Review: Apple 13" MacBook Air (2012)

Our score: 5/5
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Published: August 10, 2012 2:39 PM
By Alexandre Botella / Eric Piedallu
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
This year, the 13" Apple MacBook Air is up against some particularly tough competitors, including the Asus UX31A and the 13" Samsung Series 9 laptop. So is Apple still king in the high-end ultraportable laptop market? Time to find out!

Design4/5



As the years keep flying by, the 13" MacBook Air doesn't budge in terms of design. Its simple but effective look has allowed Apple to move from one version to another without having to change this laptop's chassis. Its design is still perfectly fresh in 2012 and the general finish is as impeccable as ever.                            

Apple 13

The keyboard and touchpad are exactly the same as in previous-generation products. The keyboard has backlit chiclet-style keys that give supple and quiet keying. The clickable touchpad is nice and big, offering smooth glide and precision control. It's compatible with all the usual multitouch gestures (zoom, rotate, two-finger scrolling, etc.). Both the keyboard and the touch pad are very nice to use. 

Apple 13
       
Apart from the fact that the two USB ports have been upgraded to USB 3.0, the 13" MacBook Air's connections haven't changed since last year. You still get a memory card reader, as well as the ultra-fast Thunderbolt video and data connection. This MacBook Air also uses the MagSafe 2 power port with a built-in magnet to help stop the power cord getting pulled out accidentally. Like with the 11" model, it's disappointing that there's no RJ45 Ethernet port for wired network connectivity and no HDMI port for video out.

Apple 13
Heat readings for the 13" Apple MacBook Air with the components under stress.
Images captured with a Fluke Ti25 thermal imaging camera.

Noise levels are kept in check in this laptop. Even when working hard, the 13" MacBook Air is one of the quietest models around. The same can't be said about heat, however. With the chassis being so slim, there's a build-up of heat around the top of the keyboard where hot air is expelled—like in Samsung's 13" Series 9 laptop. In fact, Apple's MacBook Airs are among the very few notebooks that don't expel hot air on the sides of the device, instead pushing it out at the top of the keyboard. At least that means you won't burn your knees!
Apple 13
 
Apple was always a long way ahead of the competition on screen quality, but this year the MacBook Air has fallen slightly behind some of its key rivals. The glossy TN screen is actually identical to the one used in Apple's previous-product generation. The screen contrast is 800:1 and we measured the average Delta E at 6.8 (the difference between perfect colours and those displayed onscreen—the closer to zero, the better, with anything under three considered accurate). These results place it well above average for a laptop screen, but they're no match for the UX31A or the 13" Series 9 top-of-the-range ultraportable laptops. Watch out Apple, the competition is catching up ... on screen quality, at least!

Audio4/5



Apple 13
Frequency response (speakers).
Green = good. Orange = tolerable. White = highly altered.
 
There have been no major changes to the audio hardware in the 2012 13" MacBook Air. With its speakers built in just below the keyboard, this MacBook still does as good a job as ever for a compact notebook. It even beats some 15" and 17" models thanks to its good-quality headphones out and a maximum volume level that's much higher than its rivals. It's just a shame there's no mic socket—you can only use the built-in mic.

Our Test Model

The 13" MacBook Air we were sent to test had an Intel Core i5-3427U processor, 4 GB of RAM, a 128 GB SSD and the Intel HD 4000 graphics chip. So while the first part of this review is valid for all 2012 13" MacBook Airs (see inset), the following section only applies to the specific model we tested.

Processing Power5/5



With its new-gen Intel Core i5-3427U processor (Ivy Bridge), this new Mac has boosted performances by 20% compared with the older generation. Although it's not faster than the i5 series, this processor still allows the 13" MacBook Air to carry out all kinds of IT tasks (3D modelling, HD video encoding) with reasonable speed.

The fact that this laptop uses an SSD rather than a traditional HDD ensures good general responsiveness. The 13" MacBook Air boots in under 20 seconds, including connection to a Wi-Fi network. It takes about 10 seconds to switch off fully.

Gaming2/5



Unlike the MacBook Pro series, Apple's MacBook Air laptops don't come with a separate graphics card. The Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics chip (built into the processor) is instead on hand to deal with graphics processing. You'll have to be prepared to make some pretty hefty compromises on resolution and graphics detail if you want to run recent games with a decent level of smoothness. The MacBook Air therefore isn't a top choice for gamers.

Mobility / Battery Life5/5


 
While we've already noticed a few nice improvements (processing power, USB 3.0, etc.), this 2012 13" MacBook Air has saved the best until last. The product's dimensions (32.5 x 22.7 x 0.3 ~ 1.7 cm) and weight (1.35 Kg) make it great for use out and about, but its biggest strength when it comes to portability has got to be battery life—7 hours 42 minutes (tested for video playback, with headphones plugged in, screen brightness at 100 cd/m², Wi-Fi and keyboard backlighting off). That's truly excellent, and it beats the 2011 generation by a whopping 1 hour 30 minutes!
5/5 Apple 13" MacBook Air (2012) DigitalVersus 2012-08-10 15:39:00

Pros

  • Very slim and lightweight (1.35 Kg)
  • Large touchpad with multitouch support
  • Performances
  • Audio quality
  • Battery life (7 hrs 42 mins)
  • Good screen contrast (800:1)

Cons

  • Glossy screen, colour fidelity could be better
  • Not great for gaming
  • Can get quite hot
  • A bit light on connections

Conclusion

With a design that never seems to date and an impeccable finish, the 2012 13" MacBook Air packs excellent levels of processing power and a monster battery life into a sleek, compact casing. The new MacBook Air has so many great features that you'll soon get over the fact that its screen isn't quite as good as the displays in certain rivals (although it's still above average) and that it's lacking a few connections.

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