The Air is a big upgrade from the older variant, but comes in with a big price tag.
Apple’s lightest and slimmest notebook ever, Air, finally gets the retina update that Apple users have been waited long for. It was a decade ago when Steve Jobs shocked Apple fans after he pulled out the slimmest laptop out of an envelope on stage. That was the time when Apple fans applauded the Cupertino giant for creating a masterpiece. While the product made a mark in history, fans waited for really long till Apple finally gave this little baby the best update ever — the Retina display.
A decade on, Apple’s products have been receiving revolutionary updates on both fronts — hardware and software. Every product that now comes out of Apple’s kitchen speaks of class, elegant design, and all of them today are completely eco-friendly. The materials used are made from eco-friendly recycled matter that helps reduce the impact on the environment. These include mercury-free displays, arsenic-free display glass, PVC-free materials, 100 per cent recycled aluminium, and a lot more, which even shows in its packaging where the carry bags are also made from 100 per cent recycled paper. Well, the MacBook Air is no different, and all of the above stated is what Apple ensures to see its future as a responsible manufacturer.
The MacBook Air 2018 is now with a Retina display that spans 13.3-inches across the lid. Gone are those ugly border aluminium bezels and the notebook now greets you with an all-glass front which is easier to clean and rich to look at. Yes, no more spending time digging out that lint or dust between the bezels and the display. However, it still does not extend to the edges and we still feel that black borders could have been done away with. Apple has definitely made the entire chassis smaller than the earlier model but has stuck with the same display size.
The Retina display uses an IPS technology that shines 2560x1800 pixels (227ppi) with millions of colours on an aspect ratio of 16:10. No – that lid still does not do a Yoga and you will still be stuck with an angular design of the yesteryears. Reason — probably the wedge-like design that tapers towards the font, but definitely an angle that is perfect for ergonomic and comfortable viewing. Apple has also brightened up the display, but we still feel it could do more. The display, on its own, is crisp, clear and produces vibrant images. The Retina Display is colour corrected by default and no other Windows-based laptops can compare to the displays used here. Sadly, the Retina Display does not sport True Tone technology, which is seen on the MacBook Pro or the iPad Pro, which would have been a value add-on as this is a portable laptop and will see a lot of ambient lighting conditions when you are constantly on the move.
The design is similar to the older Air, but with an upgrade. It now offers a reduced footprint by 17 per cent and becomes lighter than before — almost 100g lighter. Sadly, smaller footprint means lesser battery, but Apple has managed to work something better to give you more battery life. The Air measures 1.56cm thick on the rear and tapers to a sweet 0.41cm at the thinnest end up front.
It is 11.97 inches wide and 8.36 inches deep and weighs in at a total 1.25kg, which is probably the lightest portable laptop around, and definitely the lightest notebook from Apple that is on sale today. The design is completely compact and sleek with no removable parts such as flaps or alike, that makes it extremely portable and travel-friendly. The build quality here is rock solid and robust — you may not find anything as crisp-looking and structured solid out there. You may argue about the HP counterpart, but we have to give it to Apple who started it.
Beneath that eco-friendly recycled aluminium body is an Intel 1.6GHz dual-core i5 processor with 4MB L3 cache that can boost up to a good 3.6GHz when you need it. As for the memory, the base model comes with 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 non-removable (onboard) RAM, and up to 16GB if you need more. Storage options available are 128GB or 256GB SSDs that can be opted for at the time of purchase. Need more, you can pull that up to a maximum 1.5TB in SSD storage.
As for the graphics, there is no discrete GPU here and you will have to make do with Intel’s UHD Graphics 617. However, if you want more power on the graphics front, you could always plug in an e-GPU using any of the two Thunderbolt 3 ports that are provided on the left. These two Thunderbolt 3 ports are identical and you can use them for external devices as well as charge the Air through any of them too. They support native DisplayPort output over USB Type-C (up to 5K resolution) to connect HDMI or VGA monitors with a maximum resolution support of 5120x2880 pixels (60Hz) or 4096x2304 pixels (60Hz) with two displays out.
