MacBook Air 2018 review: Playing catch-up, trading ports for pixels

Editor’s Note, November 16:Originally published on November 6th, this review has been updated with final benchmarks and battery life scores as well as review ratings.


Apple’s MacBook Air has gotten a much-needed reboot, keeping the name, but everything about it is changing, both on the outside and inside. That means moving to a new 8th-gen Intel Core i5 CPU, more RAM and SSD options, a higher-resolution Retina Display, and USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports. And while it’s still called the MacBook Air, this new version may also be called the “MacBook Pro Lite,” because that’s essentially what it is.

For most of his life of more than 10 years, classic macbook air The default laptop was for everyone, from college students to creative types to startup entrepreneurs. For many years, I called it the most universally useful laptop you could buy.

But over the years, the competition moved to higher-resolution displays, thinner screen bezels, larger touchpads, regular component upgrades, and thinner and lighter bodies.

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Old MacBook’s deep key and many ports are gone.

Sarah Tu/ClearTips

While this MacBook Air fixes almost all of the previous design issues, it adds a couple of its own. It’s a much better fit with the rest of the current Mac design sensibility: bigger than 12 inch macbook, smaller than the 13-inch Pro, and very different from the Classic Air, which Apple is still selling, at least for now.

That means the long-lasting design, with its thick screen bezels, small touchpad, deep keys and multiple ports, is gone. If anything, the new Air looks and feels like a half-step between the 12-inch MacBook and the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Its price has also jumped to join the rest of the MacBook. For most of its life, the Air was $999. Not cheap, but a reasonably achievable luxury, especially for a rock-solid laptop that can last for years.

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Less powerful than the MacBook Pro, but more portable.

Sarah Tu/ClearTips

The new starting price is $1,199 (£1,199, AU$1,849), which is a hard blow for generations who picked up on the idea of ​​getting that first MacBook for under a grand. Right now, it’s only $100 less than the 12-inch MacBook or the 13-inch original MacBook Pro, so there’s some price-versus-features math to do.

Here’s my cheat sheet for that. Compared to the new MacBook Air:

  • The MacBook Pro is more expensive, more powerful and less portable.
  • The 12-inch MacBook is more expensive, less powerful, and more portable.

Each laptop excels in a different area, and with only $100 different to their base model, there won’t be one right answer for everyone. That said, this new wind is the safe middle ground between the two extremes.

body double

Picking one up, it immediately feels lighter and smaller than the current Air, which I am well aware of. At 2.7 pounds (1.25 kg) and about 15 millimeters thick, it’s actually pretty average when it comes to 13-inch laptops. Some similar systems fall under 10mm, but at the expense of battery, features and processing power. Anyway, the new MacBook Air is firmly in the mainstream of slim laptops, but isn’t leading the pack.

There’s a slight catch-up to the screen design, which roughly halves the thick bezel border around it and adds an edge-to-edge glass overlay. It’s got a sharper, more modern look, and is a long overdue upgrade.

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Older MacBook Air bezels vs newer versions.

Sarah Tu/ClearTips

Like the current Pro and 12-inch MacBook, the new Air still feels like a tank, with its one-piece aluminum construction (now 100 percent recycled aluminum according to Apple). That’s why both the MacBook, Air and Pro, have been able to command premium prices for so long — because you’re investing in a product that will hopefully last many years.

it’s all about the keyboard

As the only MacBook with a traditional island-style keyboard, the MacBook Air was a refuge for those who disliked the super flat butterfly mechanism keyboard in the new MacBooks. Now the Air is firmly in the camp just like other models. Some may mourn the loss of the keyboard’s old-fashioned style, but I find that butterfly keyboards have never been as troublesome as people imagine, and I’ve certainly dealt with more difficult keyboards in more expensive products.

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You might never like the new butterfly keyboard, but you will learn to live with it.

Sarah Tu/ClearTips

In this new air, you get the latest version of butterfly keyboard, which has a new membrane below To help prevent dust from gumming up the keys. To our knowledge, the Air and Touch Bar versions of the Pro have this version, while the other MacBooks have a previous version.

It takes a period of adjustment to get used to the subtle tactile feedback, but once you get used to it, it’s fine even for long hours of typing. But yeah, you can never grow to love it.

The payoff is that the new Air includes a huge Force Touch-style touchpad, just like other MacBooks. That means it doesn’t have a diving-board hinge at the rear, and instead uses four-cornered sensors to register clicks, making the body slimmer.

Will die-hards take this change hard? They may be, but that old keyboard was never as great as you remember.

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