The new MacBook Air is a welcome upgrade with a sharper screen in a thinner and lighter design, but this laptop could use more power.
- Thin and light design
- Sharp Retina display
- Eco-friendly aluminum chassis
- Booming audio
- Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Touch ID without the Touch Bar
- Slower than competition
- Expensive starting price
- The display could be brighter
When Steve Jobs released the first MacBook Air in a thin envelope in 2008, he launched a revolution in notebook design that inspired ten years of imitation. But during this decade, the MacBook Air has stagnated, while the rest of the market has taken over and surpassed Apple’s iconic notebook. And now, for 2021, the once-beloved MacBook Air finally has the feature it needs most. Yes, this high-resolution Retina display provided by Apple to the MacBook Pro in 2012 has finally arrived on the MacBook Air.
This new MacBook Air also offers users a Touch ID sensor for biometric security, high-speed SSD storage, quality sound, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Apple’s new device is also better for the environment because it is made of 100% recycled aluminum. But is the new MacBook worth it? You will surely find all your answers in our Apple MacBook Air Review.
Apple MacBook Air Review – Design
The curves of the lid and bottom of the new MacBook Air and the edges of the screen are tapered compared to previous years. This gives the MacBook Air the appearance of a brother and a sister – not a long-lost family member – with the MacBook Pro and the 12-inch MacBook (which you would now like to buy). The iconic design of the Air wedge is intact and distinguishes the machine from these other laptops. While the Air is sold in traditional silver and a new golden hue, the model we tested is a Space Gray that looks very attractive.
Apple made these new MacBook Air from 100% recycled aluminum, but you could not see it on the device. This treated metal looks like the same material used by Apple for previous MacBooks. The MacBook Air has two Thunderbolt 3 fast ports (which allow much faster data transfer rates) on the left, with a headphone jack on the right. This may be an upgrade to the slower and slower Type-C USB port on the MacBook, but compared to most competitors, it lacks Type A USB ports.
With a weight of 2.7 pounds and a thickness of 0.6 inches, the MacBook Air is slightly lighter than our favorite MacBook clone, the Huawei MateBook X Pro (2.9 pounds, 0.6 inches). The new Air is comparable in size to the Microsoft Surface 2 notebook (2.7 pounds, 0.6 inches) and the Dell XPS 13 (2.7 pounds, 0.5 inches), but the HP Spectre 13 (2.4 pounds, 0.4 inches) is both thinner and lighter than the Apple device.
Apple MacBook Air Review – Keyboard and TouchPad
I have never been a fan of the butterfly keys used by Apple, but I’m starting to accept them. The keys required 70 grams of actuation power (we were looking for at least 60 grams) and had a short travel distance of 0.6 millimeters (preferably 1.5 to 2.0). The typing experience looks good on this keyboard. But for beginners, it will take some time to get used to this butterfly keyboard.
Apple has also changed the MacBook Air’s touchpad, from a traditional click surface to a Force Touch glass touchpad, as well as the more expensive 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Pros. This 4.6 x 3.1-inch surface provides accurate entry recognition and smooth scrolling. The biggest difference is that the ForceTouch nature means that Apple gives you the illusion that the touchpad is moving, through haptic feedback.
Apple MacBook Air Review – Display
The 2560 x 1600-pixel Retina display is the true star of the new MacBook Air and offers crisp detail and solid colors. When I watched the first episode of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, I saw her coat of rich red colors, lush green foliage in a scary forest and a bright pink neon in a movie theater. When I watched a 4K video of the Colorado Rockies and a pond nearby, I saw a lot of details, including small ripples in the water and small sharp and jagged rocks atop the peaks.
In terms of color rendering, our colorimeter attributes the MacBook Air panel 109% of the sRGB range, a mark slightly lower than the average of 116 high-quality notebooks (laptops of $800 or more) and nearly 111 % of the Spectre 13. We found higher scores for the XPS 13 (130% in 1080p, 117% in 4K), the Surface Laptop 2 (176%) and the MateBook X Pro (124%). HP Spectre 13 reached the same percentage of 111%.
Although Apple estimates that the Air panel is capable of producing 300 nits of brightness, our system has a maximum of 234, which is close to the Spectre 13 of 247 nits and below the average of the premium notebooks of 317 nits. We found clearer screens in the XPS 13 (372 nits in 1080p, 415 nits in 4K), the Surface Laptop 2 (321 nits) and the MateBook X Pro (458).
Apple MacBook Air Review – Graphics and Audio
Apple MacBook Air includes the Intel UHD Graphics 617 as an integrated chip. The Air had the OpenGL portion of the Cinebench R15 reference, which measures graphics performance, at 35.3 frames per second, which is an important part of the 49.3 frames per second of the XPS 13 (Intel UHD Graphics 620). The Air had to deal with the relatively demanding racing game, Dirt 3 (set to an average 1080p graphics), with which the machine was shooting at 21.5 frames per second. It’s below 30 fps and well below the average 71 fps high-end notebooks.
