REVIEW: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Early 2014)

Apple MacBook Air

Apple products are often criticised for being over-priced, but while this modest update of its popular MacBook Air is virtually identical to last year’s model it does at least come with a welcome £100 price cut. And while the MacBook Air is one of the few Apple products that hasn’t received a major redesign in recent years, it remains one of the slimmest and lightest ultra-portable laptops currently available.

Price & Performance

Apple MacBook Air

We tested the updated version of the 13-inch MacBook Air, which now costs £707.50 (ex. VAT) with a dual-core Intel Haswell i5 processor running at 1.4GHz, along with 4GB of memory and 128GB solid-state drive. You can double the storage to 256GB for another £150 (ex. VAT), or choose a more powerful i7 processor for £130 (ex. VAT). Alternatively, you can save £100 (ex. VAT) by opting for the smaller 11-inch version – although we’ve always found the 11-inch screen too small for our ageing eyes.

That 1.4GHz processor represents a very minor improvement over the 1.3GHz of last year’s model, but Intel’s Turboboost technology can almost double that to 2.7GHz. The MacBook Air is no workstation, but it’s more than adequate for running Microsoft Office and other productivity apps. It’s a shame, though, that the aluminium ‘unibody’ design of the MacBook Air is completely sealed. This prevents user upgrades and repairs for components such as RAM and the solid-state drive, forcing you to buy expensive upgrades from Apple at the time of purchase.

Lightweight Design

Apple MacBook Air

A price cut is always welcome but the basic design of the MacBook Air has hardly changed since 2010 – which is an age in computing terms. To be fair, its slimline design did set the standard for the modern Ultrabook, and the 13-inch MacBook Air still weighs just 1.35kg and measures a mere 17mm thick when folded flat. You can easily pick it up with one hand, and its aluminium casing is both smart and sturdy enough to cope with being carried around in a briefcase.

Nonetheless, the MacBook Air is now starting to look a little dated. The chunky metal bezel that runs around the screen looks distinctly old-fashioned compared to the gleaming glass panels now used by many Windows laptops.

More significantly, the display has been stuck at 1,440 x 900 resolution for several years, while many Windows laptops are now offering ultra-high-definition displays that outdo even the Retina display of Apple’s high-end MacBook Pro. That resolution is still perfectly usable for routine wordprocessing or spreadsheet work, but it’s not a good choice for business presentations or working with high-definition photos or videos.

All-Day Computing

The saving grace of the MacBook remains its outstanding battery life. We generally take manufacturer’s claims with a pinch of salt, but for routine tasks such as wordprocessing and occasional Web browsing the MacBook Air really does live up to Apple’s estimate of 12 hours of battery life. It may look a little old-fashioned, but the ability to get a full day’s work from a lightweight laptop such as this makes the MacBook Air an excellent choice for business travellers. And with prices now at more realistic levels, the MacBook Air will be a lot easier to justify for business users on a tight budget.

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