Apple MacBook Air 13in (mid 2014) review
The 13in MacBook Air gets a speed bump and a price drop, but the display is beginning to look behind the times
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.
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 The 1.3GHz Core i5-4250U of last year's model has been replaced by a 1.4GHz Core i5-4260U across the entire range, but the SSD inside is still one of the super-fast PCI Express variety.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.
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.
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.
|Price ex VAT||£833|
|Price inc VAT||£1,000|
|Features & Design||4|
|Value for Money||5|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||325 x 227 x 17mm (WDH)|
|Weight with extended battery||N/A|
|Travelling weight with extended battery||1.7kg|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core I5-4260U|
|SODIMM sockets free||0|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,440|
|Resolution screen vertical||900|
|Resolution||1440 x 900|
|Graphics chipset||Intel HD Graphics 5000|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||0|
|Internal disk interface||PCI-E|
|Hard disk||Apple SD0256F|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Wireless hardware on/off switch||no|
|Wireless key-combination switch||yes|
|PC Card slots||0|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|9-pin serial 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|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
|Speaker location||Under keyboard|
|Camera megapixel rating||0.9mp|
Battery and performance tests
|Battery life, light use||10hr 8min|
|Overall Real World Benchmark score||0.70|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||OS X Mountain Lion|
|OS family||Mac OS X|