This MacBook Air produces a really good sound. When the laptop filled our great newsroom with the soft melodies of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Party for One”, I noticed the song’s powerful bass, clear vocals, and cool drum cymbals. Do not worry if pop music is not your atmosphere. The tough post-punk rock of Idles’ “Colossus” sounded great in the air, especially the rumbling guitar riffs of the melody. Apple praises this Air because it offers twice as much bass and 25% more volume compared to the 2017 MacBook Pro, and I used both, I believe these claims.
Apple MacBook Air Review – Performance
When I discovered that this MacBook Air is now equipped with an Intel Core i5-8210Y processor, my head was fascinated. The Y Series processors are known to deliver lower-than-premium performance, as evidenced by the resolutely 12-inch MacBook. Yes, the Air may not be Apple’s Pro-class notebook, but with a starting price of 1199 USD (including 8GB of RAM), it’s a superior product.
So I started to test this machine with an eye on performance, both on synthesis tests and daily use, to see if I could count on it as a daily working machine. After adding 17 Safari tabs, five Chrome tabs (including the Google document for this article, a YouTube and Netflix video), iTunes, Messages, Photos (syncing my 80,000+), I noticed minimal pauses when I switched from one application to another. The MacBook Air continued to respond when loading TweetDeck, Pixelmator, and Bear, three of the other apps I use more than others on my Mac.
The MacBook Air recorded a score of 7871 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance metric, representing about two-thirds of the 12,230 category average. We found higher scores of comparable-price notebooks with faster processors in the U-Series, including the XPS 13 9370 (13,254) based on the Core i5-8250U, the Spectre 13 (13,090) based on the Core i7-8550U, the Surface Laptop 2 (12,744) and the MateBook X Pro Core i7-8550U (13,769). All of these computers were tested with 8 GB of RAM, with the exception of the MateBook X Pro, which had 16 GB of RAM.
The MacBook Air seems to compensate for this poor performance with excellent SSD performance, as the Blackmagic player test has been synonymous with the 256GB SSD write speeds of the Air with an impressive 2.1 gigabytes per second. To put this in perspective, the average premium notebook category is 500.1 megabytes per second. The SSDs on the XPS 13, HP Spectre 13, Surface Laptop 2, and MateBook X Pro systems all ran at speeds of 203 to 508 Mbps, which is a fraction of that of the Apple notebook.
The MacBook Air took 3 minutes and 26 seconds to complete our Excel VLookup test (which is 60,000 names with addresses), which is more than twice the 1:34 category average. The XPS 13 (1:08), Surface Laptop 2 (1:15) and MateBook X Pro (1:49) all ran faster execution times.
Apple MacBook Air Review – Heat
The 100% recycled aluminum Apple chassis is warm, but not too hot. After 15 minutes of Full HD streaming video on the air, our heat gun recorded the temperatures on the laptop’s touchpad (84.5 degrees Fahrenheit), the keyboard (91.5 degrees) and the bottom (93 degrees) below our comfort threshold of 95 degrees remained. The air can be a bit warm if you hold it in place at its hinge after a serious work because this particular area registered 96 degrees on our heat gun.
Apple MacBook Air Review – Battery Life
Historically, the MacBook Air is popular for its long life. This year’s model lasted no less than 9 hours and 32 minutes on our battery test (surfing the internet with 150 nits) – exceeding the average of 8:09 laptops. However, this usage time is less than “up to 12 hours of wireless Internet” claimed by Apple and less than 9:55 with the MateBook X Pro. Owners of XPS 13 have more life with a 1080p screen (11:59) and a shorter life with a 4K screen (8:23). Spectre 13 (5:16) was shorter and Surface Laptop 2 (9:22) was slightly behind the MacBook Air.
Apple MacBook Air Review – Conclusion
From its high-resolution screen and thinner and lighter design to its 3 Thunderbolt ports, the new MacBook Air resembles the modern update expected by Apple fans. I wish Apple had chosen a better processor because the concurrent Windows machines are faster, although Apple’s flash storage is superior. The Dell XPS 13 from $1099 offers faster performance and extra hours of endurance for $ 300 less, although the 1080p screen is not as sharp. If you need this type-A port, the affordable MateBook X Pro is worth the detour, although the webcam (like the XPS 13) is in a strange place.
Overall, the MacBook Air is more expensive than we would like, it remains a fantastic laptop and the best Mac OS device for most people.
That’s it with our Apple MacBook Air Review. Let us know your thoughts on this latest MacBook from Apple in the comments section.