4 star rating

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch (2014) Review

$899.00
Pros: Thin and portable design; Strong performance; Excellent battery life; Very fast SSD; Comfortable keyboard and touchpad; Great productivity apps
Cons: Lower-resolution display than competitors'; No SD card slot
The Verdict: Featuring an updated processor and excellent battery life, the 2014 11-inch Apple MacBook Air is as portable and powerful as ever.

REVIEW

SPECIFICATIONS

Why mess with success? That's the approach Apple has taken with its latest update to the 11-inch MacBook Air. This lightweight ultraportable has the same design, screen and keyboard, with only the processor getting a slight upgrade. Apple also shaved $100 off the price, which, coupled with a great productivity suite, excellent performance and long battery life, makes the MacBook Air a better deal than ever.

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Design

Nothing new to see here. The Air's all-aluminum wedge-shaped design is as slender and sleek as ever, but we're starting to wonder when Apple will update the look of its ultraportable. A thinner bezel or other color options would be welcome.

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014

Other notebooks in this size range, such as the Lenovo Yoga and Dell XPS 11, fold back completely, letting you use them as tablets. However, this also requires a touch screen, which Apple has been reluctant to add to its notebooks.

MORE: Laptop Buying Guide: 9 Essential Tips

The 11-inch Air measures the same 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.11-0.68 inches as before, and weighs the same 2.38 pounds, making it supremely easy to carry. It's slightly smaller and lighter than the Dell XPS 11 (11.8 x 7.9 x 0.6 inches, 2.5 pounds) and the 12-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X240 (12 x 8.2 x 0.8 inches, 3.2 pounds). Naturally, the Air is both larger and heavier than the 10-inch Surface Pro 2, which measures 10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 inches and weighs 2.4 pounds with its keyboard cover.

Keyboard and Touchpad

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014 KeyboardOne thing that we're thankful hasn't changed on the Air is its excellent keyboard. All too often, key travel and responsiveness are sacrificed in the name of a thin chassis. Not so with the Air. Typing on the black, island-style keys was a pleasure, and we continue to enjoy the bright backlighting. The Mac OS-specific keys above the number row are as useful as always.

Although the keyboard's travel of 1 mm is on the low side -- 1.5 to 2mm is preferred -- its higher-than-average actuation weight of 60 grams helped alleviate the issue. It was much more enjoyable to type on the MacBook Air than it was on the XPS 11 and the Surface Pro 2, whose flat keyboards provide almost no feedback whatsoever.

The 4.1 x 2.5-inch touchpad on the Air continues to be top-notch, and allowed us to execute a number of multitouch gestures with ease, such as pinch-to-zoom and three- and four-finger swipe. This is another piece of hardware that has been consistently good on Macs for as long as we can remember.

Display

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014 DisplayThe Air's 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768-pixel display is bright and colorful, but we're still waiting for that Retina display. While the Lenovo X240 has the same resolution as the Mac's, the Surface Pro 2 has a 1080p display, and the XPS 11 has a Quad HD (2560 x 1440p) panel. Not to mention, all three competitors have touch screens, while the MacBook Air does not.

At 293 lux (322 nits), the Air's display is brighter than the ultraportable average of 265 lux, as well as the XPS 11 (265 lux). However, the panel falls below the X240 (325 lux) and the Surface Pro 2 (389 lux).

The Air doesn't have the most colorful display. It can produce only 61.3 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which falls below the ultraportable average of 70 percent, as well as the X240's 65 percent.

The screen's Delta E rating of 6.1 (where numbers closer to 1 are best) is a little better than the average of 6.56 but a little worse than the X240's score of 5.6.

Audio

The speakers beneath the Air's keyboard were so good that a colleague initially thought we were playing music from a stand-alone speaker. The strings, mids and bass on Pharrell's "Gust of Wind" all sounded full and balanced, and although the Air started vibrating, we didn't notice any distortion when we cranked the volume to the max. Billy Joel's "You May Be Right" sounded a little flat, but John Coltrane's sax on "Say It" came through as sultry as ever.

