Rapid Review: 2018 Apple MacBook Air

Image: Apple

Apple's MacBook Air, until a couple of weeks ago, was an underpowered notebook that had been bypassed by almost the entire PC market. The thin profile, that made it special a decade ago when it was released is now common and the specs were not even last generation. Yet, many people held onto those computers for years because they proved reliable and portable. The 2018 model takes what users loved about the old model and give it a thoroughly modern twist.

What Is It?

The Apple MacBook Air is a 13-inch notebook that will have people thinking long and hard about whether they will need a MacBook Pro. And, I suspect it will make people wonder where the 12-inch MacBook fits as well.

It delivers a pair of USB-C ports, a stunning display that rivals the current MacBook Pro, weighs about 10% less and includes TouchID.

It also lacks the same high-end CPU options from the Pro machines but the value of those is questionable for a lot of users. My observations and experience suggest that the fastest CPUs are rarely utilised by most users. A step back in processor class rarely makes a difference when it comes to productivity.

We spend most of our time looking at the display and tapping away with the keyboard and trackpad. Apple has paid attention to these with the MacBook Air and held back on premium CPU options.

Specifications

Display 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Retina display running at 2560-by-1600
Processor 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
Memory 8GB with option for 16GB
Storage 128Gb, 256GB, 512GB and 1TB SSD options
Graphics ntel UHD Graphics 617 and support for Thunderbolt 3–enabled external graphics processors (eGPUs)
Size and weight 30.41 x 21.24 x 0.41-1.56cm
Ports Two Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports with support for charging, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt (up to 40 Gbps) and USB‑C 3.1 Gen 2 (up to 10 Gbps)
Comms 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2
Camera Front-facing 720p FaceTime HD camera
Battery 50.3‑watt‑hour lithium‑polymer battery rated for up to 12 hours wireless web or up to 13 hours iTunes movie playback with up to 30 days of standby time

What's Good?

Apple seems to have listened to their users and delivered a MacBook Air that brings the familiar and loved-by-Mac-users form factor up to date.

When I set the MacBook Air next to the current 13-inch MacBook Pro the display quality is identical in office environments. It isn't quite as bright when the brightness is jacked to the max but that isn't going to bother those working in normal conditions. In fact, when looking at the two machines side by side it's hard to tell one from the other. Other than the lack of a TouchBar and a slightly smaller Touch Pad, it's clear that the two devices come from the same design team.

TouchID makes its debut outside the pro-level Apple notebooks and works perfectly. There's no TouchBar option but that's no great loss in my view.

I'm a bit torn as to whether the availability of two USB-C ports is adequate or not. I carry a USB-C dongle with me that gives me a pair of USB-A ports, another USB-C and HDMI with my MacBook Pro. As a result, I rarely use all the ports I have now. My gut feeling is that the MacBook Air target audience will be happy with the pair of USB-C ports once they get through the painful transition process of moving from legacy USB-A devices.

Image: Apple

There are a couple of things worth noting that aren't outwardly visible.

The T2 Security Chip powers the TouchID system and keeps your data safe. It's also used to do all the encryption/decryption activity on the storage, taking that away from the CPU. This is one way Apple is able to extract more oomph from the main processor as it offloads tasks to the T2. The T2 is also used to power Siri.

This is also the first Mac to be made with an enclosure that is made from a custom, Apple-designed aluminum alloy made from 100% recycled aluminium. This custom alloy helps reduce the carbon footprint 
of MacBook Air by almost half.

Image: Apple

What's Bad?

I'm not a fan of Apple's notebook keyboards. I'm not a heavy typist but I find the short movement of the keys and "hardness" to be uncomfortable after long periods. When I'm in my office, I use an external keyboard that is far more forgiving. And while the MacBook Air keyboard is well made, it's just not all that comfortable for me.

The smaller trackpad, when compared to the MacBook Pro, seems to be a contrivance on Apple's part to further differentiate the Air and Pro lines. I might be nit-picking but it's hard to see how making it about 15mm narrower and 3mm shallower enhances the device's portability or the user experience.

Should You Buy It

The MacBook Air starts at $1849. For that, you get 8GB of memory and a paltry 128GB SSD - that's an option that shouldn't exist in my view.

Adding another 8GB of memory ($320) and doubling the storage ($300) bumps that up to $2169. That's over $300 less than a MacBook Pro without the TouchBar.

A maxed out MacBook Air, with 1TB of storage costs $3969 - the 1TB storage option costs $1800.

All upgrades to the base configuration are built-to-order options as everything is soldered to the main board - no user upgrades.

If I was buying a new MacBook Air notebook today, I'd be going for the MacBook Air with 512GB of storage and 8GB of memory. That would suit my needs and cost $2449.


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