The Thunderbolt 3 ports support up to 40Gbps speeds, which makes it one of the fastest ports for data transfers out there. Sadly, Standard USB ports don’t feature here, and you would have to use a dongle to have those ports serving your older USB hardware. Luckily, Type-C to USB/HDMI dongles are available for cheap and you can use them without any issues. We tried a regular Chinese third-party USB Type-C to HDMI/USB 3.0 USB priced at Rs 950 and it worked well. On the connectivity front, you get 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking, but Bluetooth takes a hit with just v4.2 — we expected Bluetooth 5.0 to take debut here but were disappointed.
The audio area takes a better turn — the onboard wide stereo speakers are now louder than before (by almost 25 per cent), and have a deeper bass than before. We tried a few movies flicks, games and the audio experience is simply outstanding from the tiny top-facing speakers that are placed aside the keyboard. The audio’s performance is at its best when seated right in front of it, but your friends can also feel a similar effect if they are on either side beside you. Thanks to the audio engineering, the audio is clear, crisp and very effective. Note: You may not need a Bluetooth speaker along as these onboard speakers are rich and loud enough to fill up a small room.
Also, thankfully, the 3.5mm audio jack stays put. Microphones onboard get an additional pair — three in total, which help with better voice capture performance, especially for calls and Siri. The three microphones form an array that can accurately capture voice for FaceTime calls, dictation, and talking to Siri. Speaking about Siri, you can now use hands-free Siri by simply talking to her — no buttons pressed, nothing needed. However, Sadly, the FaceTime camera is still a 720p, which could have been 1080p or better, given that camera technology is fiercely ahead on their smartphones.
The keyboard gets a facelift from the earlier MacBook models — it now sports a third-generation butterfly mechanism that is claimed to be better than the previous scissor mechanism seen on other models. The butterfly mechanism was first featured on the MacBook Pro earlier and now caters to the Air too. The new keyboard is a full-sized one and the new keys are meant for better stability, additional response and comfort while typing. The keys are well spaced and have a good travel making for a great typing experience. While most new users will have to get accustomed to the new flat design keys here, Apple MacBook users would find it ‘better’. They are definitely soft, have a good tactility, but makes those odd clacking sounds which could be a put off for first-time users.
Nevertheless, once you start using the MacBook Air, you will definitely start loving it in a matter of time. Many would find moving from traditional vertical travel keys, like the ones on the conventional laptop/desktop keyboard, a bit cumbersome. The keyboard also gets an upgrade in terms of backlighting — unlike other models, each key here is individually backlit with an LED each. This makes for better visibility in the dark and you can control the intensity to your requirement.
The keyboard also has a new member this time — TouchID. This is a tiny key that is placed in the extreme top-right corner and features a fingerprint sensor (The TouchID sensor). Life is now easier with this addition as you won’t need to type in your password each time you flip open that lid — simply touch and go. The TouchID is very accurate and fast, and we had no chance of complaints here.
Apart from featuring a biometric sensor on their new lineup, Apple now also incorporates an additional hardware security layer — the T2 chip. This chip ensures that all your fingerprints are locked within a secure enclave itself and resides on the notebook itself. The T2 Chip also makes sure that your laptop’s bootloader is not tampered and your data is safe.
The touchpad gets a complete changeover — as opposed to the older diving board type, this one is a complete Force Touch trackpad. It sports multi-touch gestures, is extremely sensitive and has Apple’s Taptic engine below that senses pressure and gives you a feel of a physical clicking button. The trackpad is also larger than before and the combination of touch, Force Touch, and gestures ensures extreme control over the minutest movement on the screen. We still have to find a competing trackpad from any other manufacturer out there.
Lastly, all of the above hardware is powered by Apple’s most powerful and latest macOS operating system Mojave, which is the base of the entire experience of what any Mac hardware can offer.
Lastly, the battery life here is a good 12-hour all-day powerhouse, as claimed by Apple. The built-in 50.3-watt Lithium-Polymer battery is said to serve you almost 12 – 13 hours of web surfing and movies and can stay on standby for almost 30 days at its peak.
