Apple MacBook Air 13in (2011) review
A sensational piece of laptop engineering, now boosted by a Sandy Bridge turn of speed to create the ultimate executive laptop
If the 13in MacBook Air had a soul, you’d forgive it for a pang of jealously. Until its 11in sibling came along, the larger MacBook Air was the apogee of ultraportable laptop design. Now, if not quite an also-ran, it’s certainly been overshadowed. But has the 2011 refresh done anything to boost the original MacBook Air’s appeal?
It benefits enormously from the Sandy Bridge processor refresh. Like its sibling, it packs a low-voltage Core i5 processor, although the 13in is afforded the slightly sprightlier Core i5-2557M, which boasts a core clock speed of 1.7GHz that can be Turbo Boosted all the way to 2.7GHz when necessary. And unlike some previous models of the MacBook Pro, the Turbo Boost works in Windows as well as OS X Lion.
Yet, while the 13in model may have a nominal clock-speed advantage over its diminutive brethren, it made very little difference in our Real World Benchmarks. The 13in model recorded an overall score of 0.58 compared to the 11in Air’s 0.56. If that sounds disappointing, it shouldn’t: those scores put both MacBook Airs in the upper echelons of ultraportable performance.
An impressive Responsiveness score of 0.75 – no doubt aided by the 256GB SSD in our top-end review unit – reflected our experience of day-to-day use of the MacBook Air. You wait for nothing, especially in Lion, which (if you’ll excuse the pun) positively purrs along.
3D performance was roughly on a par with the 11in Air too, which was to be expected given the same Intel HD 3000 graphics chip. The Low quality Crysis test run at the native resolution of 1,440 x 900 achieved a playable 30fps, compared to 31fps on the lower-resolution 11in model. Don’t even think about turning the detail levels up though, with Crysis slumping to 16fps at Medium settings.
Less demanding 3D games, however, romp along. TrackMania Nations Forever with the settings cranked up to Very High Quality recorded a smooth 34fps. Certainly, there will be few games in the Mac App Store that the MacBook Air will struggle to play.
Yet, very few people will purchase a MacBook Air for gaming. It’s mobile professionals who have the most to gain from the laptop’s uniquely slender profile and barely-there weight of only 1.35kg (without the charger).
The expertly spaced keyboard is as good as any we've typed on, with keys boasting ample travel and a wonderfully tactile response, despite having mere millimetres of laptop base to sink into. The keyboard is subtly backlit in low-light conditions, with the undersized Enter and cursor keys being the only mild irritation – although the scrolling gesture controls on the trackpad rendered the cursor keys virtually redundant anyway.
And what of that trackpad, a 5in buttonless slab of glass that sits almost flush beneath the keyboard? It is as expertly engineered as the keyboard, both smooth and sensitive, with clicks registered only when you depress the entire surface by default. And once you've mastered Apple's gesture controls – which we found a little disorientating at first – navigation is effortless. A swish of two fingers to go back and forward in the Safari web browser, for instance, or a swipe upwards with three fingers to flip between applications in the new Mission Control view.
|Price ex VAT||£1,124|
|Price inc VAT||£1,349|
|Features & Design||6|
|Value for Money||5|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||325 x 227 x 17mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core i5-2557M|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
|SODIMM sockets total||1|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,440|
|Resolution screen vertical||900|
|Resolution||1440 x 900|
|Graphics chipset||Intel HD Graphics 3000|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||0|
|Optical disc technology||N/A|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||N/A|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||no|
|PC Card slots||0|
|USB ports (downstream)||2|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial 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|
|Pointing device type||Multitouch touchpad|
|Speaker location||Behind keyboard|
|Hardware volume control?||no|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||8hr 13min|
|3D performance (crysis) low settings||30fps|
|3D performance setting||Low|
|Overall Real World Benchmark score||0.58|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||OS X Lion|
|OS family||Mac OS X|