Apple MacBook Air 11in (Mid 2013) review

Pros

  • Great battery life
  • Thin and light
  • Fourth-generation Intel Core processor
  • Bright screen

Cons

  • 1,366 x 768 resolution
  • No SD slot, Ethernet or HDMI

The Apple MacBook Air 11in (Mid 2013) is the latest iteration of Apple's ultraportable laptop, with prices starting at £849. It retains all of the features that MacBook Air fans have come to expect, although there are a few facets that are starting to seem dull and could bear a little improvement. The system's main improvements are a new fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor and its effect on battery life and 3D performance. Overall, the 11in Air is improved over last year's model, but concurrent improvements to the Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid 2013) – which starts from £949 – make that model more attractive for the majority of users.

Design

The MacBook Air 11in looks and feels exactly like last year’s Apple MacBook Air 11in. It has the same compact exterior dimensions – namely 300 x 192 x 17mm (WxDxH) – and weighs 1.06kg, which is 10 grams lighter than last year. It’s imperceptibly heavier than Microsoft’s Surface Windows 8 Pro.

The new MacBook Air 11in carries over the same exterior features: a comfortable backlit keyboard with a shallow key travel, responsive multi-touch trackpad, a webcam above the screen, and an all-aluminium construction. The system continues to use the MagSafe 2 connector introduced last year.

The Air is only 17mm inches at its thickest point, so it will even fit in a satchel made for full-sized tablets. On the sides you'll find the same two USB 3.0 ports and single Thunderbolt port as before, though there are now two holes for the dual microphones. These are ostensibly for improved voice performance with FaceTime video chats and dictation in the current OS X Mountain Lion, but they're also primed if Apple decides to add Siri to OS X Mavericks in the future.

A touchscreen isn't available, but unlike Windows 8 rival machines, touchscreens on Macs are superfluous so far, since OS X doesn't utilise many touch-friendly elements yet.

Aside from the pair of pinholes for the dual mic setup, the upgrades are all interior. The base MacBook Air now comes with 128GB of Flash storage space, up from last year's 64GB. Apple upgraded the Wi-Fi to the new 802.11ac dual band standard, so it will work fine with any new 802.11ac router like Apple's Airport Extreme (2013).

Like previous models, the 11in MacBook Air lacks an SD card reader. Since we're talking about the system's flaws, we should mention that there isn't room for full-size HDMI and Ethernet either, and both require adapters that you must purchase separately. Likewise, we're a bit disappointed that Apple hasn't upgraded the screen from the standard 1,366 x 768 resolution. At least the MacBook Air 13in has a higher 1,440 x 900 resolution screen, but the Surface Pro boasts a 1,920 x 1,080 full HD screen. The Apple MacBook Pro 13in (Retina Display) shows that Apple has the technology to do this, although it most certainly would boost the system's price. Apple includes a standard one year warranty on all its MacBook laptops.

Performance

The new MacBook Air 11in comes with a fourth-generation Intel Core i5-4250U processor, 4GB of system memory, and a 128GB of Flash Storage, just like its 13in brother. The Core i5 processor is built on Intel's new Haswell microarchitecture, which is designed for better 3D performance as well as more battery life. This is borne out by the system's benchmark test scores.

The MacBook Air 11in is good to very good on the multimedia benchmarks – it recorded a time of 1 minute and 38 seconds with Handbrake, and 6 minutes and 12 seconds with the Photoshop CS6 test. However, that was a tad slower than the 2012 MacBook Air which hit 1 minute and 25 seconds with Handbrake, and 6 minutes and 5 seconds with Photoshop CS6.

On the 3D tests, the MacBook Air and its Intel HD Graphics 5000 are significantly faster than older laptops with Intel HD Graphics 4000. Heaven is almost but not quite smoothly animated: 22 frames per second (fps) at medium quality is a lot better than the 11-15 fps seen on older laptops, but it's still nowhere near 30-60 fps, which is where things become more interesting on the game grid. Intel HD Graphics 5000 is still pretty basic, but it should be enough for low quality settings on browser-based 3D games.

Like the MacBook Air 13in, the new MacBook Air 11in has phenomenal battery life. Last year's MacBook Air 11in stopped playing our test movie at 4 hours and 14 minutes. The new system more than doubles that to 10 hours and 42 minutes. This bests the likes of thin Windows 8 laptops and tablets by a huge margin.

That said, the new MacBook Air 13in trumps the 11in model with an additional five hours more battery life on the same test, so it more than makes up for the added space and weight. Basically, if you are always using the system on airline tray tables, the 11in makes more sense. But if you're willing to carry a bit more in return for a larger more usable screen with five extra hours of battery life, consider the Haswell-powered 13in MacBook Air.

Verdict

At £849, the Apple MacBook Air 11in (Mid 2013) is an attractive ultraportable. Still, for only £100 more, you can get the 13in MacBook Air with almost the same components, but with a larger screen and five more hours of battery life. We still recommend the 11in model for those who need portability more than any other factor, but the fact of the matter is that the 13in model is ultimately a better buy.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Apple MacBook Air 11in (Mid 2013)

Processor

Intel Core i5-4250U

Operating System

Mac OS X 10.8

Weight

1.06kg

Graphics Card

Intel HD Graphics 5000

Screen Type

Widescreen

Type

Ultraportable, Business, Small Business

RAM

4GB

Networking Options

802.11ac

Processor Speed

1.3GHz

Screen Size

11.6in

Storage Capacity

128GB

Storage Type

SSD