Review: Apple MacBook Air 13" (2011)

 
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Published: August 11, 2011 11:00 PM
By Alexandre Botella
So then, to the Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch. After the strong showing by the 11.6-inch version, we were impatient to get our dirty little mitts on the 13.3-inch so we could tell you what it was capable of.

Connectivity as limited as ever

No great surprise to find the brushed aluminium chassis that has made the name of previous generations of MacBook Air. This shell resists scratching, is not subject to finger marks and looks very smart indeed. No issues with the finish!

MC966F

The keyboard with separated backlit keys (15 x 15 mm) is very nice to use. Supple and relatively quiet, it offers comfortable keying. A pleasure for word processing!
    
The multitouch touchpad is still just as wide and comfortable to use. The glide is fluid and precise. For those who've never used a Mac touchpad, you put one finger down on it and click with another for the right click. For more information on usage, you can consult the explanatory video on the Apple site.
All the detail on the combinations of movements for Mac OS X Lion is also there, a real advance in terms of ease-of-use.

Apple Macbook Air 13.3 2011 webcamThe webcam (1280 x 720 pixels) was disappointing. The image flickers and lacks detail. The dark zones lack any differentiation in tone and blacken rapidly. It's not hard to find better.

In spite of having a larger chassis than the 11.6-inch model, the connectivity hasn't progressed a great deal. In addition to the USB 2.0 port, the headphones socket and the thunderbolt socket, there's just an SD card reader on top. This does however put it on a level with the Samsung Series 9, its main competitor.

In terms of noise and heat, it behaves exactly like the MacBook Air 11.6-inch. Its fan is so quiet that you sometimes wonder if it's actually running at all. Temperatures get up above 50 °C in some places when you push it hard. If Apple intends to up the power on its next generation - something it's no doubt intending to do - it will have to have to revisit the cooling because it could start to become an issue.
 
The MacBook Air's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
 
 
MC966F
Underneath

MC966F Hood


MC966F
  Power supply, USB 2.0, headphones/mic
FX700
  Thunderbolt
2.0 port, USB 2.0 port and SD card reader


Processor power: good performance

Like with the 11.6-inch, Apple has gone for a low consumption Core i5 for this 13.3-inch model. With the bigger screen, there has been a concomitant increase in power. It still won't match up to the Core i3-2310M, but it does at least move in front of the Samsung Series 9 and its Intel Core i5-2537M (processor index 78), with an index of 86 here.

This doesn't mean it can do a great deal more, but in the long run the time gained may make a difference, especially if you're intending to do a lot of work with intensive applications. On average, across our bank of tests including video editing and encoding, 3D modelling and file compression, it's 10% faster than the high end Samsung ultra.

The OS starts up in 23 seconds and it takes under 6 seconds to turn off.

Like last year, the SSD makes for reduced times for software installation, copying to an external hard drive and overall machine responsiveness. It's also of course much more resistant to shocks than a standard hard drive.
High definition video playback, whether 1080p or 720p, poses no problem. As with the 11.6-inch version, the graphics card, a drain on the battery, has been removed and Apple is counting on the capacities of the Intel HD 3000 chipset to do everything on its own, at moderate energy consumption levels.

Gaming: an honest but limited showing

In gaming however this same chipset rapidly shows its limitations. It can run a few titles such as FIFA 11 on minimum settings but for anything more demanding, even if you push the resolution and graphics options right down, you're not guaranteed to be able to do any fluid gaming.

Audio: decent

No change from the 11.6-inch model here either. The sound is good for this sort of under-keyboard system, even if it's not up to the best of what you can get on a laptop. The headphones out is also of good quality, but unfortunately there's still no mic in. This really is a shame! Why?

Power combined with increased battery life

Like the 11.6-inch version, the 13.3-inch MacBook Air gives improved battery life. We measured the 2010 generation at 5h47 and this one at 6h12 under the same conditions (video playback, wi-fi off, headphones plugged in and screen at 100 cd/m²). There's been no change in terms of size and weight and it will still slip into a rucksack easily enough. At 1.35 Kg, you won't feel its weight too much either. An excellent choice for anyone who'll be carrying it around a lot.
5/5 Apple MacBook Air 13" (2011) DigitalVersus 2011-08-12 00:00:00

Pros

  • Very slim and light (1.35 Kg)
  • Large multitouch touchpad
  • Higher performance and battery life than the 2010 version and the MacBook Air 11.6-inch
  • Decent audio quality
  • 6h12 battery life

Cons

  • Glossy panel with inaccurate colours
  • Low gaming capacity
  • Tends to heat up
  • Poor connectivity

Conclusion

Bigger, more powerful and with a higher battery life than its 11.6-inch version, the MacBook 13.3-inch represents one of the - if not the - best choices for those looking for a powerful, mobile machine. Note however that a richer connectivity wouldn't go amiss as there still aren't very many thunderbolt compatible peripherals out there.

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