Apple MacBook Air 11-inch 2013: Netbook with next-gen tech
Cupertino’s ultraportable continues to shine thanks to Intel’s Haswell chip
There’s more to Haswell than just its clock speed. Graphics performance also perks up quite a bit thanks to the new HD 5000 integrated graphics core. Running the Mac-native version of Diablo III at 1366 x 768, the 11-inch Air’s native resolution, produced a perfectly playable 35fps even with the graphics set to ‘high’ and a good number of zombies and demons crowding the screen - though, sadly, even Haswell can’t do much about the missing end-game.
Slimline and very portable
The more detailed 3D graphics of Batman: Arkham City proved a sterner challenge, with the frame rate falling to 15fps with the graphics on ‘high’. However, turning the graphics settings down to ‘low’ did allow it to manage a playable 30fps. Bear in mind that this game reduces most laptops with Ivy Bridge graphics to single-digit frame rates, and it’s clear that Haswell really does make more-than-casual gaming a realistic proposition for integrated graphics at long last.
Haswell’s real strength, though, lies in its ability to improve battery life. Apple claims that the new 11-inch Air increases battery life from up to five hours to nine. When I set BBC iPlayer going, with the Air connected by 802.11ac, it ran for bang-on seven hours, compared to the five hours last year’s model managed to stay running for. Less demanding work such as word processing, intermittent emailing and web browsing, allowed me to stretch that to a few minutes short of eight hours, so it really does provide all-day computing now.
Oh, for a higher res display - or even a 12-inch one in the same chassis...
Switch off Wi-Fi and dim the screen, and there’s no reason why you can’t keep it going for the best part of 12 hours. Tony’s review of the build-to-order Core i7-based 13-inch Air has more details on how Haswell helps here.
Lest you accuse me of being an uncritical fanboi, I would point out that the MacBook Air is by no means perfect. The 11.6-inch display remains extremely bright and attractive, with rich colours and wide viewing angle. However, the 1366 x 768 resolution on this model hasn’t changed in years. That resolution works well on a screen of this size, but it is starting to look a bit dated compared to the many Windows laptops that now offer a 1920 x 1080 resolution. Even my third-generation 10-inch iPad can manage 2048 x 1536.
As Tony point out in his 13-inch Air review, it’s not that we necessarily want a “retina” display here, but we do want more pixels to let us get more content onto the screen.
Connectivity also remains a particular issue with this model. Neither the 11- nor the 13-inch Air has on-board Ethernet, HDMI or Firewire, but the smaller machine of the two lacks even the SD slot found on the 13-inch version. Admittedly, the multi-purpose Thunderbolt port can fill in for most of these missing interfaces – but only by purchasing adaptors at £25 a shot. Just because this is becoming increasing the case with other vendors’ Ultrabook-class machines doesn’t let Apple off the hook.
Who needs a $@#!?!$%in’ tablet, eh?
And – whisper it gently – the MacBook Air’s once-groundbreaking design is starting to show its age. Gleaming Gorilla Glass is starting to replace boring old metal in many of the latest Windows laptops, and with Haswell rivals such as Sony’s 11-inch Vaio Pro weighing in at just 870g, it’s possible that the MacBook Air may have spent just a little too long resting on its admittedly once impressive laurels.
The Reg Verdict
The competition may be catching up, but the 2013 edition of the 11-inch MacBook Air remains a classy piece of kit. The Haswell update provides significant improvements in performance, graphics and battery life, and the premium prices charged for many Windows Ultrabooks means that it no longer looks over-priced when compared to its nearest rivals. It’s a shame that the 2013 update wasn’t a little more ambitious, but the 11-inch MacBook Air is still one of the most attractive ultraportable, netbook-size laptops currently available. ®