Apple MacBook Air 13 (mid-2012)

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.

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CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

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.

Application performance

Choose a benchmark: Handbrake | iTunes | Photoshop | Multimedia

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

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.

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Craig Simms posted a comment   

Just finished testing with 10.8.2. No difference -- guessing we were lucky and weren't affected by the issue.


snuke posted a comment   

Was the battery test done on OS X 10.8.2, as that had a major improvement for the battery life?


Craig Simms posted a reply   

Unfortunately no, at the time it was tested only 10.8.1 was available. From anecdotal evidence around the web, it can only get better than our measured results, which were already quite good.


snuke posted a reply   

This article shows massive improvements for a 2011 Pro model.


trebor83 posted a reply   

Or perhaps they should have installed Windows 7 on it so that it could give a fair comparison with all the other machines they have tested so far by making them all run the same OS...


Craig Simms posted a reply   

I do have those figures. The Windows 7 results definitely don't look as good, especially under Handbrake. Boot Camp has always been a bonus rather than an optimised experience -- most people buying a Mac are going to be spending their time in OS X, so these are the results I focus on.

In my mind the tests as shown are a completely level playing field -- both operating systems are asked to perform the same tasks, in the same software suites with the same outcome. Yes, the software may use different programming languages, or be slightly more optimised for one platform than another, but when the final result is the same, wouldn't you choose the option that got the job done faster? Anything else is intentional hobbling, and not indicative of real world practices.


snuke posted a reply   

No, by that logic you should also be asking the other devices to have a test with OS X installed. Windows on a Mac will drain much quicker as it is not optimised for it. Blame Apple or blame Windows, but the drivers are just not that well developed. As Craig says, the test are the same so the results are relevant.

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