The 13-inch MacBook Air has become the model of the modern notebook. Apple MacBook Air could have fallen into the shadow of the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display at their WWDC 2012 has released, nevertheless the up-to-date ultraportable has plenty choosing it. A proven shape favorite, plus definitely the inspiration for a legion of Windows-powered ultrabooks, the MacBook Air today gets a fresh batch of processors inside the form of Intel newest Ivy Bridge chips, and a general refresh to the spec sheet. Is which enough to keep the MacBook Air at the best of the ultraportable tree.
DesignThe MacBook Air is just as and portable as before. The all-aluminum unibody design of the MacBook Air has become iconic, and its rock-solid wedge-shaped build has influenced many of the current crop of Windows ultrabooks.
However, just as the iPhone started iconic and gradually found itself surrounded by a sea of similar competitors, the MacBook Air now sits among ultrabooks, no longer as much of a stand-out it was a year ago. That doesn't mean the Air is any less comfortable or excellently built, but the look, going on a few years old, is less surprising. The 13-inch Air is still one of the thinnest laptops around, but it does have a screen bezel that's larger than the current norm in high-end ultrabooks.
SystemThe new base 13-inch MacBook Air comes equipped with 4GB of system memory, a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U (Ivy Bridge) processor. It now has an Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics card with Direct X 11 support. The system has 128GB of flash storage. It takes only a couple of seconds to run tasks like launching apps, going to sleep and waking up, and booting.
DisplayNo changes here, maintaining the same aspect ratio fragmentation as last year's Airs. The screen area also lacks the edge-to-edge glass over a black bezel found in other MacBooks; rather the screen is close in by a thick silver bezel. On the positive side, the native resolution of the display is 1,440x900 pixels, which is a better than the current 13-inch standard of 1,366x768 pixels. In head-to-head comparisons, the new 13-inch Pro's glass showed far more lower than the Air's, which is treated with an anti glare coating.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro screen has a lower resolution of 1,280x800, and does not offer any higher-res screen upgrades, meaning it has the highest-resolution 13-inch display you can get on an Air; if you want a Retina Display, you'll have to pay up for that far larger for next-gen 15-inch Pro.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The backlit keyboard is still present in the 2012 MacBook Air, and the rest of the keyboard remains largely the same. It’s still very flat, and it’s still very chick let-like. Adjustable white LED back-lighting is the cherry on the Apple-cake. The MacBook Air 2012’s chic let keyboard is well laid out even if keys are spaced just a tad too far apart for ideal comfort. Travel is good and there’s not a hint of flex, making it mostly a pleasure to type on. The large multitouch and multifinger clickpad still stands as the best touch pad in the industry. It never hiccups, and gestures are as silky-smooth as on an iPad. It remains a perfect synchronization of hardware and software, and no Windows ultrabook has been able to match it. Competitors now offer similarly sized pads, but not ones of similar quality.
GraphicsApple might have caused some momentary panic by switching away from the NVIDIA GeForce 320M card in the previous Air to Intel integrated HD 3000 graphics in the new model, but the benchmarks show the new set up offers fairly comparable performance. As the benchmarks above indicate, the new Intel graphics are comparable to the previous NVIDIA GeForce 320M card, and it was more than capable at playing local and streaming 720p and 1080p video at full screen. Actually, as Paul noted in his Lion review, Flash performance actually seems to be much improved — though, Flash-heavy content still heats up the bottom of the system. Sure, this system wasn’t designed for gaming — on the Just Cause 2 benchmark in Windows it managed an unplayable 11.32fps at 1024 x 768 resolution — but Left 4 Dead 2 at the same resolution fared much better. Obviously, the VAIO Z trounces these numbers when plugged into its Light Peak-based AMD Radeon HD 6650M GPU, which makes it a much better gaming option.
MacBook Air SpeakersThe hidden stereo speakers are good by 13in ultraportable standards. They offer decent volume levels albeit with slight distortion at maximum. They also manage to project more depth and clarity than we’re used to from laptops this slim, though bass is inevitably absent. Certainly, the 13 inch MacBook Air 2012’s audio is on a level with the best of the rest.
