This Is the MacBook to Buy
2018 MacBook Air Review: This Is the MacBook, Perfected
The second generation of the MacBook Air was a game-changer when it launched in 2010. Portable, relatively affordable and powerful (enough) – it was the perfect MacOS laptop for most consumers. However, Apple did little to evolve its much-beloved laptop for the better part of a decade, and two years ago, when Apple released a completely redesigned MacBook Pro that was thinner and way more powerful, many thought that the end was near for MacBook Air line. But thanks to consumer demand (and dwindling sales of its personal computers), Apple revived the MacBook Air ($1,199+) and overhauled it with a Retina display, a thinner and lighter design, 8th-generation Intel processors and a host of other features like USB-C ports and even Touch ID.
The Good: The 2018 MacBook Air is a huge hardware refresh on the old MacBook Air. It’s 10-percent thinner and a quarter pound lighter. It has a higher-resolution Retina display with significantly smaller bezels, an upgraded keyboard, a larger Force Touch trackpad, and it has Touch ID, so you can unlock the laptop with your finger. Additionally, it’s powered by Intel’s newest 8th-generation dual-core processor.
Who It’s For: It’s perfect for basically everybody other than creative professionals with intense computing demands, such as graphic designers, photographers, audio professionals or app developers. Think of this as the right MacOS laptop for most people, especially students.
Watch Out For: It only has two ports, both USB-C Thunderbolt, so you’ll likely need to purchase several dongles. The loss of the SD card slot, in particular, will be tough to accept for anyone who has appreciated the convenience of offloading photos on the older model. For a lot of people, especially those who don’t rely on cloud-based storage, the base MacBook Air with 128GB of storage also probably won’t be enough. This means you’ll want to consider the model 256GB, which will also drive the price up to $1,399 and that isn’t cheap.
The MacBook Air’s customized 8th generation Intel dual-core Y series processor is likewise still less powerful compared to the quad-core U series processors found in many competing laptops, and in general, it’s important to remember that you can get more for your money if you go with a Windows laptop (see below for alternatives). As with any Apple computer, you’re paying a little extra for the premium build quality and the MacOS operating system.
Is the lesser processor a deal-breaker? Probably not for most people, but would be easier to swallow slightly slower speeds if the new Air’s starting price of $1,199 was closer to the previous generation’s $999 sweet spot. Just don’t be shocked to hear the MacBook’s fan spin up in a quiet room if you’ve got tons of browser tabs open or are performing other labor-intensive CPU tasks.
Alternatives: The Dell XPS 13 ($930+) and Microsoft’s new Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 ($999+) are similarly spec’d alternatives that cost less and have a touchscreen. On the MacOS side, you can go for the similar-yet-more-powerful 13-inch MacBook Pro ($1,299+) or the smaller, less powerful and more expensive MacBook ($1,299+).
Review: Anybody in the market for a laptop running MacOS with modern features such as a high-resolution screen only had two options for several years. The MacBook ($1,299+), is still Apple’s thinnest and lightest laptop, but it’s also very underpowered, especially relative to its cost, making the MacBook an impractical choice for anyone looking for a primary computer to handle more than just email and casual web browsing. Alternatively, the 13-inch MacBook Pro ($1,299+), is a bigger and heavier option with a significantly better Retina display and more computing power for the same price
Now the 2018 MacBook Air finally fills an obvious gap in Apple’s lineup, striking the same balance of portability and performance that made the previous generation a runaway hit. Its essentially now the perfect computer for anyone looking for a MacOS laptop for “normal” things, like browsing the web, drafting documents, answering emails, watching movies or even occasional work in Adobe’s creative suite.
It’s a little bit funny; actually, I’d consider myself as the perfect candidate for Apple’s new MacBook Air. As a writer and journalist, my job is a constant balance between drafting stories and answering emails. I’ll occasionally have to take photos and then upload them, sure, but most of the extensive photo editing work on Photoshop and Lightroom I leave to our designers. This is why two years ago when I was looking to replace my five-year-old MacBook Pro, I was particularly interested in reviewing the 2016 MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar. It was thin, beautiful and powerful (maybe too much for my needs), and it wasn’t too expensive – in my review I ended up calling it “Apple’s secret weapon.” Looking back, I still agree with that statement, but it was really because the 2016 MacBook Pro was the closest thing to what the MacBook Air should’ve been.
I ended up buying a 2016 MacBook Pro and have used it for the better part of two years. I love it. After using the new MacBook Air for the last four days (that’s all the time we were given before review embargos were allowed to lift), however, the similarities are stark. I wouldn’t say I’ve got regrets, but if this MacBook Air was around two years ago, this would’ve been the laptop I would have chosen. Hands down.
Yes, it has a less powerful processor, but the reality is that the 2018 MacBook Air and my current MacBook Pro aren’t too dissimilar. And for what I use a computer for – working in Google Docs, WordPress and browsing Chrome – I didn’t notice any difference. They have virtually the same 13-inch Retina display (although the MacBook Pro’s display has a little better max brightness). They look very similar, although the new MacBook Air is thinner and looks more svelte thanks to its wedge form factor. And they have the same two USB-C Thunderbolt charging ports and a headphone jack. Actually, in a few cases, the MacBook Air is better than my MacBook Pro. It has Touch ID, for example, so it’s even easier unlocking the laptop (no password required), and if you use Apple Pay, it’s easier for that too.
On paper, the battery life of the new MacBook Air is another a distinct advantage worth mulling over by anyone torn between other Mac laptop options. Apple says the revamped machine can provide up to 2 extra hours of web browsing compared to either the MacBook Pro or MacBook, which is a massive boon for those on go. In our early real-world testing, we found the Air’s battery lasted between seven and eight hours, which still compares favorably to the roughly 5 hours we tend to get from the recent MacBook Pro, though it’s still noticeably less time than the 12 hours claimed by Apple. Lowering the screen brightness to the same 75% mark used in Apple’s battery usage test would probably extend run time further, but we also found that the Air’s slightly dimmer screen needed to sit at a higher setting than the MacBook Pro to be used comfortably in average lighting conditions. We’ll make sure to update this review with more thoughts on battery life after extended use.
Quibbles aside, this laptop will undoubtedly feel like a night-and-day upgrade for those still clinging to an older MacBook Air. It’s 10 percent thinner and a quarter pound lighter. It has a bigger and Force Touch trackpad. It has louder stereo speakers. It has the same second-gen Butterfly keyboard as the latest MacBook Pros. It’s decked out with two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, one of which can be used to power a 5K external monitor.
Verdict: With the 2018 MacBook Air, Apple’s has finally answered the demands of its customers. Though it’s nowhere near as game-changing as the previous generations were and unfortunately slightly more expensive, the new iteration is still perfectly positioned as a capable and beautifully built mass-market laptop for anyone who loves using MacOS. It takes many of the same great features of its 13-inch MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar and puts them into a thinner laptop that’s also cheaper (albeit slightly less powerful). If you’re looking for a fully fledged Mac laptop for typical personal or work needs and hoping to spend less than $1,500, you can’t go wrong with the new MacBook Air.
Display: 13.3-inch Retina display
Processor: 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 617
Battery: up to 12 hours, up to 30 hours
Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1.5TB SSD
Memory: 8GB, configurable up to 16GB
Ports: two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C
Weight: 2.75 pounds
Key features: Touch ID
Finish: gold, silver, space gray
Apple provided this product for review.
Hot takes and in-depth reviews on noteworthy, relevant and interesting products. Read the Story