Apple MacBook Air review

26 Oct 2010

Gorgeous design, reasonable power and long battery life - Apple's got it right third time around

Price when reviewed: 
1,395(£1349 inc VAT)
5

Back in 2008, Steve Jobs slid the millimetres-thin MacBook Air from a manila envelope, and in that instant the world of laptops looked dowdier than ever. For all its design flair, though, we found the Air riddled with compromises that upgrades since haven't quite ironed out. Now, as we approach 2011, the MacBook Air may just have come of age.

Slip it from its lush packaging and it has the same impact as ever. A silver wedge of aluminium tapering to a delicate point, it looks like it would snap in two at the slightest provocation, but it's also unnervingly robust. The metal unibody chassis feels so taut and well-constructed it barely flinches under the kind of pressure that would crack most ultraportables down the middle.

It also performs the miraculous feat of feeling both hefty and expensive, while not actually weighing much at all. Hold it in one hand and Sony's VAIO Z Series in the other, and the MacBook feels like the heavier and more solid of the two. Put them on the scales, however, and the 1.33kg Apple is actually a handful of grams lighter.

Apple MacBook Air front

The previous MacBook Airs never lacked visual flair; rather it was the disappointing combination of limited horsepower, poor battery life and almost non-existent connectivity that dampened the appeal. With this iteration those criticisms are hushed.

The basics are better: a single USB port now adorns each side, one accompanied by mini-DisplayPort and an SD card reader, the other by a single headphone output. It's still hardly generous by laptop standards, but at least it's now possible to plug in a USB 3G dongle - there's still no 3G as standard - and a thumb drive at the same time. And while some will moan at the lack of an Ethernet socket, the Air's wireless chipset is capable of simultaneous dual-band 802.11n operation.

The core internals still don't wow us. Even on the top-of-the-range model we have here, there's no sign of Intel's latest Core i5 or i7 processors. Instead, a rather elderly Core 2 Duo takes control, along with just 2GB of DDR3 memory. With its 256GB SSD, though, the MacBook Air really doesn't feel like it's built on last-generation technology. Power it on and OS X springs into life in less than 15 seconds, while the MacBook Air feels responsive and nippy throughout.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,187
Price inc VAT £1,395
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 4
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1yr collect and return

Physical specifications

Dimensions 325 x 227 x 17mm (WDH)
Weight 1.330kg
Travelling weight 1.7kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo L9400
Motherboard chipset Nvidia MCP89
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 0

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,440
Resolution screen vertical 900
Resolution 1440 x 900
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce 320M
Graphics card RAM 256MB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 256GB
Hard disk usable capacity 234GB
Spindle speed N/A
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Apple TS256C
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive N/A
Battery capacity 6,800mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed N/A
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch no
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Intel HD Audio
Speaker location Beneath keyboard
Hardware volume control? yes
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 1.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 7hr 47min
Battery life, heavy use 2hr 10min
Overall application benchmark score 0.93
Office application benchmark score 0.93
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.11
Encoding application benchmark score 0.86
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.83
3D performance (crysis) low settings 41fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
OS family Mac OS X
Recovery method Recovery flash drive
Software supplied iLife '11 suite