PerformanceSurrounded the 2012 Air is a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i5-3427U processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of flash storage. This combination of components offered fast performance on our tests. On Geek bench, the Air returned a score of 6,539, which bested the category average of 4,772 and outpaced last year's Air (5,860). The UX31A scored a higher 6,903, but it has a more powerful 1.9-GHz Intel Core i7-3517U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. The Air booted into OS X 7 in just 12 seconds, beating last year's version by 5 seconds, and most other Ultrabooks by half. The UX31A came closest, at 23 seconds, but it was no contest. The Air also sprang back to life instantly when we opened the lid. The flash storage performed exceptionally in other tests, duplicating a 5GB folder of multimedia files in 32 seconds. That's a rate of 159 MBps or 30 MBps higher than the 2011 Air (127MBps). This showing is also leagues better than the UX31A (51.4 MBps), not to mention the category average of 46 MBps. The XPS 13 came close, notching a rate of 138 MBps. When it came to some tasks, the Air was no better than the previous version. It took 6 minutes and 47 seconds to match 20,000 names with the corresponding addresses in OpenOffice, which is about 30 seconds slower than the 2011 version, but almost two minutes faster than the ultraportable average.
SoftwareThough Apple is on the cusp of releasing its next-gen OS, dubbed Mountain Lion, those of you who purchase a MacBook Air within the next few weeks will have to make do with plain old Lion. Fortunately, upgrading will be free for anyone buying one of Apple's latest laptops, and for everyone else upgrading will be fairly cheap: just twenty bucks will get you a license for as many machines as you like. At that point, you'll enjoy features like notifications, iMessage, deep Twitter and iCloud integration and Power Nap, which keeps web-based apps up to date while your machine is asleep. If you're not in a rush, settle in with our in-depth Mountain Lion preview to get a feel for what's coming.
USB 3.0New in the latest MacBook Air is an upgrade to USB 3.0, primarily bringing faster data transfer speeds over the same old USB connector. (We wrote a brief history of USB 3.0’s evolution in 2009, which you can read here). USB 3.0 has been a long time in the making, and Mac users can now finally take advantage of the 5Gbps transfer rates afforded by USB 3.0’s “SuperSpeed” capabilities. It’s about time, too. USB 3.0 peripherals are becoming commonplace at retail electronics stores. I just convinced a friend before WWDC to buy a USB 3.0-capable pocket hard drive for use with his new MacBook Air that he would inevitably buy once they were announced—and it should complement the Air’s Thunderbolt port. The ports are backwards compatible with USB 2.0 devices, of course, so everything you already own should work fine with the new ports.
BluetoothBluetooth support was upgraded to 4.0 in 2011. It is the same in the new MacBook Air, but it is definitely worth noting since we are beginning to see more Bluetooth 4.0 compatible devices hit the market. Bluetooth 4.0 adds a low power mode to Bluetooth, which is useful when it comes to talking to wireless sensors. With Bluetooth 4.0 it means that the MacBook Air can communicate with a lot of devices that are around your home.
It's worth noting that the Apple webcam now supports HD at 720p. This is great, as long as whatever you're calling with supports these higher resolutions. Skype does, but it's picky about hardware. With Facetime, it depends on the device you're calling. But we're sure, over time. the uses for HD webcams will increase.
Apple quotes the same 7hr runtime for the 13-inch MacBook Air as before, or up to 5hrs from the smaller 11-inch version. In our testing, with brightness set to 50-percent and WiFi and Bluetooth turned on, continuous browsing (loop test), we were able to stream a 2-hour long video once while playing a looped video for a total of 6-hours and 18-minutes before the battery ran out.
The 13-inch MacBook Air remains our favorite ultraportable notebook. In addition to best-in-class ergonomics, loud speakers and a svelte profile, you now get faster performance and much longer battery life than the Ultrabook competition. The only reason we dropped the rating from a perfect 5 stars to 4.5 stars is because some Ultrabooks offer higher-resolution screens and more compact designs. Nevertheless, the MacBook Air is still the one to beat.