Apple MacBook Air 13in (2011) review

29 Jul 2011

A sensational piece of laptop engineering, now boosted by a Sandy Bridge turn of speed to create the ultimate executive laptop

Price when reviewed 
1,349
Buy it now for 
5

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.

MacBook Air 13in (2011)

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.

Mobile workhorse

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).

MacBook Air 13in (2011)

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,124
Price inc VAT £1,349
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 5
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 325 x 227 x 17mm (WDH)
Weight 1.350kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i5-2557M
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 1

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,440
Resolution screen vertical 900
Resolution 1440 x 900
Graphics chipset Intel HD Graphics 3000
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
Optical disc technology N/A
Optical drive none
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
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 Multitouch touchpad
Speaker location Behind keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case 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
Responsiveness score 0.75
Media score 0.58
Multitasking score 0.41

Operating system and software

Operating system OS X Lion
OS family Mac OS X

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