After the big excitement of the Retina display turning up on a MacBook Pro, we had hoped that the MacBook Air would have at least received a tiny screen-quality upgrade.
- USB 3.0: 2
- USB 2.0: 0
- Optical: None
- Video: Thunderbolt
- Ethernet: none
- Wireless: dual-channel 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0
It wasn't to be — what we got was a third generation Core processor, USB 3.0 ports, a new MagSafe connector and an updated webcam, but the form factor stays the same, as does the use of a 1440x900 TN-based screen. It also doesn't help that the default storage levels are small, particularly on the 11-inch version, which still starts with a 64GB SSD. The 13 starts at 128GB SSD, which is a bit better by today's standards. It's possible to upgrade to a 256GB or 512GB SSD, but this will add considerably to the price. Considering the ever-dropping price of flash memory, it seems Apple's a little behind the curve here.
That's not to say that the MacBook Air isn't excellent — it most certainly is, it's just that, more than ever before, it's feeling the heat from the Windows competition. Samsung's Series 9, with a 1600x900 PLS screen is the perfect example. When Windows 8 happens, with its rash of IPS-based laptops and whether they be convertible or not, Apple's lead will be diminished, yet again.
It's still the same svelte, aluminium unibody construction, one that's been carved from years of refinement — although this means it misses the "wow" factor of years past, it's not a bad thing, as the design simply feels natural to carry around. Interestingly, an effect we noticed with previous models, where your fingers "buzzed" if you ran it over the wrist rest while the laptop was charging, is now gone. Apple's industry leading touchpad is still just that, and the backlit keyboard is lovely to work with.
Handbrake encoding (in seconds)
Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2012 (Core i7 3667U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
Apple MacBook Air 11 Mid 2012 (Core i5 3317U, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
The 13's combination of hardware and OS X vaults it to the top of the Handbrake and, thus, multimedia multitasking tests, while returning admirable performance in our iTunes and Photoshop tests as well.
Battery life (time)
- Heavy battery test
- Light battery test
- 6h 58m
- Dell XPS 14 (Core i7 3517U, 8GB RAM, 500GB HDD, GeForce GT 630M)
- 6h 27m
- HP Folio 13 (Core i5 2467M, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 6h 7m
- HP Envy 14 Spectre (Core i5 2467M, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 5h 42m
- Fujitsu Lifebook U772 (Core i5 3427U, 4GB RAM, 500GB HD + 32GB SSD cache)
- 5h 35m
- Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2012 (Core i7 3667U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
- 5h 23m
- Asus ZenBook UX31 (Core i7 2667M, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
- 5h 21m
- Toshiba Satellite U840W (Core i5 3317U, 6GB RAM, 500GB HDD)
- 5h 10m
- HP Envy 6 1010TU (Core i5 2467M, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD)
- 5h 8m
- Toshiba Satellite Z830 (Core i5 2467M, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 4h 52m
- Samsung Series 5 Ultra 13.3-inch (Core i5 2467, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 4h 41m
- Samsung Series 5 Ultra 14-inch (Core i5 2467M, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, Radeon HD 7550M)
- 4h 30m
- HP Envy Spectre XT (Core i5 3317U, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 4h 27m
- Apple MacBook Air 11 Mid 2012 (Core i5 3317U, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD)
- 4h 25m
- Sony Vaio T 11.6 (Core i5 3317U, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 4h 21m
- Asus ZenBook Prime UX31A (Core i7 3517U, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
- 3h 21m
- Asus ZenBook UX21 (Core i7 2667M, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 2h 54m
- Acer Aspire S3 (Core i5 2467M, 4GB RAM, 320GB HDD)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The 13-inch Air manages to slot in the top five for battery life — it'll survive quite well away from the wall.
The new 13-inch MacBook Air might not be the huge revision we were hoping for, but it's still an excellent laptop, borne out of years of refinement. While Windows ultrabooks are approaching the cusp of overtaking the Air — and we hope Apple's got a big surprise for us next year — it's still hard to go wrong with one of these tucked under your arm.