As for the performance, this little baby wonder can be a workhorse when you want it to. While The MacBook Air is no match for the performance offered by the MacBook Pro in comparison, we are talking about using this notebook whilst on the constant move. We reviewed the 8GB/128GB model and must say that using the little beast was a pleasant experience. It can easily, very easily manage casual to mainstream tasks such as web surfing – that too with multiple tabs opened at once, spreadsheets (online), online movies and alike. However, when you need the Air for heavier tasks such as photo editing, you will feel it immediately that it takes a disliking to you. Yes, the onboard Intel i5 chip is not meant for extreme performance, and with a missing discrete graphics chip, this one can really try your patience at sometimes. You could definitely plug in eGPUs and get the performance upscaled, but at that cost, we would recommend opting for a MacBook Pro over the Air. So if you are looking for heavy graphics-based operations, we would advise you to skip the Air for another version.
Performance scores spewed out by synthetic benchmarking tests give a fair idea that the Air is not meant for power use, and rides behind the MacBook Pro. Novabench scored 462 points on the processor, 210 points on the RAM, 211 points on the GPU (Metal 3D running at 17fps and openCL giving 346Gflops), and 113 points on the SSD. AmorphousDiskMark manages to read at 2.8GB/s and write at 1.7GB/s on the SSD test. CineBench R15 showed an OpenGL score of 16.81fps, and a CPU score of 220cb, and lastly on GeekBench, the Air scored 4239 points and 7771 points in single-core and multi-core performance respectively.
The Air is purely for meant for the traveller who wants to go light, comfortable and needs just basic computing on the move with occasional heavy applications on am emergency basis. The Air is best meant for web surfing, movie binging, social media, and casual stuff where you need a laptop and not a smartphone. And yes, the Air does run hot — not as hot as to panic, but we did notice the heat buildup when we opened a few too many browser tabs and tried multitasking with a few too many applications in the background. We did notice that the keyboard runs pretty warmer over the top, probably where the processor lies beneath. But, we definitely have something good to say here — not once did we face a sluggish performance or any place where the applications gave up. The Mojave macOS and its powerful multitasking features with gesture support is a bliss and if you are that guy — like most journalists need — who uses a lot of apps and browser tabs to-and-fro for work, you will never regret the purchase. Occasional photo and video editing will work fine, but don’t expect too much from it.
The processor, though not a workhorse as you want it to be, is a very efficient power-saving CPU. It actually manages to sip power only when required. Also thanks to the SSDs within, battery life is not wasted as seen on Windows-based laptops. Compared to the 15W previous MacBook Air, this one is a 7W chip and draws less power in comparison, helping you get maximum battery life out of your daily use. In our use, we managed to clock in at least 10 hours in total (best of the two weeks of use), but that is completely subjective to the type of functions.
Overall, the MacBook Air is definitely a good upgrade over the older one but is not a completely revolutionary product for 2018. What looks great on offer can be a hindrance and expense for the other. We must say that while the MacBook Air is definitely something that is highly recommended, a few nicks are what bothers us, at least for now. Most laptops today offer the basic ports such USB Type-A for conventional storage and I/O devices such as mice or printers, but the Air doesn’t. Neither does it sport a memory card reader slot, which probably is one of the important I/O for photographers on the move. Additionally, there is no Ethernet port either. Apple does not provide the necessary dongle along, which is a put off as it is an additional expenditure as well as an additional headache to remember to carry it along with you. Probably Apple wants its users to move on ahead of the current time and technology but at the cost of the user himself. Nevertheless, the Apple MacBook Air 2018 is a worthy upgrade to all those holding on to the older generation Air but may make no sense if he or she is a power user. For those who travel a lot and are hunting for an ultra-portable notebook, the Air is definitely the right choice. The MacBook Air 2018 13-inch with Retina display is available for Rs 1,14,900 in India for the 8GB RAM / 128GB SSD variant, while the 8GB RAM / 256GB SSD variant will raise that bar to Rs 1,34,900. The Air is available in Gold, Silver and Space Grey colours. The price may not be as affordable, but the experience and the premium offering is definitely worth it.