Apple MacBook Air 13in (mid 2014) review

24 Jun 2014

The 13in MacBook Air gets a speed bump and a price drop, but the display is beginning to look behind the times

Price when reviewed: 
1,000(£999 inc VAT)
Buy it now for 
5

While rival manufacturers are busily adding high-DPI displays to their Ultrabooks, Apple has shunned such luxuries for its latest 13in MacBook Air. Instead, it has treated it to a slightly faster processors and knocked £100 off the price. Not that we're complaining: the MacBook Air 13in may not win the specification war, but it remains one of the most alluring thin-and-light laptops out there. Read on for our full Apple MacBook Air 13in (mid 2014) review.

MacBook Air (mid-2014) 13.3in review

We'd be willing to bet good money that a redesigned MacBook Air 2 will appear towards the end of 2014, but it's not like the existing model is in desperate need of a new look; it's still every inch the luxury laptop.

The slim, 1.33kg chassis strikes a fine line between prettiness and toughness, and while the all-silver bare metal finish won't be everyone's cup of tea, it feels super-stiff. There are precious few Ultrabooks that ooze the same sense of solidity and build quality.

Apple MacBook Air 13in (2014) review: performance

Inside, the changes are minor. The 1.3GHz Core i5-4250U of last year's model has been replaced by a 1.4GHz Core i5-4260U across the entire range, but the SSD inside is still one of the super-fast PCI Express variety.

From the off, the supercharged SSD makes its presence felt. The MacBook Air fires into life in mere seconds, and applications install and launch with surprising haste. With sequential read and write speeds of 664MB/sec and 542MB/sec respectively, the Apple-branded Sandisk SSD marches well ahead of Ultrabooks equipped with mSATA SSDs, even if it's a tad slower in sequential read speeds than the Samsung-built SSD in last year's model.

MacBook Air (mid-2014) 13.3in review

The modest CPU speed bump, however, made no impact at all. The MacBook Air sailed to a respectable score of 0.7 in our Real World Benchmarks – exactly the same as last year's model. It's more than speedy enough to chew through most applications, though, and the speedy SSD does a great job of keeping the OS feeling responsive when the CPU runs out of steam, such as with heavy video-encoding tasks.

Battery life was always one of the MacBook Air's strong points, and that hasn't changed. In our light-use test, with the screen brightness calibrated to 75cd/m2, the MacBook Air kept trucking for an impressive 10hrs 8mins. There are only a handful of Windows 8 Ultrabooks that can match the Apple for stamina, and the Dell XPS 12 is the only model to pull significantly ahead, with a light-use result of 12hrs 41mins.

Apple MacBook Air 13in (2014) review: connectivity and display

Around the chassis, there are two USB 3 ports, an SD card reader, a 3.5mm headset jack and a Thunderbolt 2 port, which provides both ultra-fast connectivity and monitor output via mini-DisplayPort. With an increasing amount of high-end professional hardware adopting the Thunderbolt standard, its presence on the MacBook Air remains a significant plus over Windows devices. Wireless connectivity isn't hung out to dry, either: the MacBook Air sports dual-band 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4 connections.

If there's one area where the MacBook is starting to look a little out of date, it's the 13.3in, 1,440 x 900 display. With Full HD fast becoming standard on most high-end Windows machines, and high-DPI displays making the grade across Samsung and Lenovo's Ultrabooks, this display is in dire need of a Retina upgrade.

At first glance, however, few people will notice its shortcomings. Brightness peaks at a decent 344cd/m2, and contrast hits an acceptable 944:1, too, which is enough to give images plenty of punch. In most circumstances, the lower screen resolution isn't a huge issue, providing enough clarity to keep photos and movies pleasingly sharp.

MacBook Air (mid-2014) 13.3in review

The factory calibration ekes the optimum colour accuracy from the panel, too: colour temperature measures an acceptable 6,717K (not far off the ideal figure of 6,500K), and the average Delta E of 3.9 means most onscreen colours look fairly accurate to the naked eye. By comparison, the high-DPI displays in the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus and Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro achieve a significantly less accurate Delta E average of around 7.

Since the Apple's display still uses TN panel technology, though, it's off the pace in several areas. For one, colour accuracy isn't exemplary by any standards. The panel only musters 60% of the colours in the sRGB gamut, and falls particularly short in the blue regions. As a result, the MacBook Air's struggles to reproduce a huge swathe of blue shades, resulting in a disappointing maximum Delta E of 12.8. This means onscreen colours can look considerably off beam, even to the naked eye.

Despite our criticisms of the display, however, it's tough to actively dislike the MacBook Air. The backlit keyboard and buttonless touchpad remain as able a pairing as ever, the keyboard is a pleasure to type on, with nicely sized and responsive keys, and the buttonless touchpad is superb. Our only quibble is that Apple hasn't enabled edge-swipes in BootCamp installations of Windows 8, but it works well in Windows nonetheless, and it's positively perfect in the preinstalled OS X Mavericks.

Apple MacBook Air 13in (2014) review: verdict

Make no bones about it: the MacBook Air is no longer the top dog in the thin-and-light laptop field. With the Yoga 2 Pro packing in a high-DPI display and a similar all-round specification for only 99p more, and no shortage of fine Windows 8 alternatives, the MacBook Air has some serious competition on its hands.

Even if you're dead set on an Apple laptop, we'd be mighty tempted to find an extra £200 and buy a 13in MacBook Pro with Retina display instead. Ultimately, the MacBook Air remains a great ultraportable, but it's by no means the must-buy proposition it once was.

Details

Price ex VAT £833
Price inc VAT £1,000
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 4
Value for Money 5
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 325 x 227 x 17mm (WDH)
Weight 1.330kg
Weight with extended battery N/A
Travelling weight with extended battery 1.7kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core I5-4260U
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0

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 5000
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
Internal disk interface PCI-E
Hard disk Apple SD0256F
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
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
Speaker location Under keyboard
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 0.9mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 10hr 8min
Overall Real World Benchmark score 0.70
Responsiveness score 0.85
Media score 0.71
Multitasking score 0.54

Operating system and software

Operating system OS X Mountain Lion
OS family Mac OS X

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