The Air hit 79 decibels, as measured from 23 inches away. That's a bit softer than the 83-dB average, as well as the X240 (80 dB) and the XPS 11 (84 dB). However, the Surface Pro 2 was quieter, at 78 dB.

Heat

After streaming a Hulu video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the G and H keys were 89 degrees and the middle of the underside was 87 degrees. All are below 95 degrees, the point at which we consider a notebook to be uncomfortable.

Ports and Webcam

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014Like previous versions of the Air, the updated 2014 model has very few ports: just a Thunderbolt port and a USB 3.0 port on the right, and a second USB 3.0 port and headphone jack on the left. There's no SD card slot, which is present on the 13-inch Air and is also available on the XPS 11, Surface Pro 2 and Lenovo X240.

It seems like webcams are getting short shrift on many notebooks these days, so it's good to see that the quality from the Air's HD webcam is as good as ever. When making a FaceTime call, colors and details were crisp and clear, and our face was illuminated well.

Performance

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014 PerformanceOur configuration of the 2014 MacBook Air boasts a 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5-4260U processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash memory. It's a modest boost from last year's model, which had a 1.3-GHz Intel Core i5-4250U CPU but is more than enough to keep ahead of the competition.

On Geekbench 3, which measures overall performance, the Air's score of 5,392 was more than 1,000 points higher than the ultraportable average of 4,218. The Lenovo X240, which has a 1.6-GHz Core i5-4200U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), scored 3,317. The Surface Pro 2, which has the same processor but 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, scored 5,138. The XPS 11, which has a 1.9 GHz Core i5-4210Y CPU, scored 3,658.

The Air booted Mac OS X Mavericks in 14 seconds, the same amount of time as it took the Surface Pro 2 to boot Windows 8; the X240 took 13 seconds, while the XPS 11 took 11 seconds.

This laptop's 128GB of flash memory duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia in 19 seconds, for a blistering rate of 268 MBps. That's more than 100 MBps faster than the category average (127.8 MBps), the X240 (141.4 MBps) and the Surface Pro 2 (154.2 MBps). The XPS 11 came in at 196 MBps.

On our spreadsheet test, which times how long it takes to pair 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice, the Air's time of 5 minutes and 33 seconds was faster than the average (7:53) and the XPS 11 (7:13) but slower than the X240 (5:22) and the Surface Pro 2 (5:11).

Graphics

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014 GraphicsThe Intel HD Graphics 5000 GPU in the Air will suffice for playing casual games and some mainstream titles (on lower settings). On "World of Warcraft," the Air averaged 48 frames per second with the effects set to Good; that's better than the category average of 33 fps, as well as the Surface Pro 2 (46 fps), the Lenovo X240 (31 fps) and the XPS 11 (28 fps).

However, when we increased the effects to their max, the Air dropped to an unplayable 27 fps. However, that's better than the average (17 fps), as well as the Lenovo (17 fps), the Dell (12 fps) and the Surface Pro 2 (24 fps).

Software

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014 SoftwareAs always, Macs are blessedly free of bloatware, so you won't have to spend time uninstalling apps you don't need.

Apple's OS X 10.9 Mavericks operating system, which debuted last fall, has a number of useful features, including support for tabs and tags in the Finder, and the ability to respond to emails and iMessages directly from notifications. Additionally, you can now go full-screen with apps on the second monitor, and iCloud keychain can now keep your passwords and payment info synced across your notebook, iPad and iPhone.

MORE: Best Mac Apps 2014

In addition to the iLife suite (iMovie, iPhoto and GarageBand), new-Mac users also get Apple's productivity suite (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) for free, making this system even more of a bargain. Apple also throws in its Maps -- complete with 3D flyovers and the ability to send directions to your iPhone -- and iBooks apps.

Battery Life

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014 BatteryApple claims that the 38-Watt-Hour battery in the MacBook Air will deliver up to 9 hours of Web surfing. In fact, with the brightness set to 100 nits (63 percent brightness on the Air), the notebook lasted 9 hours and 19 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test. That's about an hour and a half longer than the category average, and better than similarly sized systems.

