Like last year’s update, the 2012 MacBook Air is entirely in the guts. The 2011 bump into present-day usability was enough to make it one of our best gadgets of the year. This year’s update is more of the same, which is actually a good thing.
What Is It?
A super-thin, super-fast laptop with the guts to handle just about anything you’d need.
Why Does It Matter
This is the laptop by which all others are judged. The MacBook Air has been so successful that Apple ended the vanilla MacBook line and Air-ified the MacBook Pro. Ultrabooks are improving at a tremendous rate — and many are really wonderful — but the MacBook Air is still the standard-bearer.
Who Is It For
Probably you. Previous MacBook Airs have been capable everyday computing machines. Now, with an Ivy Bridge processor, more people can use a MacBook Air as a primary computer. Improved graphics enhance video games, and more RAM aids heavy-duty multitasking.
Honed, refined and trademarked, the MacBook Air's unibody wedge design is as beautiful now as ever.
Using the MacBook Air is as pure a laptop computing experience as you're going to get. Its keyboard and trackpad are the best and smoothest out there, and the upgraded RAM capacity (finally) puts an end to any hiccups, slowdowns and unresponsiveness.
The Best Part
You can actually play video games now. Yeah, yeah, that was supposed to be a fundamental pillar of last year's model, and it did manage to run some games well enough. But really good performance was limited to years-old legacy releases, such as Call of Duty 4. On a maxed-out i7 Sandy Bridge MacBook Air from 2011, Diablo III ran OK at the very lowest settings, but it slowed at a crawl under the stress of multiplayer gameplay. With the new MacBook Air's Ivy Bridge processor, the game runs on medium-high settings flawlessly. That's true for all ultrabook-class machines running with Ivy Bridge chips, but it's still a massive improvement across one generation.
The lack of ports. The MacBook Air has two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot and a Thunderbolt port. It's fine, but more than two USB ports would have been nice. MicroHDMI and miniVGA are absent, but they're not really missed. An SD card slot on the 11-inch model really needs to happen at some point.
- Predictably, the MacBook Air runs much hotter than similarly specced ultrabooks.
- Gaming peripherals (Razer) had some driver issues, but that's more of a Mac OS X issue.
- Trackpad scrolling and gesture performance are so much better on the MacBook Air compared to other ultrabooks that the comparison doesn't seem fair. The only other trackpad that approaches the one on the MacBook Air right now is in this year's Samsung Chromebook.
- Real-world test: The speakers are loud enough to be heard clearly across a large room over a noisy air conditioner.
Should You Buy This?
Yes. The price range on the MacBook Air starts at $1099 and runs up to $2499 with all the optional hardware upgrades. Our review unit was $1799 as configured, which is in line with the best ultrabooks. Other laptop manufacturers have built on the gains they made in last year's round of ultrabooks -- some of this generation's are pretty outstanding -- but the king is still the king. There is no major innovation here. Nothing flashy like Surface. It's just the best, most complete laptop for the general public.
MacBook Air specs (as reviewed)
Processor: 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 17W dual-core Ivy Bridge
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000 512MB (integrated)
RAM: 8GB (4GB x 4GB); non-upgradeable
Storage: 256GB SSD
Display: 13.5-inch 1440x900
Ports: Thunderbolt (compatible with Mini DisplayPort), 2x USB 3.0, SD Card Slot, MagSafe 2.0
Dimensions: Height: 0.11-0.68 inches (0.3-1.7cm); Width: 12.8 inches (32.5cm); Depth: 8.94 inches (22.7cm)