Just as with the 13-inch MacBook Air Apple has decided that, externally, the new 11-inch Macbook Air didn’t need any work. It has a point, as the aluminium case still looks gorgeous and there’s no real way of making it thinner or smaller without damaging build quality or usability. Instead, the changes fall into two important areas: you get a battery-saving Intel Haswell processor and a bigger SSD for less money.
Battery life is one of the most important aspects of any laptop, but it’s particularly important in the 11-inch Macbook Air. It weighs just 1.1kg and is small enough to fit into practically any bag, so it’s designed to be carried anywhere you go. With last year’s model we managed eight hours of use in our light-use battery test, although putting a bit more strain on the laptop realistically brings that figure down to less than five hours.
With the 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-4250U ‘Haswell’ CPU in 2013 model, things are different. This CPU has been built to conserve battery life, with a special low-power state that draws very little energy when the computer’s not doing anything. As a result our light-use battery test let this laptop last 14h 33m, which is simply incredible.
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As our test means that the laptop hasn’t got a lot of work to do, we ran a new battery benchmark, which plays a 10m-long video every 30m. In this test, we found that the laptop lasted 5h 54m. That’s still impressive and means that for general use the 2013 11-inch Macbook Air should last a good two-hours or so longer than the 2012 model. There’s a slight trade off in raw performance, though, as the Haswell CPU used is slightly slower than last year’s model in our benchmarks.
In 2012 we got a score of 52, but this year it’s 44. Realistically, this kind of difference isn’t going to be noticeable, and this year’s model has practically the same performance. It’s important to note that applications and OS X haven’t got tougher to run, so the slight drop in measured performance isn’t going to be nigh on impossible to spot in everyday use. If you want a bit more performance, you can upgrade to a 1.7GHz dual-core Core i7 CPU (£120). Haswell processors also have faster built-in graphics than the previous generation Ivy Bridge models. Running on Windows PC, we’ve seen that Haswell’s graphics are capable of playing less-demanding games.
While OS X doesn’t have a lot of 3D gaming built in, the faster graphics should mean smoother transitions and graphical effects. Haswell processors also come out of sleep very quickly, so the Macbook Air can wake up in less than one second. That’s pretty incredible and means that your laptop’s ready and waiting for you when you need to use it.
As well as the new processor, the entry-level MacBook Air now has a 128GB SSD instead of a 64GB model. That’s a good move, as 64GB is just not enough storage. However, we recommend thinking carefully about moving to a 256GB SSD (£180), while upgrading RAM to 8GB (£80) could be a smart move, too. As we said at the start of the review, nothing else has really changed. It’s generally a good thing, particularly when it comes to input devices, as the keyboard and touchpad are both excellent. When it comes to laptop keyboards, the Macbook range has the best. Typing accurately and at speed is incredibly easy and you won’t find yourself longing for a desktop keyboard.
Without a doubt, the MacBook Air’s keyboard and touchpad are the best Likewise, the responsive and large touchpad is brilliant. This is largely down to OS X 10.8, which properly supports the multi-touch gestures. For example, you use two fingers to scroll, three fingers to swipe between different Desktops and three fingers up to show Mission Control and all of your open apps. It’s a fluid and brilliant system that makes Windows laptops feel quite old-fashioned.
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