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Apple MacBook Air 13in (mid 2013) review

Verdict

There’s still no sign of Retina, but improved battery life and gaming performance makes the MacBook Air better value than ever

Review Date: 19 Jun 2013

Reviewed By: Sasha Muller

Price when reviewed: £791 (£949 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
5 stars out of 6

Performance
5 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

With all the excitement surrounding Apple’s radical new Mac Pro, not to mention the arrival of iOS 7, the spotlight didn’t linger long on the latest MacBook Air. Despite all the rumours, there was no Retina display, an identical chassis to last year’s model; the only dramatic change was the appearance of Intel’s Haswell mobile processors and a handful of subtle tweaks to the specification.

Those hoping for a drastic ground-up redesign, or the arrival of killer new features such as a High-DPI Retina display, will doubtless be disappointed, but the MacBook Air remains a stunning piece of design. It’s not the lightest laptop out there – at 1.33kg, it’s noticeably heavier than the 1.05kg Sony VAIO Pro 13 – but the build quality is absolutely top-notch. Indeed, it might just be our imagination playing tricks, but this year’s model feels a touch stiffer – the base is absolutely rock-solid, and despite measuring only 4mm thick, the metal lid is stout, too.

Apple MacBook Air 2013

Beneath that familiar exterior, Apple has rung the changes. Intel’s Haswell processors snatch centre-stage, and Apple has swapped out the mSATA SSD of previous models for PCI Express-based flash storage. As a result, the MacBook Air now feels snappier than ever, and raw application performance has moved up a notch. We ran our Real World Benchmarks in a Boot Camp installation of Windows 8, and the 1.3GHz Core i5-4250U of our review unit powered to an impressive 0.7 overall; last year’s Ivy Bridge-based 1.8GHz Core i5-based Air scored 0.68.

It’s the Samsung-made SSD that delivers the biggest boost. In the AS SSD benchmark, the 128GB drive read large files at 690MB/sec and wrote large files at 485MB/sec – faster than any SSD we’ve seen in a laptop, and not far off what we’ve seen from twin SSD RAID arrays in desktop PCs. When it comes to shunting huge amounts of data to and from external USB 3 or Thunderbolt drives, or just loading up everyday applications, it’s an upgrade that guarantees you won’t be left waiting.

Apple MacBook Air 2013

Graphics performance is slightly improved, too. Unlike the Sony VAIO Pro 13, which uses Haswell processors equipped with the more modest HD Graphics 4400 GPU, the MacBook Air’s CPUs utilise the faster Intel HD Graphics 5000 chipset. In our least demanding Crysis benchmark, run at 1,366 x 768 resolution and low detail settings, the MacBook Air achieved an average of 43fps; upping the resolution to 1,600 x 900 and the detail to Medium settings saw that average drop to 25fps. For casual gaming, that’s more than enough power.

The arrival of Haswell sends battery life soaring. In our light-use battery test run in Windows 8, the MacBook Air lasted 11hrs 43mins, longer than any Ultrabook we’ve tested so far, and enough to put the Apple a nose ahead of the Sony VAIO Pro 13.

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User comments

pricing competitive?

Have to question this statement when the base model only has 128GB SSD. Anyone needing this level of machine is surely looking for 512Gb as a minimum, plus the extra 8Gb of RAM adds a total of £490 of extras, or 50% more than the base price!!

By smn1973 on 22 Jun 2013

Re. pricing competitive?

I'm not a Mac fan myself I have to be honest, but I would say for £1439 you get an i7 laptop with 8GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. That is a bloody good price.

I'm not aware of Win-based Ultrabooks with 512GB SSDs. The only down side with a MBA is that you will forever remain Apple's gimp-slave and have to use Mac OS.

By vivek30 on 22 Jun 2013

Wrong category?

Should this not be under Ultrabooks? IMO should also beat Dell to the A list

The failure to add a retina display is a big minus for me, they decided to market a better battery life rather than a better screen. I am hoping the Samsung Ativ Book 9 with a 3200x1800 screen will live up the hype; currently the MBA is out in front when it comes to Ultrabooks and as mentioned I am hesitant to become an Apple 'gimp-slave'

By eliot94 on 22 Jun 2013

Gimp slave? Why are you an apple gimp slave for using a Mac. They rarely get a bad review and that's because they build them well. Do you say the same thing about Aston Martin owners or Smeg buyers?

