It's as if someone took a late-model Mini Cooper and placed it on a Tesla. The 2013 MacBook Air 11-inch may look the same as previous generations, but, with Intel's latest Haswell processor, it's more powerful and lasts much longer on a charge than ever before. Better yet, its starting price remains $999. But is a processor upgrade enough to keep the Air ahead of Ultrabooks with higher-res touch screens and more innovative designs?
At 2.4 pounds, the Air is unchanged in weight since last year, and is heavier than the Acer Aspire S7-191 (2.2 pounds) as well as the ultralight VAIO Pro 11, which comes in at 1.9 pounds. Still, these are among the lightest laptops you're going to find.
Measuring 11.8 x 7.6 x 0.11-0.68 inches, the Air is also slightly wider than the Acer S7 (11.2 x 7.7 x 0.5 inches) and the VAIO Pro 11 (11.2 x 7.8 x 0.7 inches). The latter two benefit from much smaller bezels than the Air. The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S (11.7 x 8 x 0.67 inches, 3 pounds), is closer in size and weight to the Air, but that notebook also flips around backward.
Still, the Air makes the most of what it's got. Explosions were highly detailed, bright and vivid, and we could make out the sweat on Channing Tatum's brow while watching the 1080p trailer for "White House Down."
Interestingly, when we viewed the same image of a tropical bird on both the Yoga 11 and the Air, the Air's display rendered the photo slightly brighter, which enabled us to see more detail in the plumage and on the branch upon which the bird was perched.
It's hard to believe a system this small can produce sound as good as it does. When we played Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Thrift Shop," the Air's speakers, located under the keyboard, were loud enough to fill a small room. Although it was a little on the hollow side, bass, mids and highs were well-represented.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The 4.1 x 2.5-inch touchpad on the Air is also top-notch, allowing us to execute and 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.
One thing we worry about on thin ultraportables is adequate heat dispersal. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be a concern on the 11-inch Air. 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 88 degrees. All are below 95 degrees, the point at which we consider a notebook to be uncomfortable.
Apple's MacBook Airs are some of the first notebooks to feature Intel's 4th-generation Core processors, otherwise known as Haswell. These chips promise a modest boost in performance, as well as much greater battery life.
Booting into OS Mountain Lion took 13 seconds, which is about twice as long as the VAIO Pro 11 took to launch Windows 8. The Acer S7 also took a shorter 8 seconds, as did the Yoga 11S (11 seconds).
The Air's PCIe-based flash memory blazed through our file transfer test. It duplicated 5GB of multimedia files in 23 seconds, a rate of 221 MBps. That's more than twice the category average of 99 MBps, as well as the VAIO PRo 11 (97.9 MBps). The Yoga 11S (141 MBps) and the Acer S7 (196 MBps) come close, but not that close.
The Air took 5 minutes and 50 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice. That's about 30 seconds faster than the average and 20 seconds faster than the S7 (6:11), but 30 seconds slower than the VAIO Pro 11 (5:20). The Yoga was more than a minute slower, at 7:24.
Intel also touts the increased graphics capabilities of its newest Haswell chips, and the Air's results bear those claims out. On our "World of Warcraft" test, with the graphics set to Good, and the resolution at 1366 x 768, the Air averaged 48 frames per second, comfortably above the 39 fps average. The VAIO Pro 11, which has a slightly less powerful Intel HD Graphics 4400 chip, managed 30 fps at a resolution of 1280 x 1024. At the same settings as the Air, the Aspire S7 could only manage 28 fps, and the Yoga 11S 30 fps.
Still, this Intel chip has its limitations. When we cranked the effects to the max, the Air dropped to an unplayable 23 fps.
That's almost three hours longer than the ultraportable average (6:04), and miles better than most other 11-inch systems. For example, the Lenovo Yoga 11S lasted 5:54, the VAIO Pro 11 lasted 6:23 and the Acer Aspire S7 just 3:51.
When you attach the VAIO Pro 11's $150 external sheet battery, its runtime increases to 14:32, and its weight to 2.5 pounds. The Acer Aspire S7 lasted just 6:41 with its awkward $150 extended battery.
In addition to packing Intel's latest Haswell processors, the Air also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which promises much faster throughput when connected to a compatible wireless router.
Software and Warranty
If you want Apple OS X Mavericks, you'll have to wait until the fall. This update will include Maps and iBooks, as well as the ability to create tags for files, making them easier to find, and add tabs in the Finder, which should cut down on clutter. Plus, OS X Mavericks has a number of power-saving technologies up its sleeve, so you should expect even longer battery life.
The MacBook Air comes with a limited one-year warranty and an optional three-year Apple Care warranty. Users can choose to have their computer serviced on the phone or in person at the Apple store Genius Bar. Apple's warranty was ranked No. 1 in our Best and Worst Brands Report.
|CPU||1.3-GHz Intel Core i5-4250|
|Operating System||OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion)|
|RAM Upgradable to||4GB|
|Hard Drive Size||128GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||n/a|
|Hard Drive Type||Flash|
|Secondary Hard Drive Size|
|Secondary Hard Drive Speed|
|Secondary Hard Drive Type|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 5000|
|Touchpad Size||4.1 x 2.5 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||USB 3.0|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Thunderbolt|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Headphone|
|Warranty/Support||limited one-year warranty|
|Size||11.8 x 7.6 x 0.11-0.68 inches|