After years of waiting, everyone’s favorite Mac, the MacBook Air, has *finally* gotten its big design update. But it’s not all good news.
In transforming the Air a modern Mac laptop, Apple has gotten rid of some of the things we used to really love about it.
Apple says the new MacBook Air is redesigned, and it sort of is, but if you’re familiar with other Mac laptops you won’t find any real innovation here. There are lots of changes from the old model, but they just bring the Air into line with the rest of the Mac lineup.
The biggest improvement is the new Retina display. It’s the same 13.3-inch size, but with four times the pixels and more color. It’s still sRGB color, not the Wide color gamut of the MacBook Pro, but it still looks great.
That big wide silver bezel around the display on the old Air has been replaced by a much narrower black bezel that you see on all the other Mac laptops. This makes the footprint a little smaller, down to the same size as the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
In fact, it looks almost exactly like the MacBook Pro, except for that classic tapered front edge.
There are some other nice ugprades, too. Like the switch to the new Force Touch trackpad, which is 20% bigger and lets you do force-click functions in macOS. And the stereo speakers, which are louder and richer and have better stereo separation.
The new Air adds Touch ID, too. Which means you can unlock your Mac, fill in passwords, or authorize purchases with your fingerprint. And Touch ID means Apple’s T2 processor is inside. It provides better security and handles encryption, the FaceTime camera, and audio processing.
But some of the other changes aren’t so great. Like, that keyboard. The old Air had one of the best keyboards on any laptop, ever. The new Air has the same low-profile butterfly-switch keyboard you find on the latest MacBook Pro. It’s noisy and there’s no key travel, and it’s just plain inferior to Apple’s old design.
The new Air has two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, and a headphone jack, and that’s it.
Now, I’m a big fan of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 is great for external hard drives or GPUs, but it’s kind of a problem that there are _no_ USB-A ports anymore. From microphones to mice, to thumb drives to digital cameras, the vast majority of the things regular users plug into their laptops have USB-A plugs. The old Air had one on each side. The new Air is going to force everybody to buy a dongle.
And let’s pour one out for our old pal MagSafe. Apple’s magnetic charging attachment was easy and practical, and has already been kicked to the curb on all other Mac laptops. And now the MacBook Air, the last MagSafe laptop, has joined the USB-C charging party.
So, I hope you don’t mind giving up one of your two USB-C ports when you need to charge, and I hope you never trip over the cable.
Then there’s the processor. The new MacBook Air comes with one -- and only one -- processor. There are no options. It’s the Intel Core i5-8210Y, a dual-core processor with a TDP of 7 watts. The old Air had a Core i5 with a TDP of 15 watts. Now, that was three year old processor, so the new one is faster. But only a little bit.
If Apple had stuck with using Intel processors with a 15-watt TDP, we’d have a quad core processor that would be twice as fast, with much faster graphics, too.
So yeah, the processor is kind of an upgrade, but not the upgrade that we really should have expected.
At least the storage *is* a lot faster, and you can get a lot more of it , too--all the way up to 1.5 terabytes.
Battery life is _roughtly_ the same as the old Air. Which is to say, it’s fantastic. With the brightness set to a reasonable 150 nits, I was able to play back an HD movie for almost 11 hours. You can easily do office work and web browsing for a good eight hours or so before you need to plug in. That’s just great.
If you’ve spent any time using the 12-inch MacBook, using the new Air feels exactly like using a 13-inch verison of that. This is basically the 12-inch MacBook made an inch bigger, with Touch ID, better speakers, and a second USB-C port.
If you like the 12-inch MacBook, that’s a good upgrade. This is hands-down a better laptop. But I’m huge fan of the old MacBook Air, and my time with the new model made me feel like every improvement Apple made was matched by making something worse.
Gain a retina display, lose the great keyboard. Gain USB-C, lose USB-A. Get Touch ID, but lose MagSafe. Those tradeoffs a little hard to swallow when the new model costs $200 more.
It’s a good laptop overall, but not as good as it could have been with just a few different design decisions. And there’s nothing new or original about his MacBook Air--we’ve seen everything here in other Mac laptops.
That doesn’t make it bad; it’s not. It might even be the right Mac for you. But the MacBook Air used to be something really special, and now it’s...just another Mac.