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October 31, 2018

MacBook Air (2018) hands-on review

by John_A

Apple is finally bringing a much-needed overhaul to its MacBook Air, its most affordable MacBook. Sure, there have been internal upgrades — such as the 2017 MacBook Air which saw a miniscule processor update — but it didn’t stop the MacBook Air from looking like a laptop from, well, 2015.

The MacBook Air (2018) is an improvement in every way, bringing long-requested features such as a Retina display and Touch ID. There’s also a stunning gold finish that will draw eyes from across the cafe.

Finally, a Retina display

Approach the gold MacBook Air and you won’t want to stop touching it. It feels incredibly high-end, despite the use of 100-percent recycled aluminum. There are two subtler colorways available — Space Gray and Silver — but we think the gold is the one you’ll want to get. It’s stunning.

There’s a nice lip at the center bottom half of the MacBook Air that makes the laptop incredibly easy to open with one finger, and the rubberized pads on the bottom make sure it stays still.

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The trimmed down bezels and up-firing speaker grille make this laptop look a lot like the MacBook Pro. But we’re even happier to finally see a Retina display on board. That means there’s a major jump in resolution from 1,400 x 900 (2015 MacBook Air) to 2,560 x 1,600. The screen is positively sharp with vivid colors, making this laptop a more capable option for professionals that don’t want to splurge on the pricier MacBook Pro. We haven’t tested it yet, but this same panel when on the MacBook Pro was one of the best displays we’d ever tested.

The new MacBook Air may have the same screen size as its predecessor, but it has 17-percent less volume than before, thanks to the slimmer bezels around the screen. It’s also just 0.61 inches thin, making it 10 percent thinner than the last Air. It’s also lighter at just 2.75 pounds (versus 2.96 pounds).

How does that compare to Apple’s more premium MacBooks? The new MacBook Air is lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but heavier than the standard 12-inch MacBook. Size-wise, its chunkiest parts are thicker than the MacBook Pro and MacBook. Is this the best MacBook to travel with? No. While it certainly is slim and lightweight, it shouldn’t be your go-to MacBook anymore for portability. The “Air” moniker doesn’t hold as much meaning as it once did.

That doesn’t mean it has poor portability — not at all. It’s just not the smallest MacBook you can get (in every sense). It still feels lightweight, and it’s slim enough to slide into any reasonably-small backpack. The display size is plenty big to get work done, though perhaps Apple could have benefitted from a smaller screen option to truly capitalize on the Air branding and set it apart from other MacBooks.

Touch ID, Force Touch trackpad, butterfly keyboard

Apple first introduced Touch ID on the MacBook Pro in 2016, and despite its disappearance on the latest iPhones and the new iPad Pro, it’s making a return on the new MacBook Air. It’s situated at the top right corner of the keyboard, and you can use it to log into websites securely, or make payments with Apple Pay. It’s easy to access, but we can’t comment on reliability since we weren’t able to test it out. The T2 security chip is also onboard to keep your Touch ID data safe, while also providing secure boot and “Hey Siri” support.

Approach the gold MacBook Air, and you won’t want to stop touching it.

The keyboard is the same backlit butterfly keyboard you’ll find on the latest MacBook Pro. It’s comfortable to type on in our brief tests, but we’d have liked for it to be a tad clickier. We’re not sure if it’s as quiet as Apple makes it out to be, but we’ll be able to verify when we can use the laptop in a quieter environment. This new keyboard supposedly mitigates the reliability issues with the initial butterfly keyboards using a plastic membrane beneath the keycap. We love the new Force Touch trackpad, which is 20 percent larger and delivers a realistic haptic feedback when you press it. Again, this is a feature ported over from the MacBook Pro.

Apple also said the stereo speakers are 25 percent louder than the old MacBook Air with more bass, but we didn’t have a chance to listen to it. There’s a three-microphone array, which should deliver better quality and more reliable Siri activation.

Ports and power

Prepare to buy some dongles, because the new MacBook Air only has three ports in total, one of which is (thankfully) a headphone jack. The other two are Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports. We’re happy to see USB-C here, as it makes the MacBook Air more versatile. You can use a USB-C to Lightning cable to charge up your iPhone, connect to high-resolution external monitors, or even power up an external GPU.

The MacBook Air is powered by an eight-generation Intel Core i5 processor, along with 8GB of RAM. You can upgrade to 16GB if you need more, though it’d most likely be a waste since this is a dual-core processor. There’s 128GB of storage onboard by default and it’s a solid state drive (SSD), though there are plenty of other options to choose ranging from 256GB to 1.5TB.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The exact processor being used is currently a bit of a mystery. It’s never appeared in another laptop we’ve seen, and it’s not even listed on Intel’s website. But given that we’re dealing with an 8th-gen dual-core processor, we’re guessing this is some kind of new Y-series processor. We’ll know more once we run the laptop through our suite of benchmarks, but that means you shouldn’t expect the kind of multitasking capabilities you’d find in a quad-core laptop like the XPS 13 or the MacBook Pro.

Apple said you can expect up to 13 hours of iTunes movie playboard with the 50.3 watt-hour battery. That’s an improvement over the current MacBook Pro and 12-inch MacBook, though we’ll be testing to see if that claim holds up. With claims of up to twenty hours by laptops like the HP Spectre x360, we would have liked the MacBook Air to have made some more ambitious battery life improvements.

Price and availability

The new MacBook Air isn’t as affordable as its predecessor, starting at $1,200. Perhaps that’s why Apple is still selling the dated-looking 2017 MacBook Air, but surprisingly for the same $1,000.

If it had been left at a $1,000 price point, this might have been the perfect entry-level MacBook. But despite that, in our brief time with the laptop, the new MacBook Air seems fit to be the entry-level MacBook most people should buy. We’ll be testing the MacBook Air over the next few weeks and will bring you a final verdict soon.

The MacBook Air is available for pre-order now, with sales starting November 7.

Apple MacBook Air (2018) Compared To

HP Envy x2 (2018)

Lenovo Yoga Book C930

Lenovo Yoga C930

Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA

Lenovo Thinkpad T480s

Lenovo Yoga 720 15-inch

Razer Blade Stealth (2017)

Dell XPS 15 Touch

Dell XPS 13 (2014)

HP EliteBook 820 G1

Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5

Dell Inspiron 14z

Sony Vaio S Series

Asus UL30A

Sony VAIO C1MW PictureBook

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