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Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2015) Review

Our Verdict

While the screen could be sharper, the updated 11-inch MacBook Air is a very light ultraportable that offers great performance and battery life for the price.

For

  • Strong performance
  • Small, light design
  • Above-average battery life
  • More ports than 12-inch MacBook

Against

  • Low screen resolution
  • Staid design
  • No SD card slot

There are some for whom even a 13-inch notebook is too big. The 11-inch MacBook Air, the least expensive and (nearly) smallest model in Apple's lineup, could be what those users are looking for. Although it weighs less than 2.5 pounds, the 11-inch Air now packs a 5th generation Core i5 processor and flash storage that's supposed to be twice as fast as what was inside the last model. Plus, this machine lasts more than 9 hours on a charge. But although it's inexpensive (for Apple), is the 11-inch Air the best value for space-conscious consumers?

Design: Same as it ever was

Like the larger, 13-inch model, the design of the 11-inch MacBook Air has remained the same for several years now. There's nothing wrong with it -- it's spawned countless imitators -- but given that the 12-inch MacBook is at least available in a few colors, we'd like to see the Air's design updated.

At 2.38 pounds, the 11-inch Air is slightly heavier than the 12-inch MacBook (2 pounds), but is lighter than the 2.6-pound Dell XPS 13. While the Air's 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.11-0.68 frame was at one time the smallest in Apple's portfolio, it's been eclipsed by the even smaller 11 x 7.7 x 0.14 -0.52 inch MacBook. The XPS 13 (11.98 x 7.88 x 0.33-0.6 inches) is only slightly larger than Apple's 11-inch ultraportable but packs in a larger, 13-inch display.

Ports

The Air has two USB 3.0 ports, one Thunderbolt 2 port and one headphone jack.

While not overwhelming by any stretch -- the XPS 13, for example, has an SD card slot, which the Air lacks -- that's still much more than the MacBook, which has just one USB-C port.

Keyboard and Touchpad

The Air's backlit keyboard remains as excellent ever. I much prefer it to the ultra-shallow keys on the MacBook; it's more comfortable when typing long documents.

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Unlike the MacBook and MacBook Pros, the Air does not have Apple's new ForcePad, so you can't deep-press to look up something on Wikipedia, for example. No matter: The Air's glass touchpad executed every gesture and swipe smoothly and accurately.

Display

The Air's 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768 display also remains the same. For an 11-inch display, this resolution still works for me. However, if you're opting for a larger display, you deserve more pixels. While I don't necessarily require the 2304 x 1440 panel of the MacBook in a 12- or 13-inch screen, I do like to see at least a 1080p display, as on the Dell XPS 13 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X250.

With a brightness of 370 nits, the 11-inch Air outshines the MacBook (322 nits) and the XPS 13 (298 nits), but was slightly dimmer than the X250.

However, the brightness of the Air's display can't make up for the fact that it can show only 67.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut, making it a less colorful screen than those on the XPS 13 (91.7 percent) and the MacBook (101.8 percent). Still, the X250's display was even worse, at just 64.3 percent.

The Air's color accuracy also leaves something to be desired. With a Delta-E score of 4.2, it's less accurate than the MacBook (1.2) and the X250 (1.18) -- numbers closer to zero are better -- but is much better than the (nontouch) XPS 13's score of 8.1.

Performance

The 11-inch Air packs a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-5250U processor and 4GB of RAM, the same as in the base model of 13-inch Air, and more powerful than the Core M processor in the MacBook.

On Geekbench, the 11-inch Air scored 5,800. That's more than 1,000 points higher than the average (4,523), the 12-inch MacBook (4,631), and the XPS 13 (5,530) and X250 (5,259), both of which also have Core i5 processors.

On our Spreadsheet test, the Air smoked the competition, taking just 3 minutes and 55 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses in OpenOffice. That's more than 30 seconds faster than the MacBook (4:33), and more than a minute faster than the XPS 13 (5:02) and X250 (5:07).

Tech Specs

CPU1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-5250U
RAM4GB
Size11.8 x 7.56 x 0.11-0.68 inches
Weight2.38 pounds
Display Size11.6
Native Resolution1366x768
Hard Drive Size128GB
Operating SystemOS X Yosemite
Ports (excluding USB)Headphone, Thunderbolt 2.0, USB 3.0
Video Memory1.5GB
Wi-Fi802.11ac
USB Ports2
Touchpad Size4.1 x 2.5 inches
Company Websitewww.apple.com
BrandApple
RAM Upgradable to8GB
BluetoothBluetooth 4.0
Graphics CardIntel HD Graphics 6000
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