The Bottom Line
Jun 26 2012 - Apple's MacBook Air 13 refresh may be most notable for its $100 price drop from last years model but this ultrathin and light design that is several years old still holds up well even compared to the onslaught of competition from the second generation of ultrabooks. Performance has improved as has battery life thanks to the new Ivy Bridge based dual core processor. Storage and memory remain unchanged but now external expansion is improved with USB 3.0. For those looking at a high quality ultraportable laptop for traveling that doesn't skimp on performance or features, the MacBook Air 13 is still one of the best around.
- Strong Performance
- Extremely Thin And Light
- Long Battery Life
- Display While Good Is Starting To Fall Behind Some Newer Ultrabooks
- No Aftermarket Upgrades For Memory or Storage
- Intel Core i5-3427U Dual Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB PC3-12800 DDR3 Memory
- 128GB Solid State Drive
- 13.3" WXA+ (1440x900) Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- Intel HD Graphics 4000 Integrated Graphics
- 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- Two USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, SDXC Card Slot
- 12.8" x 8.9" x .7" @ 3 lbs.
- Mac OS X, iLife
Review - Apple MacBook Air 13
Jun 26 2012 - There was much anticipation for Apple to announce the inclusion of a retina display into the MacBook Air lineup at the recent World Wide Developer Conference. This was a big disappointment for many people as the chassis and display remain unchanged for the MacBook Air 13. While it would be nice to have seen Apple include such a display into the ultrathin laptop, it would have increased the overall cost of the laptop rather than the $100 price drop to $1199. In addition, it likely would have seen a decrease in overall battery life due to the extra power demands but no space for a larger battery similar to what Apple encountered with the New iPad release.
Instead, the same 13.3-inch display with its 1440x900 native resolution is used. This is still higher resolution than the average 13-inch laptop. The problem is that more and more ultrabooks will be coming out in the coming months that will feature higher resolution displays. One such example is the ASUS ZenBook Prime X31A with its 1920x1080 IPS display. Even though it may not be able to compete on the resolution anymore, the display does offer some impressive color and viewing angles that are much better than the competition.
The big change in the MacBook Air 13 is the move to the new Ivy Bridge base processor. For the base configuration, this is the Intel Core i5-3427U dual core processor. It offers a slight speed bump over the older Core i5-2557M found in last years model. Performance actually improved much more thanks to the increased speed of the 4GB of DDR3 memory up to the 1600MHz from 1333MHz. Between these, the laptop should be able to handle even demanding tasks. It may not be as fast as a MacBook Pro with quad core processor when it comes to desktop video editing but that isn't a task most consumers are going to be doing frequently. The processor also includes a newer Intel HD Graphics 4000 processor built into it which offers some performance gains over the past generation. It still not a platform to be used for 3D gaming but it at least has some capability for less demanding games at lower resolution and detail levels which last years model struggled with.
The base storage remains unchanged in the base MacBook Air 13. It comes equipped with a 128GB solid state drive that offers a decent amount of storage. What did seem to change though is the performance of that SSD drive. Transfer speeds have greatly increased over the past model. This offers some of the fastest boot times around out of any laptop and some speedy application launching. Admittedly, the size of the drive could be quickly eaten up by digital media files. Apple does offer a $1499 MacBook Air 13 version that doubles the storage space to 256GB but this is a fairly expensive upgrade. Thankfully, Apple has upgraded the USB 2.0 ports to faster USB 3.0 versions that make high speed external storage much easier to attach. There also is the Thunderbolt port which can be used for storage in addition to an external display.
With the unchanged chassis design of the MacBook Air 13, the battery which is so heavily integrated into it has remained unchanged at 50Whr capacity. One would expect that the running time would be roughly the same as well. In my video playback tests, the laptop was able to run for just under six hours before going into standby mode. This is just over an hour longer than the past version of the MacBook Air 13 ran on the same test. It even puts it at the same rough running time as the HP Folio 13 with its larger 59WHr capacity battery. The only way to explain this is that the new Ivy Bridge based processor offered a significant improvement in power efficiency, something that I observed to a smaller degree in the MacBook Air 11. This should provide easily the seven hours of wireless web usage that Apple claims.
The one area that the MacBook Air 13 still commands a lead is the size and weight of the system. At just under three pounds, it still is extremely light especially compared to the majority of ultrabooks that are being released. Only the Dell XPS 13 and the ASUS ZenBook UX31 really compares similarly in terms of size and weight. Each of them offers similar sizes and weights but neither can match the quality and experience that Apple provides with their backlit keyboard and trackpad.