The Macbook Air is a great entry level laptop that poses fierce competition in the ultrabook market.
Character is a habit long continued and the new Macbook Air has a lot of character. The body remains largely untouched from the previous models but that isn't necessarily a bad thing as the Macbook Air design is a classic that is fast being adopted by its rivals. Even though the outside has largely remained untouched, both the 11in and 13in models have received radical internal upgrades that make them speedy, enduring and beautiful pieces of machinery.
Pros and Cons:
- Super slim, yet sturdy design
- Beefy battery for longer surfing, video watching and more
- Reasonably priced
- No retina display
- Paltry storage options
- Hardly anything has changed from previous models
Apple have really outdone themselves with the 2013 Macbook Air internals. As the entry-level Apple laptop (what with the discontinuation of the standard, white Macbooks in 2011), you'd be forgiven for expecting something less than spectacular – and you'd be pleasantly surprised at how capable the Macbook Air actually is.
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The tech specs are quite impressive, regardless of if you're considering the standard options or if you plan on customising to upgrade the hard drive, processor or memory. The 11in model is ultraportable and the 13in doesn't lose out too much on that front, weighing in at just 270g heavier. Whichever model you're looking at, both live up to their name.
|11 Inch Model||13 Inch Model|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6in (29.46cm)||13.3in (33.78cm)|
|Price (starting from, RRP)||$1,099||$1,249|
|Release Date||June 10, 2013||June 10, 2013|
|Depth: Thickest Point||0.3cm||0.3cm|
|Depth: Thinnest Point||1.7cm||1.7cm|
|Colours||Silver and Black||Silver and Black|
|Hard Drive (SSD)||128GB||256GB||512GB||128GB||256GB||512GB|
|Processor||4th Generation Haswell||4th Generation Haswell|
|Dual-core Intel Core i5 1.3GHz + Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz||Dual-core Intel Core i7 1.7GHz + Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz||Dual-core Intel Core i5 1.3GHz + Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz||Dual-core Intel Core i7 1.7GHz + Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz|
|1600MHz LPDDR3||1600MHz LPDDR3|
|Battery||Non-removable38Wh Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po)||Non-removable54Wh Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po)|
|Battery life||9 hoursStandby: 30 days||12 hoursStandby: 30 days|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 n/g/b/a/acBluetooth 4.0||Wi-Fi 802.11 n/g/b/a/ac|
|Ports||2 x USB 345W MagSafe 2Headphone Jack (3.5 mm)|
|2 x USB 345W MagSafe 2Headphone Jack (3.5 mm)|
SDXC card slot
|Sensors||Ambient Light||Ambient Light|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 5000||Intel HD Graphics 5000|
|Retina Display||No (135ppi)||No (128ppi)|
|Native Resolution||1366 x 768||1440 x 900|
|Camera||720p FaceTime HD||720p FaceTime HD|
|Mic||Noise-cancelling Dual Stereo||Noise-cancelling Dual Stereo|
|Keyboard||Chiclet, Backlit (LED)||Chiclet, Backlit (LED)|
|Trackpad||Glass, Multitouch||Glass, Multitouch|
Design & casing
If you're a fan of the older Air models, then you won't be disappointed by the 2013 version. The slim design and aluminium casing is largely untouched from its predecessor. The only novelty you'll find is a new hole on the left side of the body next to the headphone jack – that's the second mic which has been introduced in this model. The two mics act as stereo noise cancelling recorders which make conversions sound clearer and smoother when you're using FaceTime. The difference isn't astronomical, but it does help somewhat. You also get two USB 3.0 ports which will help speed up transferring files and the like.
The only real difference between the two models, aside from the dimensions and weight, is an SD card slot on the right side of the 13in model. That shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the 11in and 13in variations of the past. The 11in is a handy size and weighs in at about the same as three cans of soft drink, a medium-sized pineapple or about 120 $1 coins. Those extra 270g in the 13in model equate to lugging around 300 paper clips or 41 $2 coins. There are some other ultrabooks on the market now which weigh in under 1Kg, like the 11in Sony Vaio Pro.
Despite their airy weights, both Macbook Air models are pretty durable. One of the biggest gripes with the old white Macbook casing was how easily the polycarbonate shell cracked around the edges or how the rubber base peeled off on the really old models. The Air aluminium unibody design is sleek and durable. The worst you'll see are a few dings and scratches along the edges through normal wear and tear.
You might miss the curved inset below the trackpad that you could use to open up the old Macbooks as the Air version is quite pointy and sharp – resting your palm there when you use the trackpad or moving your hand back and forth across the keyboard will give you a few scratches and scrapes.
The whole silver/black theme is a bit old now too, it being the default for all Macs lately, but you can buy skins, decals and cases that will let you customise your Macbook Air however you'd like. You can also get these nifty keyboard stickers that really make the black keys pop. With the release of the 5S in technicolour polycarbonate, maybe we'll be seeing a bit more colour in the Macbook line soon as well.Back to top
Display & the screen
The display is razor thin. Really – you can use it as a rough bread knife. Any thinner and we'd have a dangerous laptop you'd have to check-in at the airport. Despite it's lack of space-taking, the display is pretty good. Pretty good, but not great.
