life, affordable price.
Waiting for Mavericks, no Retina display.
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