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Apple MacBook Air Review: You Really Want to Love It, But It’ll Cost You

By: Vishal Mathur

Last Updated: January 01, 2019, 13:29 IST

Apple MacBook Air Review: You Really Want to Love It, But It’ll Cost You

The newest MacBook Air ticks off all the boxes on the checklist, with a fantastic display, good keyboard and great battery life. But the price makes you take notice, a second time.

It was the year 2008 when Apple pulled out the ultra-slim MacBook Air from a manila envelope and wowed the world. In the ten years since, and the world has come a long way since. All this while, the MacBook Air remained largely the same. Continuity is good, but it eventually started to show signs of age. Ultra slim laptops running Microsoft’s Windows became common and offered more powerful specifications too. The iPad and subsequently the iPad Pro effectively replaced the 11-inch variant of the MacBook Air. It was resting on its laurels, of which there were many, as the MacBook Air still flew off the shelves in stores. I would know, having bought one last year. It was still a very capable laptop for most use cases. However, a proper refresh was inevitable. It has been pending for many years now. Fans were craving it. The updated MacBook Air is a bit of a puzzle in some ways, but that doesn’t take away from its brilliance. Nor the really hard to justify price tag. The 128GB storage variant is priced at Rs1,14,900 while the 256GB version will set you back by Rs1,34,900.

Continuing with the price discussion for a bit—the MacBook Air is now in the same price range as the MacBook Pro 13 (starts at Rs1,19,900) and the 12-inch MacBook (also priced Rs1,19,900 onwards). That means, this no longer has the price tag advantage of the previous generation MacBook Air—you could get these in stores for around Rs50,000 depending on the deals and offers. Is the new Retina Display, the new innards, the additional security and the new-ish design really worth this much more?

Apple says that the new MacBook Air is made completely from recycled aluminium which has been reclaimed from otherwise waste aluminium in the production lines—but you really cannot tell anything is different as you use the MacBook Air, compared with a MacBook Pro or a MacBook. The new MacBook Air tips the scales at 1.25kg, which is more than the 0.92kg weight of the MacBook and not much lesser than the 1.37kg which the MacBook Pro 13 tips the scales at. The MacBook Air measures 0.61-inches at its thickest point, while the MacBook measures 0.52-inches at its thickest point. The MacBook Air, over the years, represented the thinnest and lightest MacBook in the line-up. Not any more though. However, owing to the new design, the MacBook Air has 17% lesser overall volume than its predecessor. The wedge remains as it is though, and you’ll notice this MacBook Air from a mile away. It is less wide and less deep, if you look at it when the lid is closed. It definitely looks pretty, even more so in the gold and space grey colour options. The full sized USB ports from the predecessor are now gone, and the MacBook Air has adopted the ways of the Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C), much like its MacBook Pro siblings. There is no SD card reader too. Open the lid, and you’ll immediately notice the thinner bezels around the display. The end to end glass with the thinner black frame makes for a much better visual experience, screen on or off. The keyboard layout is exactly the same as a MacBook Pro 13, without the Touch Bar. In fact, the similarity is right down to the speaker grille being drilled on either side of the keyboard, as well as the larger trackpad.

The MacBook Air gets the third generation butterfly keyboard, which Apple claims is less resistant to getting stumped by dust getting lodged beneath the keys. Whether that is true, only time will tell—though safe to say that the even the first generation butterfly keyboards, which have been criticized often for failures, still works brilliantly on my MacBook Pro. While Apple says that the new keyboard mechanism makes lesser noise as well, we did not really notice much difference compared with the second generation butterfly keyboard. That said, nothing takes away from the sheer brilliance of typing on this keyboard. The key size and spacing is very easy to get used to (and there is no learning curve if you are already a MacBook user). The accuracy and responsiveness is pristine, and the travel is exactly what your fingers will get used to quickly enough.

Even though the MacBook Air doesn’t have the Touch Bar at this point in its refresh evolution, this does get the biometric sensor. It is powered by the T2 chip, also seen on the recent MacBook Pro refresh. The Touch ID feature, as well as the always on Hey Siri, the display management software and the encryption of the contents on the SSD are managed by this T2 co-processor. Each T2 is linked to each MacBook Air, in a bespoke sort of fashion. In case someone were to attempt to access data from the drive encrypted by this T2, they will not be able to, for instance. Neither can they access a copy of the fingerprints stored locally, or data from compatible apps such as 1Password 7 (Rs299 per month on Mac App Store).

The 13.3-inch Retina Display (2560 x 1600 resolution) is exactly why this MacBook Air refresh was needed. The previous display didn’t cut it anymore, and this brings the MacBook Air at par with the MacBook Pro line-up. It would be completely unwarranted for us to compare this display with the one that it replaces, because the older one soldiered on bravely for many years. Yet, the step up is quite simply undeniable. If you are already using the Retina Display on another MacBook, you’ll probably not be too excited about it. But for the rest of the world, this is one of the most accurate displays you will find on a laptop. This screen can go really bright, colours are accurate and text is brilliant to read, irrespective of the source of the content or the font.

Under the hood runs the latest silicon, the eight generation Intel Core i5 processor. You can configure this with up to 16GB RAM (8GB RAM is default), up to 1.5TB worth of storage (default options are 128GB and 256GB) and battery life is still touching the 12-hour mark. The Core i5 here is the Y-series processor, which on paper is meant to be run in a fanless configuration and is less powerful and also more frugal than the U-series Core i5 on the MacBook Pro 13. However, Apple has still given the MacBook Air a fan for keeping things cool while under the work load, which means this processor will be able to maintain consistent performance for much longer. Performance, for the most part, is at par with last year’s MacBook Pro 13, which means this is great for the daily workflow apps in office and won’t really crib with the occasional heavy photo editing thrown into the mix. What helps performance, and how quickly apps open, is the very fast solid state drive (SSD).

On the face of it, there really is nothing wrong with the newest MacBook Air. In fact, this ticks off all the boxes on the checklist—fantastic display, good keyboard and great battery life. Theoretically, a good option for someone who is still unsure about whether a laptop is the way to go, or they should switch to the iPad Pro-esque hybrid computing devices—the MacBook Air stands at the mid-point between the two extremes, attempting to blend in both the worlds. And this is exactly the upgrade we demanded, and Apple has delivered. It looks great too, and the modernity of the entire package makes you want to fall in love.

However, it is the price tag this time around, thanks to factoring in the currency volatility, which suddenly makes the MacBook Air seems incredibly more expensive than one expected. We feel the price is a tad too steep for those who were considering an upgrade, to actually go through with the plans at the moment, unless their MacBook really is on its last legs. And that is its biggest challenge—how to justify the MacBook Air over a MacBook Pro 13. The MacBook Pro isn’t exactly a hardship to carry around, offers close to 12 hours of battery life too in quite a few use cases and performance can be stretched that bit more when it comes to resource intensive apps. At the same time, there are very capable Windows 10 alternatives in similar form factors, which are waiting with open arms. The newest Dell XPS 13 (Rs94,690 onwards) comes to mind. It is all very complex.

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