Both size variations of the 2013 Macbook Air do not feature retina displays. The 13in and 15in 2013 Macbook Pros both feature Retina Displays with 227ppi and 220ppi screens (respectively), but Apple passed on bumping up the Air's pixel density. The 11in screen is a respectable 135ppi while the 13in is 128ppi but the difference from Retina is notable. It's sharp, but not Retina Display sharp.
Even without the Retina Display, the Macbook Air screen is gorgeous. Colour reproduction is accurate and bright and the contrast is decent. The screen isn't matte but it's not highly reflective either; you'll get some glare in direct sunlight but it could be worse. The best thing about the graphics on the 2013 Macbook Airs is easily the bump up from the HD 4000 to the HD 5000 integrated Intel graphics. The result is that images are processed much faster and better framerates for games, making viewing a much smoother experience.Back to top
Admittedly, the bump in graphical processing speed is also the product of the fourth generation Haswell Intel chips as well. Both the i5 and i7 dual core processors are speedy little buggers. You might notice that the 2012 versions of the Macbook Air featured 2GHz i7s and 1.8/1.7GHz i5s which should put the 2013 models at a disadvantage, but numbers can be deceiving. Geekbench scoring (which measures the speed at which a processor functions over just the base stats of the hardware) puts the 2013 models ahead of the 2012s, but real world use shows that the difference isn't all that big.
|Macbook model & processor||Geekbench Score|
|2013 11 Inch Intel Core i7-4650U 1700 MHz (2 cores)||2885|
|2013 13 Inch Intel Core i7-4650U 1700 MHz (2 cores)||2866|
|2012 13 Inch Intel Core i7-3667U 2000 MHz (2 cores)||2563|
|2012 11 Inch Intel Core i7-3667U 2000 MHz (2 cores)||2530|
|2013 13 Inch Intel Core i5-4250U 1300 MHz (2 cores)||2367|
|2013 11 Inch Intel Core i5-4250U 1300 MHz (2 cores)||2365|
|2012 13 Inch Intel Core i5-3427U 1800 MHz (2 cores)||2303|
|2012 11 Inch Intel Core i5-3317U 1700 MHz (2 cores)||2164|
Some of the functions on the 2013 models will work faster, like booting up, but others will be a bit slower, like processing images. The key differentiator with the fourth generation chips used by the 2013 models isn't speed, but efficiency. No matter the task, the 2013 models will outlast the 2012s by a mile.Back to top
A beefy battery
The Haswell i5 and i7 chips are optimised to reduce energy consumption and the battery has seen a boost from 35Wh and 50Wh in 2012 to 38Wh and 54Wh (11in and 13in models respectively) in 2013 so that the newer models can last for hours longer than their predecessors. Apple puts it at 12 hours of typical use for the 13in model and 9 hours for the 11in with a couple of hours less with intense video watching and streaming going on, but actual use suggests Apple's estimate was conservative.
As an ultraportable laptop, those extra hours away from a powerpoint can be crucial so this jump in specs alone may be worth an upgrade.
If you're not already using a Macbook of some kind, you might be interested in what the design and hardware of the 2013 versions have to offer, but it's definitely not worth upgrading from a previous year based solely on its new features – because it doesn't really have any.
Still unchanged from the 2011 models is the industry-leading, LED backlit keyboard with chiclet style keys. It's a joy to type on and keeps the tactile feeling that's missing from tablets and silicone/flat keyboards. In my experience, the letters tend to last longer than on other keyboards before they start to rub away. The backlight is incredibly handy when typing at night, but any conditions which require you to type with a backlit keyboard are likely conditions you shouldn't really be typing in anyway, as it'll strain your eyes far too much. There's no numeric keypad, but most laptops won't have them anyway. The keyboard stays the same size for both the 11in and 13in models, with the casing rim on either side slimming down for the 11in's smaller body size.
The trackpad is also the standard against which competition is measured. It's almost impossible to get fingerprints on the trackpad so it always looks brand new. There's no button because you can just tap to click and use two fingers to tap for a right click. It's little innovations like that, along with all the other gestures you can enable, which make Macbook trackpads a joy to work with—although those porting over from a Windows based system will need a couple of weeks to familiarise themselves.
Both of these features are standard in the whole Macbook line, so neither is reason enough to ditch your existing Macbook for the 2013 Air model. The camera doesn't add much fuel to the upgrade fire either. It's a 720p HD FaceTime camera, but so was the 2012 model. The dual-mic is a minor improvement which helps with video calls, but you'll still show up kind of fuzzy around the edges to anyone you're FaceTime-ing.Back to top
The biggest gripes with the Macbook Air are its lack of a few industry standard features. You're not going to find a HDMI port, which you shouldn't be expecting given it's an Apple product after all, but there's also no Ethernet input. If you don't have the proprietary Apple Ethernet-USB/Thunderbolt adapter, you're not going to be able to plug in. Realistically though, if you're buying a Macbook Air you're going to want portability, so I am assuming plug-in capabilities are low on your priorities list.
