The World Wide Developers’ Conference (WWDC) is an annual event staged by Apple which allows them to speak directly to their community of developers. Without loyal developers there would be no apps, so Apple has to make them happy!
At the same time, considering the huge amount of media hype around the event, Apple also likes to take the opportunity to release a couple of tidbits for consumers. This year, the biggest announcement for consumers was the release of the new mid-2013 MacBook Air. Mr. Geek has finally gotten their hands on one and we’ve decided to leave this review to help you decide if you might want to buy one for yourself.
Design-wise, the new Air is identical to the 2012 version. In fact, the only physical difference on the outside is the addition of a second microphone, which allows for noise cancellation, greatly improving the quality of recorded audio. Serious recordings will still require an external microphone, but for casual Skype or FaceTime calls, your friends should be able to hear you much more clearly.
The other noteworthy features on the exterior are the screen and keyboard. You won’t be buying an Air for its screen, but at a resolution of 1440×900 and a pixel density of a MacBook Pro with Retina Display, it is beautiful to look at for most purposes, but you may notice some pixels, especially if you’re used to a retina display. The non-standard screen size means that when watching HD videos you will get black bars on the top and bottom. I wouldn’t recommend the Air as a primary movie watching device, but it does render 720p video beautifully. Apple’s new anti-glare screen means you get the wide viewing angles and vivid colours of a glossy screen without all the annoying glare from sunlight! In my tests I didn’t notice any screen bleeding or uneven brightness which can occur in cheaper LED screens. Finally, the backlit keyboard is a real plus for those of us who like to work in the dark.
Now the real upgrade with the 2013 MacBook Air is with its internals. The big focus is on the newest generation of Intel’s Core i5 processor (factory upgradeable to Core i7), codenamed “Haswell.” This chip was designed with efficiency in mind. I won’t get into all the technical details here, but in short, it allows the Air to achieve a battery life of a whopping 9 hours in the 11-inch model and 12 hours in the 13-inch model! This is unprecedented in the laptop world, and means that the Air can finally be used all day without having to worry about it dying. This will especially benefit students, office-less business people and frequent travellers who often don’t have access to a power outlet.
In our tests, we didn’t even have time to let the battery die completely before getting this review out. After about 6 hours of usage and 3 hours of idling, the battery indicator still shows 50%, so the battery life claims seem to be accurate. As with any laptop, using CPU-intensive apps can reduce battery life, sometimes drastically. The worst culprits are so-called “helper” applications that are sitting in your tray, constantly updating themselves. You’ll want to check things like Skype, Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive and VMWare, and only enable what you absolutely need. Dropbox in particular can suck up half your battery life in a matter of minutes when it does its initial sync, so you’ll probably want to keep your Air plugged in while you download and install all your apps.
The Haswell chip also provides more efficiency in terms of performance. While the base model of the Air only comes with 4 GB of RAM, the computer will certainly be fantastic for home users, and will probably even be snappy enough for most professionals. I have been testing with Adobe Photoshop, and it seems to apply filters quickly enough and I never notice any lag. I’ve experienced some dropped frames while scrolling in the Google Chrome browser, but this doesn’t seem to happen in Safari, so it could just be a Chrome issue and not a problem with the computer.
Video editing professionals will likely find that rendering takes too long on the MacBook Air, but for casual users of iMovie it will be fine, especially if you stick to 720p. If you do plan to do much video rendering, you should probably opt for the 8GB of RAM option, as this computer is NOT user-upgradeable in any way, so whatever you buy is what you will have for the life of the machine.
Finally, the new 2013 model switches from SATA-based storage to PCI flash. In layman’s terms, this means you will get stupid fast read/wright speeds on the solid state drive. The bottleneck will almost always be the fault of the port or other media when transferring files, since this is the fastest type of storage on the market. It means that the computer powers on in less than 15 seconds, apps start up almost instantly, and data-intensive apps such as databases perform flawlessly. The standard 128GB of storage will probably be enough for most people, considering so much is on the cloud now and you can hook up an external drive using the Thunderbolt port, but if you like you can choose to get 256GB or 512GB of flash storage. This might be necessary if you edit large video files or spend a lot of time without Internet access. Generally speaking though, Thunderbolt is PCI-based so it’s almost as fast as internal storage, and an excellent option for keeping your videos, music, photos, and other large files.
The bottom line: The 2013 MacBook Air is a perfect laptop and you should buy it unless you have a good reason to buy the MacBook Pro. It is incredibly light, super durable, and the efficiency of Haswell, and the super-fast read/write speeds of flash-based PCI storage make up for the somewhat weak overall specifications. The only disadvantage for the average user is the lack of a retina display, but they left it out for good reason (lower price and increased battery life). Unless you are a professional and know you need the Pro for video rendering and other intensive applications, I am confident you will be extremely happy with the 2013 MacBook Air. Just remember that if you think you will need more than the standard 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage, you need to buy the upgrade when you purchase the computer, because it’s impossible to upgrade at a later time. Despite this being Apple’s lower-end computer, it is still very much a high-end device compared with laptops in general.
Pricing: With this refresh, Apple eliminated the 64GB storage option, which is probably for the best, since it really wasn’t practical for most people’s needs. The good news is that 128GB model now sells for the same price as the 64GB model once did! The base price in the United States is $999 for the 11-inch and $1,099 for the 13-inch. They sell for £849 and £949 respectively in the United Kingdom. If you are a student, make sure to select the “Education Store” because you will get a $50 (or £52) discount, plus a $100 (or £70) gift card for the Mac App Store, allowing you to get apps such as iWork, Aperture, Final Cut Pro, and Lo
About Jeremy Andrews
Freelance PHP/MySQL developer, tech support guy, travel agent, transit photographer, and lover of poutine. Jeremy Andrews is a young guy from Montreal, Canada who enjoys writing about technology, can develop a website, and can do your travel arrangements! Contact him today at email@example.com for more info on any of these services.