First Look: Macbook Air – has Apple improved its classic laptop range?

Apple’s Macbook Air range was treated to a refresh this week with the slimline laptops getting new Intel Haswell processors and a claimed ‘all-day battery life’. We got both the 11-inch and 13-inch models into Which? HQ for a first look at how they shape up before shipping them off to our test labs.

What are they like to use and which model should you be buying? Read on to find out.

Laptop reviews – read our test results for all the latest laptop models

Macbook Air: five key features

  • All-day battery life? – Apple is promising 12 hours of battery life for the 13-inch Macbook Air, and 9 hours for the 11-inch model. That’s enough time to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in one sitting, if the claim is accurate. We’ll find out when we put the laptops through our battery test in the lab.
  • Haswell processing power – The Macbook Air range’s improved battery life is supposedly due to the new Intel Haswell processors it’s powered by. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch laptops feature a 1.3GHz chip that’s faster and more efficient than ever before.
  • Classic aluminium design – Although their nuts and bolts have been updated, from the outside, these new Macbook Airs look much the same as their predecessors. Thankfully, Apple’s slimline aluminium design is just as dashing as it was five years ago.
  • Faster flash storage – Instead of a standard hard drive, Macbook Airs use extra speedy flash storage for saving your files. According to Apple this flash storage is 45% faster than the storage speed offered on previous Macbooks.
  • No OS X Mavericks – Ideally, these Macbook Airs would be available with Apple’s new OS X Mavericks operating system pre-installed. As it is, the laptops come with last year’s Mountain Lion instead, which is more than good enough. You can expect to pay around £14 for Mavericks when it launches this Autumn.

Expert Verdict: ‘Nice if you can afford them’

rob leedham-avatarApple’s Macbook Air range spawned a legion of ultrabook imitators when they first launched and remain incredibly desirable laptops. Why? They’re still stunning to look at, even if they weigh a little bit more than their ultra-thin design suggests. The 13-inch Air comes in at 1.35kg, which isn’t heavy but it’s hardly light either.

We’ve rushed to get the new Macbook Airs into our test labs because of their ‘all-day battery’ claim. The previous 11-inch Air could handle five and a half hours of video playback or six hours of web browsing before running out of juice. If Apple have managed a jump to nine hours, that will be a truly impressive result and one that could justify the added price of an Air for some.

As Apple-made products, neither the 11-inch or 13-inch Macbook Airs are cheap to buy. Their prices range from £849 for the ‘budget’ 11-inch model to £1,129 for the premium 13-inch device.

For the day-to-day rigmarole of web-browsing and word document editing, these Macbook Airs will be too expensive for most. If you’ve got money to burn, the temptation to get one anyway remains sky high.
Rob Leedham, writer

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