With the introduction of super fast Wi-Fi 802.11 ac connectivity – as yet limited to Apple's own products, but likely to roll out en masse later on – the lack of Ethernet input is really quite redundant in the Air. You also won't want a fair few of the gimmicky, flashy extras that some laptops have these days like NFC (Apple really don't seem to want the whole NFC thing to catch on) or a fingerprint scanner. The latter might roll out in the near future now that Apple has successfully implemented it in the iPhone range, but 2013 Macbooks missed out.
There are two practical and useful features that Apple ignored in the Macbook Air line: an optical drive and a considerable hard drive capacity. The first is forgivable as CD-ROMs are fast being phased out by faster data downloads and electronic file transfers to make room for smaller, more portable laptops, but the second is inexcusable. Sure, a jump from the barely-passable 64GB of the 2012 model's base capacity is a good move, but 128GB is just not enough, especially when you consider how much more data we're downloading and storing these days.
Without an optical drive, you'll have to download all your songs and movies to store on your internal hard drive or buy a portable one. You can opt for a beefier hard drive, but the maximum on offer is only 512GB, which is pretty decent but will set you back at least $550. To give you some perspective, a HD movie from iTunes will take up 4GB on your hard drive. Add in a couple of programs like Adobe's Creative Suite (approx 11-12GB), maybe a few games (Call of Duty: Black Ops on Mac is about 13GB) or just a bunch of songs (4 minutes is approximately 4MB), eBooks (9 hours will be roughly 110MB) and HD TV Shows (45 minutes will take up about 600MB) and you can see how easily 128GB can fill up.
To be fair, many ultrabooks err on the side of smaller hard drives, many not giving you an option to upgrade at all. Sony's Vaio Pro comes with 256GB standard while the ASUS Zenbook Prime Touch comes with 128GB, which actually puts the Macbook Air out in front of the competition. If you're looking for storage space in your laptop, skip the ultrabook market entirely or get a good portable SSD to take your files with you on the go.Back to top
The Macbook Air comes out on top for a lot of the ultrabook hardware features, but the market has grown a fair bit since it started on the scene in 2008. Now, Samsung, Sony and ASUS have their own models that stack up quite nicely.
|Macbook Air 2013 13in||Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus||Sony Vaio Pro 13in||ASUS Zenbook Prime Touch|
|Price (base)||$1,249||from $1,899||from $1,399||from $1,699|
|Dimensions (cm)||32.5 x 22.7 x 0.3-1.7||31.9 x 22.3 x 1.3||32.2 x 21.6 x 1.8||32.5 x 22.3 x 0.3 - 0.9|
|Processor||1.3 GHz 4th Generation Dual Core Intel i5||1.6GHz 4th Generation Dual Core Intel i5||1.6GHz 4th Generation Dual Core Intel i5||1.7GHz Generation Dual Core Intel i5|
|HDD Capacity||128GB SSD||128GB SSD||128GB SSD||128GB SSD|
|Battery||12 hours||9 hours||8.5 hours||7 hours|
You've also got the Chromebook and Toshiba Kirabook, but neither really compare with the Macbook Air; the Chromebook is skimpy on features, hardware and Chrome OS still needs a lot of work while the Kirabook is way too pricey, even despite its gorgeous screen. Also in the mix are Lenovo with their ThinkPad line and Acer with the Aspire, but for the price and hardware inclusions, you'll be hard put to go past the Macbook Air.
The only real failing of the Macbook in relation to its fellow ultrabooks is its display and lack of fancy extras. No touchscreen may disappoint some, but the Macbook Air makes up for that with a power-packed battery and juiced up internals.
The build, too, stacks up quite nicely in terms of size, weight and durability. The Sony Vaio Pro may be light, but the carbon fibre body is notoriously flimsy and makes the body seem cheap and weak. While the Zenbook Prime Touch is slim and light with a durable build, its internals don't stack up. The Macbook Air is a good all-rounder with an appropriate price tag.Back to top
The cheapest model, the 11" with a 1.3GHz Dual Core i5, 128GB hard drive capacity and 4GB of DDR3 RAM will set you back $1,099, while the most expensive model – the 13" with 1.7GHz Dual Core i7, 512GB capacity and 8GB RAM – almost doubles the price to $2,099. While Apple products very rarely fluctuate in price, you can find discounts or seasonal sales that will help put a dent in the price.Back to top
Verdict: hot air or fresh air?
The bottom line with the Macbook Air in general is that it's a great entry level laptop that poses fierce competition in the ultrabook market.
While the graphics processing capabilities are much better this time round, they still don't compare to processors with dedicated graphics; if you're a gamer, stick to Alienware or a Windows machine. If you need heavy-duty processing capabilities on the go, an ultrabook is not the right choice for you and maybe a Macbook Pro might be more your speed.
If you're a first-time buyer or porting over from a much older model, you'll be hard pressed to find another laptop that's as portable and as capable as a Macbook Air for a comparable price.
Tha having been said, if you're upgrading from a year- or two-old model, don't bother. The Macbook lineage is proudly upheld in the 2013 generation, but it was more of an evolutionary hop than a full-on jump ahead. All you'll be getting is a tiny speed boost, a marginally better microphone and an improved battery.Back to top