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13-inch MacBook Air review: Apple's affordable laptop nicely blends performance and portability

Roman Loyola | May 25, 2015
Now that there's a new ultra portable laptop in town in the form of the 12-inch MacBook, what's the deal with the MacBook Air? It's still an active part of Apple's lineup, and in case you missed it, was updated on the day the 12-inch MacBook was announced.

To gauge the speed of the 13-inch Macbook Air's new flash storage implementation, I used Black Magic's Disk Speed Test. The 2014 MacBook Air with 256GB of flash storage had average write speeds of 520 MBps and average read speeds of 676 MBps. The new MacBook Air was impressive, posting a write average of 619.7 MBps and a read average of 1318.4 MBps.

To see Geekbench 3 and Cinebench performance charts, click here. The results also include older model Retina MacBook Pros for your reference.

Battery tests with the new MacBook Air, new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, and the new MacBook are in the works. The results will be posted in a separate article.

A new perspective

When Apple first unveiled the MacBook Air in 2008, it made what-was-then considered severe compromises in order to achieve a small and lightweight form preferred by mobile users. But just when you think you can't make a laptop even smaller and lighter — and make more compromises — Apple releases the MacBook.

Instead of thinking of the MacBook air primarily as an ultra portable laptop, perhaps the MacBook Air is better defined first as the lower pricing tier of Apple's laptop line. The 11-inch models are $899 and $1099, and the 13-inch models are $999 and $1199. They're priced below all the other laptops, except for the $1099 non-Retina MacBook Pro. They don't have the same number of features as the MacBook Pro — no Force Trackpad, no Retina display, 4GB RAM, etc. — but that's to be expected when you're paying less money.

The MacBook Air is still worth your consideration as an ultra-portable laptop: It weighs less that three pounds and is very thin. Carrying it is still a lot easier that carrying a MacBook Pro. But there's now the MacBook for users who think even the MacBook Air is too big and heavy, and that device connectivity and speed can be sacrificed to make an even lighter laptop. For those people, the MacBook is for them.

That all under consideration, something has to be said specifically about the MacBook Air's display. My everyday work computer is a 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro (lucky, I know), and because I stare at a Retina screen everyday, switching to a standard display feels like a noticeable step down in image quality. It's not that the standard display is that bad, it's just that the Retina display is that good.

Bottom line

The MacBook Air marches on as a solid, lightweight laptop with enough performance for a large number of users to serve both on the road and on an office desk. They might suffer from a case of feature envy, but more features would surely result in higher prices. If you can, consider getting a MacBook Air with 256GB of flash storage, unless you're OK with heavily relying on cloud storage.


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