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MacBook Air 13-inch (Mid-2013) Review: the best got better

A stunning new battery takes the already market-leading Air further ahead of its rivals

 macbook-airKey features:
• 1.3GHz dual-core i5 Haswell processor
• Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz
• Intel HD graphics 5000
• 128GB storage
• 12-hour battery life

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It’s been a while since we’ve had any reason to get really excited about the MacBook Air. After firmly establishing itself as the top-dog in the Ultrabook laptop category, dozens of other manufacturers have done their very best to catch Apple’s slimline beauty, with little success. The Air is still the market leader when it comes to thin, light laptops, and while competitors seek to ape its design, build quality and feature set, Apple has been hard at work perfecting the device, and pushing it ahead in the race for the very best laptop in what Apple is describing as a ‘Post-PC world’.

The result is the newly updated Air; these new models are packing the very latest technology, allowing for a small bump in speed, a huge leap in battery life, and a range of small improvements that cement its position at the head of the pack.

First off, the new Air includes Intel’s brand-new fourth-gen Haswell processors, which offer a number of advancements over last year’s Ivy Bridge chips. They are more powerful, but also considerably more power- efficient; Apple has been able to under-clock the new processors to improve the battery life of the Airs without losing any performance when it comes to handling day-to-day tasks.

While the battery maintains its size inside the case of the Air, these power savings have allowed Apple to squeeze an enormous amount of extra life out of the cells. The 13-inch model we tested lasted for a frankly ridiculous 12 hours 28 minutes when constantly browsing the web, watching videos and playing music at a brightness of around 70%. This is almost twice that of the previous model’s lifespan on a single charge, and would easily last for a full day of use, from waking in the morning to the commute home in the evening.

We can’t stress this enough, though – 12 hours for a laptop of any size is impressive without an external battery, but when you consider that the Air is still an astonishing 17mm at its thickest point, it’s just outstanding. Apple has had a lot to thank Intel for over the years, but this could represent the biggest leap forward for a long time.

The new processors aren’t just great for power savings, though. It also provides a boost to graphical prowess, offering up to 45% extra power even in its under-clocked state. The Air has never been a serious gaming laptop and that hasn’t changed here, but we did run basic games like Minecraft and Portal 2 without any problems. It also comfortably handled most graphical tasks without issue, including some video and photo editing, which is ideal for when you’re on the move.annotated

The other big improvement has come in the form of the flash storage used in the Air. While the 11-inch model has seen a boost in storage space for the same price point, the 13-inch has to settle for a simple boost in performance and a small price drop. The new Airs include the latest flash chips, meaning improved read and write times for the disk and an even faster boot time – just 13 seconds in our tests.

Click to see this image larger

We ran the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test on the Air and managed some truly remarkable speeds. The flash storage had a write speed of 672.8MB/s and a read speed of 725.1MB/s – that’s more than 60% faster than the flash in the previous model. In real terms, it means copying even large files takes just a few seconds, and saving files feels impressively zippy.

The other internal improvement is in the Wi-Fi built into the laptop. The Air now supports the new 802.11ac protocol, offering up to three times the wireless speeds of other Wi-Fi networks. This connection type is still in its infancy, and few routers currently support it, but soon it will be much more popular, and it’s great to see Apple preparing in advance.

On the outside there have been almost no changes. Aside from adding dual-microphones to the left of the case, Apple has taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ approach. You get all the same ports as the previous model, along with the 720p FaceTime HD camera and a 1,440 x 900 display. The lack of HDMI is still a sticking point and it’s a shame that we didn’t get a 1080p camera, or a Retina display as was rumoured, but that would have undoubtedly cut the battery life and pushed up the price, so it’s a compromise we’re willing to accept. Apple hasn’t pushed the boat out too much, but there’s definitely enough here to make the update feel worthwhile.

It’s still the best lightweight laptop on the market, and the massive battery life improvements and significant internal performance boosts take it further ahead of the competition. And yet again it’s going to take some beating.

Buy now?

Pros Astonishing battery life, faster storage and beautiful looks

Cons The performance jump from last year’s model is minimal

Orange 5 Stars