MacBooks are subject to a lot of debate. There are those who think they're amazing with pricing in line with a finish of real quality. Then there are those who don't understand how you can sell laptops at such high prices when they are far from having the best specs out there. Here then is our review for the MacBook Air 13.3 inch, which is going to settle the debate once and for all (for sure!).
Note: it looks as if some models have a bug affecting the screen when coming out of standby. Lines of colours appear right across the screen or there may be flashing colours. Apple is working on an update to correct this. Although not all machines are affected (such as the one we tested), the problem is sufficiently widespread for Apple to look into the question.
Hardware, design and build: well finished but with limited connectivityLike with the 11.6 inch version tested last week, there's no ignoring the quality of the finish. Its brushed aluminium shell resists scratching, is not subject to finger marks and looks very smart indeed.
The keyboard is the same size as on the 11.6 inch version. This is a shame as Apple could have used the extra space to enlarge some keys, like the "enter" key which is a little bit too small for some. Nevertheless, it does give supple and quiet keying. Great for word processing.
The touchpad is however slightly bigger (10.5 cm x 7.2 cm), but not in proportion to the shell. It takes up a little less than a third of the width of the laptop. The glide is fluid and precise. In contrast to the old version of the MacBook Air, the touchpad on the the 13.3 inch, like the 11.6 inch, is entirely clickable. And therefore has no buttons. For those who've never used a Mac touchpad, you put one finger on the touchpad and click with another for the left click. For more information on usage, you can consult the explanatory video on the Apple site.
The webcam is identical to the one on the 11.6 inch version. It's obviously not the best we've seen on a laptop. The image is slightly blurry and very rapidly loses detail when in low lighting.
Connectivity isn't very extensive: 2 USB 2.0 ports, a headphones socket and a mini Display Port out to link up a monitor. The only improvement on the 11.6 inch is the appearance of an SD card reader. To plug in to an Ethernet network, you still have to sacrifice one of the two USB ports, and, what's more, shell out for the Apple USB/RJ45 adaptor.
Using an SSD in place of a standard hard drive gives better responsiveness. You particularly notice it during installation of software and start-up of the OS. This type of storage is however much more expensive than a standard hard drive. Storage space is moreover limited to 128 GB or 256 GB depending on how much you're ready to spend out.
In terms of noise, the machine is inaudible if you don't glue your ear to the side of it. Better still, it remains so even when you push it to take on more demanding tasks.
power in, USB port, headphones, mic
With a more powerful processor than the 11.6 inch verison, we weren't surprised to find improved processing performance here. Although on average, you get around 22% additional performance, the difference can go up to 35% (photo processing with Lightroom). The results in iTunes are less impressive as performance only increases by 10%. These results give it a score of 50 in our index, compared to 100 for our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400).
Processing: up to 35% more performance than the 11.6 inch
In practice this 13.3 inch is perfectly at ease with multi-tasking usage and everyday office documents. Although it isn't especially designed for 3D modelling or photo processing, processing time for this type of activity is however tolerable.
High definition video playback, whether 1080p or 720p, poses no problem. Its Nvidia GT 320M is perfectly able to cope with this sort of task.
The OS starts up in 15 seconds and it takes under 7 seconds to turn off.
Gaming: very limitedThe MacBook Air 13.3 inch hasn't been designed for gaming. However, as long as you're reasonable with your graphics settings, the NVIDIA GeForce 320M GPU does honourably well on a few undemanding titles. More recent games work with graphics settings at a minimum, and most often at low resolution.
Audio: headphones de rigueurYou have to admit that the placement of the speakers under the keyboard with no dedicated opening does result in pretty good audio as long as you don't push the volume too high. Many other netbooks would do well to follow the example of this model. The headphones out is still as clean as ever.
Mobility, battery life: almost 5h45While the 11.6 inch version only gave 4h17 (video playback, headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², Wi-Fi and Bluetooth deactivated), this 13.3 inch goes up to 5h43. This is an honourable performance and allows you to watch 3 films before it gives up the ghost. Although the MSI Wind U115 lasts for 7h, the MacBook Air gives a better performance/battery life ratio.
Obviously this 13.3 inch takes up more space and weighs more (1.3 Kg as opposed to 1 Kg) than the 11.6 inch version. However, it is sufficiently small to slip easily into your rucksack. Though the difference between the two is noticeable if you're carrying it in your hands, on the back it won't make much difference.