MORE: 10 Laptops with the Longest Battery Life

For comparison, last year's MacBook Air lasted 8:53 with the brightness set to 40 percent (the setting for our older battery test). The Lenovo X240 lasted 7:40 with its three-cell battery (but an epic 20:28 with its 6-cell extended battery), while the Surface Pro 2 lasted 8:02. The XPS 11 delivered 8:44 of endurance.

Configurations

The 11-inch MacBook Air starts at $899, and includes a 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 4GB RAM and 128GB PCIe-based flash storage. A $1,099 model has the same processors and RAM, but a larger 256GB flash storage.

If you opt for the base model, you can configure it with a 1.7-GHz Intel Core i7 processor for $150 more, and increase it to 8GB of RAM for an additional $100. If you choose the $1,099 model, you have those options, as well as the option to increase the storage to 512GB for $300.

Verdict

Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2014 What's not to like? The updated $899 11-inch MacBook Air not only boasts longer battery life and better performance than its competitors, but it does so for less.

The Dell XPS 11 starts at $999 but has only an 80GB hard drive and a Core i3 processor, while the Surface Pro 2 (with its Type Cover) will run you about $1,100. If you want an SSD, the least-expensive Lenovo ThinkPad X240 will cost $953, but that, too, has a Core i3 processor.

While Apple's update lacks a touch screen and a high-res display, consumers and students looking for a highly portable system with excellent battery life and a robust productivity suite will find the MacBook Air ideal for their needs.

Tags: Apple MacBook Air (11-inch 2014), Apple MacBook Air 11-inch, Apple MacBook Air, MacBook Air, MacBook, laptops, Apple, ultraportables, reviews

Technical Specifications
Apple MacBook Air 11-inch (2014)
www.apple.com


The central processor unit, or CPU, is the brain of your notebook.
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CPU
1.4-GHz Intel Core i5-4260U
Operating SystemOS X 10.9 (Mavericks)
The amount of memory our reviewed configuration comes with.
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RAM
4GB
The maximum amount of memory this notebook supports.
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RAM Upgradable to
8GB
Amount of data your storage drive can hold.
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Hard Drive Size
128GB
The rotation speed of a mechanical hard drive.
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Hard Drive Speed
Your notebook’s storage drive (hard drive or solid state drive) holds your operating system, your programs, and your data.
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Hard Drive Type
Flash
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Your notebook display is the primary viewing device for your laptop computer.
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Display Size
11.6
The number of pxiels (wxh) displayed on your screen at once.
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Native Resolution
1366x768
An optical drive allows you to play or record to DVDs, CDs, or Blu-ray discs.
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Optical Drive
The speed of the optical drive.
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Optical Drive Speed
Graphics chips are responsible for processing all images sent to your computer’s display.
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Graphics Card
Intel HD Graphics 5000
The amount of memory available for graphics processing.
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Video Memory
Wi-Fi connects you to a router or hotspot for wireless Internet access.
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Wi-Fi
802.11 b/g/n/ac
Wi-Fi Model
Bluetooth allows you to connect to wireless devices such as headsets, smart phones, and speakers.
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 4.0
Mobile broadband connects you to the Net from anywhere, even places with no hotspot.
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Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size4.1 x 2.5 inches
Ports allow you to connect to external devices such as monitors, printers, MP3 players, and hard drivse.
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Ports (excluding USB)
Headphone; Thunderbolt
USB ports allow you to connect many external devices, from MP3 players to external hard drives.
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USB Ports
2
Warranty/Support
Size11.8 x 7.56 x 0.11~0.68 inches
Weight2.38 pounds
AUTHOR BIO
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor
Michael A. Prospero has overseen reviews on Laptopmag.com since 2007, focusing on producing the most thorough and authoritative mobile product reviews. After receiving his Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia in 2003, Mike worked at Fast Company. Prior to that, he worked at The Times of Trenton, George and AlleyCat News.
Michael A. Prospero, Reviews Editor on
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