Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Apple MacBook Air (2013)
This update to Apple’s most portable notebook gives a huge boost to battery
- Excellent battery life, quick charge time
- More than enough power for everyday tasks
- Same (excellent) design and build
- Still carries a premium price tag
- Need serious power? Step up to the Pro
- Same (excellent) design and build
Apple’s newest, most powerful, and most refined MacBook Air finally reaches that ‘all-day-playback’ milestone that is so crucial for a portable device. It’s got enough battery life to last a full day of video, or even longer if you’re just browsing the Web or working. For the student or professional it’s a brilliant machine.
Price$ 1,249.00 (AUD)
Apple’s MacBook Air is, in a way, the descendant of the netbook of 2007 — it's a small, light, simple notebook made more for portability than power.
It’s the Californian electronics giant’s natural rival to Intel’s Ultrabook standard, which itself is exemplified by the Samsung Series 9. The eternal battle between Apple and Samsung rages on, and the newest MacBook Air is a strong barrage in Apple’s favour.
Apple MacBook Air (2013): Design and features
The new MacBook Air looks just like the old MacBook Air. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to anyone; when it’s on to a good thing, Apple doesn’t normally change its designs for no good reason. As a result, there isn’t anything that we dislike about the Air’s design — it’s exceptionally thin for a notebook, with a leading edge that’s only 3mm thick up, to a maximum of 17mm at its bulkiest. Apple’s simple, excellent backlit chiclet keyboard makes another welcome appearance.
In terms of ports, the 13-inch Air we tested splits its ports between the right-hand — SDXC card, USB, and Thunderbolt — and the left-hand — power, USB, and headphone, alongside dual mics that complement the 720p FaceTime HD camera in the notebook’s centre top bezel.
The screen of the 13-inch MacBook Air is a 1440x900 pixel one, LED back-lit and glossy, with a bezel that’s not especially small but not annoyingly thick. It looks very nice, with good colour reproduction, a high maximum brightness level, and a level of detail appropriate for its size and resolution. It’s a screen that you’re going to be working close to, if you’re typing on the Air’s keyboard, and you won’t be disappointed.
The latest MacBook Air includes support for the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, so super-fast wireless networks are supported if you happen to have one. The change to a newer, faster PCIe solid-state drive makes an already speedy hard drive system even more responsive — enough so that you really won’t notice the loading times of any but the most bloated apps.
Apple MacBook Air (2013): Performance
Apple’s most recent refresh of the MacBook Air updates the processor to Intel’s fourth-generation, ultra-low-voltage Core i5-4250U, which nominally runs at 1.3GHz, although it’ll ramp up and down as needs require, with Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz. There’s an option to upgrade to a Core i7-4650U, at 1.7GHz Boosting up to 3.3GHz (although this will take a small toll on battery life, we’d expect around 20 per cent).
GeekBench reported a score of 6051 for the MacBook Air, a large improvement from the 4543 of the previous mid-2011 Air, and moreso from the 2045 of the mid-2010 Air before. The new Intel processor has a lot of power up its sleeve when you need it, but it’s able to ramp down when you don’t, using barely any processing power unless you’re typing or clicking away.
No component of the MacBook Air is easily user-serviceable, so if you want more RAM or a bigger solid-state drive, you’re better off just choosing these when you initially purchase the Air. This is a downside for those that want to tinker, but the trade-off of this entirely closed-off system is the extra space can be filled by a particularly impressive battery — increased in size, but not weight, over the previous iteration.
The battery life of the 13-inch MacBook Air, naturally the more impressive of the two models available, is impressive. Apple claims battery life of up to 12 hours of ‘wireless Web’, up to 10 hours of iTunes movie playback, and up to 30 days of standby time as made possible by the fourth-generation Intel chipset’s excellent energy-saving states.
We managed a full 9hrs 20min of battery life from the MacBook Air while playing 720p HD video through VLC, with Wi-Fi running in the background, and the display back-light at 75 per cent. Playing back 1080p Full HD video, this figure drops to 5hrs 41min, still excellent.
We measured an average time of 1hr 53min for the MacBook Air to charge from completely empty to completely full (averaged over half a dozen charge cycles), with the majority of the charging (up to 95 per cent) happening in the first 90 minutes. These kind of battery figures are brilliant, especially from a notebook of the miniscule dimensions and overall power of the Air.
Apple MacBook Air (2013): Conclusion
The combination of new battery plus increasingly efficient processor and hardware means that the 2013 MacBook Air is an entirely portable notebook that can genuinely be used flat-out for a full day of work. Take the brightness down a few notches and you’ll be able to use it on the couch in the evening too, with a quick overnight recharge setting it up for another busy day.
The MacBook Air is reasonably expensive for what is quite a basic notebook in terms of outright performance. It always has been, and that’s not going to change any time soon. But if you’re a user that values ease of use and a capacious battery moreso than grunt — and this should be most people — we think the Air is definitely a worthwhile purchase.
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