The importance of the MacBook Air to the laptop landscape cannot be overstated. Since its launch in 2008, the MacBook Air has become a benchmark that all other laptops could be levelled against. It paved the way for the ultrabooks we all know and love today, and demonstrated how a thin and light laptop can not only be useful, but also dominate the laptop space for years. Now, almost a decade after the first MacBook Air made its way to coffee shops worldwide, Apple has released the next generation of the iconic laptop. While it may be playing catch-up in some ways, the 2018 MacBook Air proves that Apple has a stranglehold on the thin and light space for good reason.
Before the new Air was announced, every technology commentator had given their two cents on what consumers could expect from the newest generation: everything from a new screen, USB-C, and a better battery to being lighter than ever before—and Apple did not disappoint. The latest MacBook air tries to check all the boxes you could hope for from a reinvention of a classic design.
Yes, much of the features that make the MacBook Air 2018 Laptop new are not wholly “new” if you have been using Apple products for the last few years. This is not the first MacBook with USB-C, as the Retina display has been present on MacBooks for years, and the Butterfly Keyboard can
The new MacBook Air has a more refined feel than past iterations of the laptop. The svelte feel seen in past models has somehow been shaved down even further, appearing like a piece of technological art as much as a daily computer. Apple has done all they can to shave off every possible millimetre and bring it down as much as possible. While I did not find the past Air models all that big, this Air takes the process to a new level.
Sadly, this shaving down and beefing up of specs does come at a cost, with the base level MacBook Air now costing around $200 USD more than its predecessor. Yes, you can still buy the previous Air, but why would you? The specs are far below industry standard, and what is on offer in this new iteration more than makes up for that increased cost.
Standing at the forefront of the new additions sits the screen. While the screens of previous models did their job well, it is hard to overestimate how much the Retina display adds to the MacBook Air Laptop experience. Past iterations had a display that offered a 13.3-inch gloss 1,440×900 with a pixel density of 128PPI. This new model has nearly four times that number, with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 and a PPI of 227. Seeing the laptops next to each other is staggering, and once you dive into media or any sort of productivity or art-based work, that extra pixel count becomes apparent.
Beyond the screen, the next notable addition is the new third-generation butterfly keyboard. And while it is not my keyboard of choice (always a sucker for a mechanical keyboard), once I got used to the change it was a pleasure to type on. Keystrokes were accurate, and there was just enough travel to make each keypress satisfying. It is also one of the more silent keyboards I have ever used. This could be due to the silicon that rests under the keys within the third-generation butterfly keyboard, but for any students looking to type in class, this is a great feature. There are also standard function buttons sitting on the top of the keyboard, as this does not include the touch bar seen on select MacBook Pros. While I don’t particularly miss this feature, it would have been nice to have it as an option for people that love the MacBook Air form factor but want all the new bells and whistles. Alas, that will remain a dream, for now.
While it may lack the fancy touch bar, the new MacBook Air Laptop does ship with a fingerprint sensor and Apple’s T2 chip. Using the laptop, I have to say these are features that are more than welcome. With so much of my online life spent typing in passwords or unlocking accounts, the fact this works with apps like 1Password etc. is fantastic. Sadly, there is no facial recognition feature present, and while this is not a deal-breaking in any regards, it would have been nice to be included, especially with so many Windows laptops including it—even many sub-$1,000.
One thing that—for me at least—was hard to get used to was the trackpad. Ever since the force touch trackpad was introduced with the recent MacBooks I have been skeptical of its usefulness. Don’t get me wrong, it is a marvel of technology. But I could never get used to the lack of a physical click. After a day or so of use, I found I got accustomed to it, yet it never felt quite as good as a physical button. This is purely subjective of course. I have talked to many people at CGMagazine, and some love it, some hate it, but all admit it is very neat to use and beyond the click, thanks partially to the large size, a joy to use overall.
While visually the new MacBook air feels cutting edge, the power at its core did not. The 1.6-GHz, Dual-core Eighth Generation Intel Core i5 does its job, but don’t expect it to compete against new MacBook Pros in any major tests. The chip on offer can at times feel sluggish. If all you are doing is browsing with Chrome or some light office work you should be more than okay, but if your workday involves video editing, photo manipulation, or even light editing work, you will be disappointed.
While testing the MacBook Air we put it through numerous tests, looking at its ability to multitask, edit video, and even some heavy creative suite work, and while it did manage to do most things we threw at it, it was clear the CPU was the real bottleneck in the equation. With the ability to beef up the MacBook Air with 16GB worth of RAM, this edition of the MacBook Air Laptop blows the past iterations out of the water, but with that price increase, it would have been nice to see it compete against Windows laptops in the same range, and sadly it falls a little short.
As we push into the USB-C future, we lose out on some of the coveted ports past iterations of the Air shipped with. Where the last model came with a dedicated power cord, Thunderbolt 2 port, two USB 3 ports, and an SD Card slot, the 2018 model has two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports that can also be used for power, and that is it. If you are happy living the dongle life, USB-C is your friend. There are now countless ways to expand on the IO for under $50 if you go on Amazon. But for anyone used to the offering on past models, this can come as a shock.
Another area in which past MacBook Air Laptops dominated was the world of battery life. Known as the “All Day” laptop, it is a hard mantle to pick up, especially with an audience that demands only the best from the products they purchase, but it picks up the crown with ease. In testing, I would push the laptop from the morning through a solid work day and save for a few days where media consumption was particularly outrageous the MacBook Air lasted with ease. While it is not the best battery I have seen in an ultrabook, it was impressive and should please any MacBook Air fans looking to make the upgrade.
This has been one of the harder reviews to write. On one hand, the MacBook Air 2018 Laptop is a fantastic offering and fits well within the range of 2018 MacBook products. On the other hand, how does it fit with people just looking to upgrade a laptop that is beloved? This is where I am stumped. By any metric, this is a worthy successor to an amazing laptop, but there are compromises made to modernize the formula. At the end of the day, it is up to you, the consumer, if these modifications make the laptop better or worse for your needs. As it stands, the MacBook Air 2018 is an objectively great laptop, and if you can look past the small shortcomings, makes for one of the best ultrabooks on the market today.