By TimoGunt on 22 Jun 2013

The terrible screen

When we have been bemoaning 1366x768 TN panels for several years now, I feel that this Mac "got a pass". Its 1440x900 has a mere 24% greater resolution and it is still TN. Whilst ultrabooks are sporting not only 1080p or higher (Samsung is releasing qHD+ in an ultrabook form factor)they are also sporting IPS panels with some having viewing angles of 178 degrees. The macbook air has the terrible viewing angles typical of TN.

I think more should have been made of this con given the competition that is out there.

Also, since when is a Delta E of 4 good?

By TheBigM72 on 22 Jun 2013

"Apple's gimp slave"

"The only down side with a MBA is that you will forever remain Apple's gimp-slave and have to use Mac OS."

And the only down-side to buying a PC lookalike is that you will forever remain Microsoft's gimp-slave and have to use Windows.

...um, unless you install another operating system on either, and then you're no one's gimp-slave. It's a pretty simple matter to install Windows on an Air...although not so easy to install MacOSX on a PC.

Come to think of it, who is more of the gimp-slave here; the PC buyer or the Air buyer?

By pdqpcp on 22 Jun 2013

"our review unit powered to an impressive 0.7 overall; last year’s Ivy Bridge-based 1.8GHz Core i5-based Air scored 0.68"

That's a pretty pathetic increase, I'd rather look out for an older model.

By Matthew94 on 22 Jun 2013

@Matthew94

You'd prefer a slightly slower machine with only half the battery life?

By CSprout on 22 Jun 2013

re: Re. pricing competitive?

@vivek30

"I'm not aware of Win-based Ultrabooks with 512GB SSDs"

Erm... the vaio Pro with i7, 8gb RAM and 512 GB SSD is cheaper than the Air (£1359 from sony Vs £1579 from Apple, not sure where your price of £1439 came from).

Alternatively £1899 will get you the same spec'd Vaio Duo 13 with a 15 hour battery life

By imaginarynumber on 23 Jun 2013

I can't help but wonder if the battery-life test might have carried more weight if it was run under OSX, rather than forcing Windows 8 onto a Mac? Yes, I understand the 'consistency' argument, but is it really beyond all the clever people at PC Pro to devise a test that isn't tied to one platform? With the Haswell Airs there seems to be a lot of battery optimisation put in at the OS and application level - ’The Verge’ have reported losing a couple of hours of battery life just by using Chrome instead of Safari as the browser in their battery tests, for example - so insisting on a ’third-party’ OS for your tests seems... unreasonable? Worth mentioning too, that the next OSX (10.9 Mavericks) is said to come with significant power consumption optimisations, so battery-life could well improve further...

By petermillard1 on 23 Jun 2013

Upgradeability?

I guess that if you buy this model, you're forever stuck with the 4GB RAM and 128GB SSD? 8GB should be minimum. I could put up with some extra thickness in exchange for being able to replace the SSD with 512G when the price will inevitably come down in a year.

By qwerty on 24 Jun 2013

@qwerty

Yes, you're stuck with whatever spec you buy. The RAM is soldered, and the Samsung SSD is a proprietary unit, according to Ifixit. Samsung’s fast SSD tech is making its way to other manufacturers too so, combined with Haswell, we can expect some exciting times ahead for laptops in general.

By TheHonestTruth on 24 Jun 2013

Wifi issues

Any updates on the wifi dropouts that these new MacBook Airs are having? Apple have asked their US staff to capture devices with this problem - do we get the same service in the UK?

By TheHonestTruth on 25 Jun 2013

@imaginarynumber

Yah my bad didn't include the price for the RAM upgrade. Even though being honest, it's not that bad a price. I'm not saying it's the greatest bargain in the world and you'd be nuts not to go for it, I just think it's a fairly reasonable price...shocking for Apple!

By vivek30 on 26 Jun 2013

@imaginarynumber

Yah my bad didn't include the price for the RAM upgrade. Even though being honest, it's not that bad a price. I'm not saying it's the greatest bargain in the world and you'd be nuts not to go for it, I just think it's a fairly reasonable price...shocking for Apple!

By vivek30 on 27 Jun 2013

Re. pricing competitive?

The £1439 price seems to be for a refurbished model sold by Currys.

If you want an Apple Macbook with an i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB SSD [actually 750GB] then you're looking at £1555 it seems: http://www.reviewlaptops.co.uk/product/view/5958/A
pple-MacBook-Pro-MD104B-A.html

I agree that it could be worse value actually!

By abouttime on 2 Jul 2013

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