Apple MacBook Air (Mid 2013) Review
Great performance, crazy good battery life, the best touchpad on the market—Apple's latest has it all.
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After typing on, playing, carrying, and yes, testing Apple's latest MacBook Air (MSRP $1099.00)—complete with Intel's 1.3GHz fourth-generation i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB solid-state hard drive—I kept thinking about its unprecedented 13 hours of battery life. While mileage may vary depending on how you actually use the Air, that number is still significantly better than just about every other laptop out there. Those 13 hours almost made me forget that Apple's current lightweight ultrabook is more than just a battery.
If you're looking for a laptop that's easy to carry around, easy to type on, and easy on the eyes, look no further—the mid-2013 MacBook Air is a sure thing.
The best keyboard and touchpad in the business
Apple’s thin and sleek ultrabook looks understandably similar to its original design from 2008, but this isn’t really a bad thing—it’s still thinner, lighter, and more stylish than much of the competition.
Portability remains a huge focus on the Air. At its thickest point, this laptop measures about a half-inch wide. And weight? About 3.3 pounds with the charger—this is one of the lightest ultrabooks on the market. Microsoft’s Surface weighs even less with its Type Cover attached, although the Air offers a much better keyboard and touchpad.
Speaking of touchpads, this is where Apple excels the most. The 13-inch Air's roughly 4 x 3-inch touchpad is easily one of the best on the market—it’s more sensitive and accurate than anything I’ve used on a PC laptop. I’m not just heaping praise on Apple because of fanboyism—I’m a total Windows guy at home.
The same praise can be given to the Air’s keyboard. For such a small laptop, Apple created a keyboard that never feels cramped. True, you don't get a dedicated number pad, but the typing feels so natural and comfortable you won't care—what are you, a cashier?
As far as connectivity goes, the Mac Air offers two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone input, an SDXC card slot, and a Thunderbolt port. For those that don’t know, Thunderbolt is like a super port: It can be used as a DisplayPort, a data transferring service (like USB), or a means to power certain devices. I only used it as a way to hook up a monitor via DisplayPort, but to those who can make use of these traits—more power to you.
The only downside to the Air’s design is its 1440 x 900 resolution screen—why hasn’t Apple adopted full HD yet? The display looks really good, but we’ve all seen Apple push the boundaries of screen resolution with its current MacBook Pro series, which offer incredible detail. Get with the times, Apple—you’d be hard-pressed to find a Windows ultrabook with less than a 1080p resolution.
Apples to apples
Consumers face a tough decision when choosing between a Windows-based laptop and an Apple laptop. Is Windows 8 better than OS X? Is OS X better than Windows 8? Here’s the short answer: They both get the job done.
If you’re new to the world of OS X, don’t feel intimidated. At its core, it functions much like any other operating system; simply, it is a place to access all of your fancy programs.
Apple’s latest iteration of OS X—10.8, or “Mountain Lion”—doesn’t change the overall performance of the operating system, but adds some tweaks. The Notification Center is a new way to view alerts for either your Mac or various programs; it’s located on the top-right of the menu bar. A new note-taking application called Notes seems simple, but syncs up with an iOS version so you can access your jottings on-the-go. It’s like Evernote... but it’s Apple.
I’ve already mentioned how great the touchpad is on the Air, and it really shines on OS X. Apple has plenty of gestures that can be performed on this touchpad, like swiping three fingers up to show open apps, or swiping with three fingers to the left or right to reveal another desktop. The extra real estate afforded on the touchpad makes gestures a cinch to perform.
Under its shiny exterior resides ample ultrabook performance... and insane battery life.
Cupertino’s latest MacBook Air provides above-average ultrabook performance results. We fed it tests from PCMark and Geekbench, and it easily outperformed other laptops like the Sony VAIO Fit 15E and the Samsung ATIV Tab 7. With 4GB of RAM, a speedy 128GB solid-state hard drive, and Intel’s latest i5 dual-core processor, I expected as much.
What I didn’t expect was the 13-hour battery life I tested. For those who aren’t familiar with laptop batteries, this isn’t merely good—it’s incredible. We test basic battery life by running Google’s Chrome browser and refreshing a website every two minutes, plus we drop the brightness to 50%. This gives us a basic idea of how long a laptop will last in real-world conditions—usually between five and six hours. Thirteen hours is unheard of.
Apple can’t take all the credit for this accomplishment. Intel’s new fourth-generation processor, known as Haswell, was supposed to increase battery life in laptops. Let’s just say they succeeded there.
Another improvement that Haswell processors bring is increased graphics processing. The Air achieved double the score of Samsung’s ATIV Tab 7 in 3DMark Vantage, which gives computers a rigorous graphics test.
So far, I’m impressed with Intel’s latest chip. Apple was smart to implement this into its current line of Airs—this is one area where other laptop manufacturers need to play catch-up.
The king of the coffee shop
So many consumers feel very passionate about Apple—they either love the Cupertino-based company or loathe its very existence. Forget for a minute that this laptop is an Apple product, though. If you strip away its Apple logo, you’re left with an incredibly lightweight, ultra slim laptop that happens to perform exceptionally well, plus it includes astounding battery life.
Apple products get flack for being expensive, but that isn’t the case anymore. Companies like Asus, Samsung, and Sony make laptops that compete with Apple in terms of performance and price. At $1,099, the 13-inch Air is priced fairly.
If you plan on being away from an outlet for a long period of time, the latest MacBook Air is the laptop for you. Even if you don’t—you should still consider it.