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Saturday
Aug032013

Review: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (2013)

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

Today’s 13-inch MacBook Air exemplifies a product that’s been constantly refined, improved and updated while maintaining all the best features and elements that have made it arguably one of the best notebooks of all time. 

It is easy to dismiss the look and feel of 13-inch MacBook Air as it stands today, especially now that it rests between the spunky 11-inch model and the slightly more premium MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

The wedged design, black island-style backlit keyboard, all-Aluminum unibody enclosure all seem almost nostalgic in 2013, specially if you consider that it was the template that was shamelessly repeated by various PC manufacturers in the first two generations of Intel’s Ultrabook program.

 

But those same manufacturers are now moving away from ‘that look’ towards the hybrid form factors that are better suited to Windows 8 and its multi-touch user interface. In the meantime, Apple has stuck to its winning formula with yearly enhancements but with no revolutionary upgrades (i.e. Retina Display) for the line.

For 2013, the 13-inch MacBook Air, sold at an average $100 cheaper price,  looks almost identical to its predecessor save for two small microphone holes on the side and the use of the new Magsafe adaptor and port. 

The biggest changes are internal ones with the use of Intel’s new Haswell processor architecture that’s designed for the best possible battery life while maintaining ample performance. 

Apple has also ramped up the Wi-Fi capabilities of the new MacBook Air to coincide with the new Airport Express Base stations which now feature  802.11ac technology which, is 3 times faster than previous version and has an expanded range by way of a new beamforming antenna that can now target the signal where it is needed the most.

 

Note that to enjoy the 3 x faster speeds offered by 802.11ac routers and notebooks, your Internet connection needs to be just as fast so plugging a new MacBook Air and Airport Express into an existing or older Internet connection won’t necessarily mean a speed boost.

The biggest feature of the new 13-inch MacBook Air is its 12-hour battery life, which for students and mobile workers, can make all the difference between getting things done and scrambling for a spot near a free power socket.

To have this sort of range of usage in a device this thin and light and without the need of an additional battery pack, is nothing short of game changing.  Some newer Windows 8 ultrabooks and hybrids also sport the new Haswell processors and architecture but they can’t seem to muster anything more than 8-hours on a standard battery. This means to get 12-hours, they need to add battery attachments and therefore add to their weight.

 

Apple manages both the OS software and hardware aspects of the MacBook Air so they can fine-tune the performance to power consumption much better than OEMs trying to work around Windows 8. Apple also has the PoweNap feature that allows to MacBook Air to download and install software update

For those of us who make our living  on the go with our notebooks, who need to attend conferences or product launches as well as travel and fly a lot, this is an inestimable advantage. 12 hours on a single charge is a big win.

Great battery life usually comes at the expense in performance with low-draw processors sipping battery juice but then choking when more demanding tasks are required. 

This is where Intel’s fourth generation Core i5 processor really shines. The 1.3GHz dual-core processor may seem like a step back compared to last year’s model but it still hauls ass when needed and can be counted on to perform well.

My review MacBook Air came with the cheapest configuration composed of the 1.3 GHz dual-core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage, which is new and is now faster than previous versions.

I found performance to be on par  for most tasks with my workhorse 2011 MacBook Pro (that one has an older 2.3 GHz Dual-Core processor, 8GB of RAM, dual SSD drives). Even editing and rendering HD video on iMovie seemed to be just a touch slower than the older model but with less fan noise and much less heat.

I attribute this to the faster SSD (up to 45 per cent faster as per Apple’s claims) on the MacBook Air as well as an all-around more updated hardware and software system.

In terms of battery life, there’s just no comparison. The older MacBook Pro fades after 4.5 hours and that’s with an almost Ultrabook-like configuration (SSD drives) and with the backlight turned down. The new MacBook Air gave within 11 to 13.5 hours of use in various situations.

Aside from stellar battery life, thanks to the new processor as well as Mountain Lion’s improved power management, I like how the MacBook Air is so quiet and stays relatively cool throughout use.

I took the MacBook Air on a weeklong vacation to do some work while I was away and I couldn’t be happier.  It brought enough power for most of the tasks I needed to do and the long battery life allowed me to pack the charger with my check-in luggage without a second thought.

While I would have wanted more RAM and ideally larger storage capacity, it became apparent that the 13-inch MacBook Air was perfect for all my needs on the go. Apple also gives the option to add up to 8GB of RAM as well as larger SSD drives and even a faster Core i7 processor, which will offer more top-end performance.

If you still need more power, there’s always the slimmed down 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, but that’s in another user and price class altogether.

Once you get used to how light the MacBook Air is, it is really difficult to have to go back to a thicker, heavier notebook, especially if the battery only lasts half as long. Add the fact that you can simultaneously straddle two operating systems (OSX and Windows) on this notebook and the advantages are hard to beat.

My time with the new MacBook Air was generally good but I still experienced some frustrating Wi-Fi glitches and unfortunately and the most inopportune times like when I needed to save content to an online blog.

Wi-Fi issues have plagued the newest MacBook Airs and even as Apple has been quick to push updates to resolve this, I still find I get randomly disconnected for connected Wi-Fi hotspots at least once a day.

If I had a wish list of features that the new MacBook Airs should offer, I think a SIM card slot should be offered. You have a 12-hour battery life on an ultraportable notebook, it would be great to not have to tether to Wi-Fi and connect directly from the device.

If they can put a nanoSIM slot and 4G-LTE radio on the iPad mini, it should be easy to pop one into the MacBook Air. It feels like Apple should have done this years ago.

The updated MagSafe connector is less magnetic than previous versions and seems to get knocked out too easily. This was something I noticed when I reviewed the MacBook Pro 15-inch with Retina Display. Not a big deal, but users have to be mindful that the connector is really connected at all times.

Other than that, the 13-inch MacBook Air continues to be one of the best pure notebooks in the market. It is solid and robust despite the thin profile, has all the necessary features for life on the road and is powerful enough for to tackle most consumer and some professional tasks required. 

While PC-side competitors are coming out with higher resolution screens, multi-touch displays and add-ons like NFC connectivity, Apple has kept things simple and focused on the key features that users value most, reliability, battery life and a lower overall price.

The notebook that dozens of Ultrabooks have tried and failed to copy, remains a great option for students, the corporate set or anyone who wants a highly capable and highly portable notebook that lasts the entire workday and then some.

The Apple MacBook Air 13-inch starts at $ 1,099.99 for the 128GB SSD model and $ 1,299.00 for the model with 256GB SSD. Apple also offers build to order options with their online orders on www.apple.ca.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Reader Comments (1)

I really want to get a Macbook now! My old laptop is so heavy and the battery last only 1 hr (3 yr old laptop). So basically, it turned into a desktop bc its a burden to carry away in a laptop bag. My friends has macbooks and they can easily carry in their backpack or tote bag.

August 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

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