MacBook Air (2018)

The MacBook Air is back and it's ready for 2018 with a much slimmer design, higher-resolution Retina display, fingerprint sensor security, and better performance than the MacBook Air you knew and loved from almost a decade ago.

This is poised to be Apple's best entry-level MacBook since it's cheaper than the 12-inch MacBook and sporting a larger 13.3-inch screen size. It has 17% less volume than the previous MacBook Air design and weighs just 2.75 pounds (1.25kg).

It inherits some other features from today's beefier MacBook Pro 2018: USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports and Touch ID. The individual function key row at the top remains, so there's no Touch Bar, but Apple has added a fingerprint sensor that's embedded into the keyboard within the same row of keys.

You're going to have to get used to USB-C ports if you're upgrading to the MacBook Air 2018. Good news, there are two of them. Bad news, while we weren't expecting the four USB-C ports found on the MacBook Pro, we would have preferred USB-C ports on either side of the MacBook Air. We've found this makes it easier to charge the MacBook in different environments.

Price and availability

Okay, it's not the $999 MacBook Air you were hoping for, but the MacBook Air 2018 price is technically Apple's most affordable laptop at $1,119 (£1,199). That gets you the new Retina display with an 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory and 128GB of SSD storage inside. The price, of course, goes up from there if you upgrade things like the memory and storage, which go up to 16GB and 1.5TB, respectively.

To some, that's going to be a great price compared to the costlier 12-inch MacBook and the MacBook Pro. To some budget-conscious students, however, the four-figure price tag is going to seem like a big jump. 

The new MacBook Air 2018 is shipping to first customers next week, November 7, with pre-orders available starting today.

Comparatively, the Dell XPS 13 starts the pricing at a much lower $999 (£1,269, about AU$2,190) for a 1080p display and quad-core Intel processor inside compared to the MacBook Air's dual-core chip.

Likewise, the Huawei MateBook X Pro comes with a larger display, quad-core Intel processing and double the storage for $1,199 (about £899 or AU$1,599) – the very same starting price.

Design and display

The new MacBook Air 2018 has a familiar 13.3-inch display size, but that's where the similarities stop. There are a lot more pixels and a lot less bezel here.

To be exact, the new MacBook Air display comes out to 2,560 x 1,600 pixels in a 16:10 aspect ratio. That amounts to 227 pixels per inch (ppi), which is narrowly sharper than the MateBook X Pro and easily outclasses the entry-level XPS 13. 

Apple has shaved 50% surface area off the borders from the original MacBook Air design that now looks completely dated. And the thin borders are black, not silver, so the remaining bezel doesn't stand out as much.

This is the first Retina display for a MacBook Air, giving the screen more than four times the resolution of the prior Air laptops. The jump from a 900p display to a Retina display is the first big change you'll notice when opening up the lid.

It has stereo speakers and a three-microphone array, which Apple claims to have fine tuned for stronger volume and bass response. The MacBook Air 2018 comes in three colors: Space Gray, Gold and Silver.

Performance and battery

The MacBook Air has an 8th-generation, dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, according to Apple's predictably cryptic mention of the chip. This sounds about right on paper.

It's important to note that the only dual-core, 8th-generation Intel processor is a Y-series Intel Core processor crafted for laptops with fanless designs. Every other current Intel Core i5 processor is a quad-core chip and requires fans to cool it.

While we can't make hard judgments on performance in a hands-on review, we did need runs tests to see what this means regarding the MacBook Air 2018 power profile. All previous MacBook Air models ran fan-cooled designs with full-fat mobile processors.

Since 'full-fat' today means 'quad-core' in Intel's world, we were expecting as much with this model considering that was a major piece of the original laptop's appeal: the power of all the other laptops around in a fraction of the size and weight. No matter how you slice it, this will not be the case for the new MacBook Air.

That said, this MacBook Air is at least poised to carry the brand's torch when it comes to battery life, rated for 12 hours of local video playback and 12 hours of wireless web use. But, just imagine what this figure would have looked like with, say, a just-fine 1080p display and quad-core processor behind it.

Rounding out your performance options are up to 16GB of DDR3 memory and as much as 1.5TB of SSD storage.

Early verdict

The MacBook Air 2018 has the Retina Display everyone was asking for and didn't get for years. Apple has finally come through with the four million pixels its 'most loved Mac' deserves, and it shrinks the body by 17% to boot. And, yet the 13.3-inch screen size hasn't changed, only that narrowed bezel, with the borders now in black.

With a newer Intel Core i5 chipset, faster RAM, and biometric Touch ID security, this is a sizable leap over the last MacBook Air update. You're still going to find a better value from Windows laptops, of course, but this is the best of a macOS machine at a 'cheap' price. You will also have to deal with the USB-C ports, and there are only two of them, both on the left side.

The original MacBook Air fit into a manilla envelope, as Steve Jobs artfully demonstrated a decade ago. The new MacBook Air 2018 is smaller, lighter and more powerful, fitting into modern times. And it still comes at a fairly affordable price – for a MacBook.

from TechRadar - Technology Reviews