The display on the new MacBook Air is what stands out most. The old laptop had an LED-backlit, 13.3-inch glossy display with a resolution of 1,440 by 900 pixels and a pixel density just under 128 pixels per inch. Its silver bezels matched the rest of the wedge. The new Air has a 13.3-inch "Retina" display, with four times as many pixels and black bezels that are much slimmer. It's not a touchscreen—Apple appears to believe putting a touchscreen on a laptop will summon the devil—but the display is so rich-looking that you kind of want to touch it anyway.
The more expensive MacBook Pro has a Retina display, too. There is a difference between the two screens: the display on the MacBook Pros has a wider color gamut than the display on the new Air, which is something that multimedia professionals who edit photos and videos care about.The keyboard on the new Air now matches the keyboard on the newest MacBook Pros, the ones released this summer. When I put the new Air side-by-side with my "old" 2017 MacBook Pro, there were obvious differences, including larger function keys.
The keys on the Air are also quieter. This is due at least in part to a thin, silicone barrier that lives under each key. Apple's butterfly keyboard, which it first introduced in 2015, has been plagued with issues; most famously, some keyboards have stopped working after specks of debris found their way into its workings. Apple's only real acknowledgement of the problem has been to offer to repair broken keyboards for free, and to put this protective silicone barrier in its newer keyboards. As such, the Air has this third-generation butterfly keyboard.
So far, I haven't had any problems with the keyboard on the Air. I like that it's quieter. I don't miss the TouchBar, a touch-sensitive strip of shortcuts, emoji, and apps that floats above the keyboard on MacBook Pros. The new Air's trackpad is also larger than its previous incarnation, and is the recipient of Apple's unfortunately-named pressure-sensitive touch technology, Force Touch.
Like Apple's newer MacBook Pros, the Air ships with a fingerprint sensor. It can also be unlocked with an Apple Watch. The fingerprint sensor is quick and responsive, and works well both with Apple apps and third-party apps like 1Password. The Air doesn't include any kind of face-recognition technology, which many newer Windows laptops include. We're getting to the point where not having facial bio-authentication in tech products could lose you points; however, Windows Hello hasn't always worked for me, and the tech has been spoofed by security researchers in the past, so I'd rather use something secure than just check another log-in method off a list.
Speaking of security, the Air ships with Apple's T2 chip, which also lives in the iMac Pro and 2018 MacBook Pros. This is a co-processor that operates separately from the laptop's main CPU, ensures a secure boot process, and handles encryption (including on the TouchID fingerprint sensor). This chip also includes a "hardware disconnect that ensures the microphone is disabled whenever the lid is closed," according to a paper Apple released about the chip.
The CPU in the Air is a 1.6-GHz, dual-core, eighth-generation Intel Core i5 processor. This is not the absolute latest processor—Intel announced its ninth-generation processors in early October—but it was the newest one available for this machine. As you might expect, the new Air's processor is an obvious improvement over the chip in the 12-inch MacBook (a 1.2 GHz, dual-core, seventh-generation Intel Core m3) and not nearly as powerful as the new MacBook Pro with its 2.3 GHz, quad-core, eight-generation Core i5 processor, and with Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz.
That's a lot of chip speak, but here's what it really means: If you're someone who builds graphics, edits 4K videos, or processes large photos for a living, the Air isn't going to cut it. It will, however, handle 15 to 20 browser tabs at once, let you edit photos in Lightroom without any hiccups, and keep ten apps running smoothly at once. I know because I'm doing all of this right now as I type. The memory can also be configured up to 16GB, which gives it twice as much memory capacity as the previous MacBook Air.
I know. By now, we're supposed to be used to this cruel, port-less computing world. It's the future. But I'm still allowed to miss ports.Of course, what you're gaining in power and memory you're losing in ... ports? The old MacBook Air had a dedicated power connector, a Thunderbolt 2 port, two USB 3 ports, an SD card slot, and a headphone jack. This MacBook Air has two USB-C ports, which double as power and Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a headphone jack. That's it.
I know, I know: By now, we're supposed to be used to this cruel, port-less computing world. It's the future. But I'm still allowed to miss other useful ports. And I do. For some reason, one of my multi-purpose dongles that works just fine with my 2017 MacBook Pro didn't want to work on the new MacBook Air (Apple couldn't really explain this either; it says the USB-C ports on the new Air should offer the same functionality as last year's Pro). Which meant I was without an SD card reader this week, and actually needed one.
On the upside, the speakers on the new Air are louder. How good they sound will depend on your source material; a movie more than 10 years old didn't sound quite as voluminous as a new, well-produced YouTube video. And the Air has a three-microphone array now, so you can shout at Siri. When I asked the MacBook Air's Siri what time it was back in California, a cacophony of gadgets around me responded, which really made me question both how useful this feature is and also the number of devices I carry with me.
What might push you towards the Air, though, more so than any other Mac laptop, is its battery life. The MacBook Air has long been known for its "all-day" battery life. (On a recent five-hour flight from Atlanta to San Francisco, my 2017 MacBook Pro barely lasted through the time period in the middle of the flight when Wi-Fi was available.) Could the new MacBook Air maintain this nebulous claim?If your work day is around eight-hours, then sure. I cycled through the laptop's battery life a few times. All of theses tests involved me shutting the laptop at some point to sleep, the waking it up and resuming, rather than running it down for many hours straight.