Review: Apple 11" MacBook Air (2012)

Our score: 4/5
Reviewed: August 3, 2012 1:00 PM
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Published: August 3, 2012 1:00 PM
By Alexandre Botella
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
Apple just couldn't let summer end without a new 11-inch MacBook Air. With the flowering of the ultrabook market, is Apple still ahead of the competition in the great portable computing race? Answers and more in today's laptop review...

Design4/5



Apple MacBook Air 2012 comparison

Nothing has changed design-wise since last year's MacBook Air. The 2012 series reprises the same aluminium unibody that helped carry the last generation to the heights of success. The finish is just as fine and the overall impression of quality remains intact.                            

Apple MacBook Air 2012 keyboard

The touchpad and keyboard have also been spared any changes. The touchpad provides smooth, precise finger movements and handles multitouch functions with ease. The keys on the backlit keyboard are just as quiet and soft to the touch as always. It's no surprise that Apple decided to stick with its winning horse.

Apple MacBook Air 2012 connectivity
                  USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt                                        Power, USB 3.0, headphone jack

Another thing that has seen little change on the 2012 MacBook Air is the connectivity. It has just two USB 3.0 ports (the 2011 generation had two USB 2.0 ports), a headphone jack, a MagSafe 2 power port and a Thunderbolt connector. For those who are wondering, the Thunderbolt connection allows you to display the computer's image on a different screen or monitor, as well as transfer data. As Thunderbolt-compatible devices can be hard to come by, you may have to purchase an adapter before you can make any use of the port. However, the tables should start to turn soon as many brands, such as Acer, have begun integrating Thunderbolt in their own notebooks. We can expect more and more compatible peripherals (external hard drives, monitors...) by the end of this year. That said, we still would have liked to see an RJ45 (Ethernet) connector and/or HDMI port to round out the connectivity. 

Apple MacBook Air 2012 température
Heat readings for the 11" Apple MacBook Air with the components under stress.
Images captured with a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera.
 

Like its predecessors, the 2012 11.6" MacBook Air suffers slight bouts of fever. As with the Samsung 15" Series 9, it isn't enough to imperil the components, but it does cause an over-10° difference in temperature between the top of the keyboard and the wrist support.

The noise levels, on the other hand, always stay low, even when pushing the computer to its limits.

Apple MacBook Air 2012 dE 94

Whereas the Air's biggest competitors (the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A and Samsung 13" Series 9) are hitting hard with their matte IPS and PLS displays, Apple for some reason keeps sticking with the same glossy TN screen!

Although the vertical viewing angles are as narrow as can be, the 6.1 Delta E (which expresses the difference between the intended colours in the image and the colours displayed onscreen) and 770:1 contrast are decent.

Audio3/5



Apple MacBook Air 2012 freq resp
 Frequency response from speakers
Green = good / Orange = tolerable / White = too heavily altered

 
Another thing this year's 11.6" MacBook Air has inherited from the previous generations is the high quality headphone output. The volume is high, much more so than on competing laptops, and causes no distortion.

The speakers, however, definitely lack "oomph" and have an annoying tendency to saturate the sound at high volumes. This problem, like the high heat levels, is most likely the result of the small size of the chassis.

Our Testing Model:

The version we were sent to review contains an Intel Core i5-3317U processor clocked at 2.7 GHz, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset and a 128 GB SSD. Our comments so far have applied to each version of the 11.6" MacBook Air, but what follows applies only to the model we tested, as each one varies in its technical specs (see above inset).

Processing Power4/5



The 11-inch MacBook Air is staying in line with the times with a next-gen Intel Core i5-3317U Ivy Bridge processor—the same CPU as its largest competitor, the Samsung 13" Series 9. The processor performance on this year's Air has grown 15% compared to the 2011 generation.

This allows it to run the most common tasks (productivity software, web browsing, etc.) with ease, as well as more processor-intensive tasks such as video encoding and 3D modelling. However, while these make up the primary activities that the MacBook Air is designed for, if it's an Apple laptop you're looking for, then the MacBook Pro will give you greater computing power.

With the 128 GB SSD, the MacBook Air becomes a highly responsive machine. Start-up takes under 20 seconds, including the time for Wi-Fi to connect, and shut-down takes about 10 seconds.

Gaming2/5



Unlike the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air has no dedicated graphics card. It's the Intel HD 4000 chipset that handles all the graphics, so get ready to make some big concessions on resolution and detail if you want to play any big, recent video games. It won't take you long to realise that the 11" MacBook Air is not a gamers' laptop.

Battery Life5/5



The weight (1.08 kg) and dimensions (0.3~1.7 x 39 x 19.2 cm) are the same as always and just as well suited to life on the go. We also noticed a longer battery life. Where the 2011 generation held out during our test (continuous video playback with headphones in, the screen at 100 cd/m² and Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting turned off) for 4 1/2 hours, the 2012 version lasts 50 minutes longer in the same circumstances. This laptop has enough power to make itself useful all day long.
4/5 Apple 11" MacBook Air (2012) DigitalVersus 2012-08-03 14:00:00

Pros

  • Similar to the 2011 version, but with higher performance and longer battery life
  • Thin and light
  • Big multitouch touchpad
  • Good contrast

Cons

  • Glossy display with false colours
  • Low gaming capability
  • Heating
  • Limited connectivity

Conclusion

The 2012 version of the MacBook Air 11" has added processor power and battery life to the 2011 stock and is just as excellent of a deal in terms of size, capability and make. On the downside, it's still lacking in all the same areas: skimpy connectivity, problematic heat dissipation and an overly glossy display.

OUR SCORE 4/5
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