Not surprisingly, the laptop drained much more quickly when I used the MacBook Air to charge my iPhone, something I do often. But in another recent test—browsing in Safari, running Slack and iMessage, editing a few photos in Lightroom, all with the display between 60 to 70 percent of maximum brightness—it lasted just under eight hours.
There are a few ways to look at the new MacBook Air. One way is from the perspective of someone who's never owned a Mac before—maybe she was too young when the first Air was released—and is looking for an entry-level laptop. This MacBook Air comes with the lure of world-class industrial design and the continuity that exists between iOS and macOS. But to call the machine "entry-level" at $1,199 is a stretch, and some customers are almost certainly going to go with a lower-cost Chromebook or Windows laptop instead.
The second way to look at this new MacBook Air is to view it as an upgrade option. Maybe you had an earlier version of the MacBook Air, you loved the darn thing, and you've been waiting for Apple to update it. You do a lot of web browsing, and some light photo editing, but you're not tackling heavy multimedia projects. If that's the case, and you have the extra money to spend on a laptop, then the decision takes little thought. You will really like the new MacBook Air. I'm very tempted to get one myself.
But it's also important to consider the MacBook Air as it relates to its competition. The computer is not particularly innovative. Its chiseled build, high-resolution display, eighth-generational Core i5 processor, long-ish battery life, quiet keyboard, larger trackpad, and fingerprint sensor are not breaking any new ground. They're not new on Apple products, and they're not new on laptops in general.In the time since Apple first released the MacBook Air, the whole PC industry has tried to push the boundaries on what "thin and light" means for laptops. Sure, there have been some awkward results (does anyone actually bend their laptop back into a tablet?) and aggressive marketing pushes (see: Ultrabooks). There have also been some really nice premium laptops launched in the non-Apple PC world.
Apple has heard the calls for a newer, better MacBook Air, and it has answered. Thank goodness for that. But one might get the sneaking suspicion, as she stares at the gorgeous, liquid-looking display of this new machine, that such a laptop could have arrived two years ago. Or more. The new MacBook Air is not pure innovation; it's an incantation composed to make you think it is.The Asus ZenBook 13 is just the ticket for productivity-minded road warriors on a budget. It weighs less than three pounds, measures a little more than a half-inch thick, and boasts a quad-core processor and all-day battery life.
This particular model of the ZenBook 13 has downsides: It lacks discrete graphics for gaming, it chugs during lengthy CPU-intensive tasks, and it’s saddled with a dim, non-touch-sensitive display. Still, it shines when it comes to everyday computing chores, and its battery keeps going and going.
We reviewed the version of the ZenBook 13 (UX331UA-AS51) that’s currently about $799 on Amazon. It comes with an 8th-generation quad-core Core i5-8250U processor, 8GB of low-power DDR3 RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, a 13.3-inch full-HD display and integrated Intel 620 UHD graphics. On paper, that makes for a solid productivity-minded laptop for handling everyday tasks like web browsing, word processing, spreadsheets, light photo management, and maybe even some casual gaming.
[ Further reading: Our picks for best PC laptops ]
For about $100 more on Amazon, you can step up to a version of the ZenBook 13 (UX331UA-DS71) with a beefier Core i7-8550U processor. A higher-end version (the UX331UN-WS51T), which we reviewed earlier this year (available on Amazon), adds discrete Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics, good for those who want to dive into Adobe Premiere or indulge in a little Fortnite (playable at a smooth 60 fps if you settle for the “Medium” graphics preset).
Measuring 12.2 x 8.5 x 0.55 inches and weighing about 2.7 pounds (or three pounds if you include the compact 45-watt AC adapter), the Acer ZenBook 13 UX331UA feels pleasingly slim and light.
While its shell isn’t terribly distinctive, aside from Asus’ signature concentric circles etched into the lid, the ZenBook manages to look sleek and professional. The “icicle gold” (think silver) flavor of our ZenBook 13 review unit lacks the gorgeous glossy “royal blue” finish of the pricier discrete-graphics version; then again, it also attracts far fewer fingerprints.Open the lid and you’ll find a slim 6.86mm bezel around the 13.3-inch display, while the icicle gold finish covers the entire palm rest.
The Asus ZenBook 13 UX331UA’s 13.3-inch, 1920x1080 screens looks as sharp and colorful as other full-HD displays we’ve seen in this price range. Viewing angles on the ZenBook’s “WideView” AHVA display panel (AHVA is Asus’s proprietary take on IPS, by the way) are also solid, with the screen dimming slightly near the 45-degree mark—again, standard stuff.Given the ZenBook 13’s relatively low price, though, corners had to be cut somewhere. In this case we’re talking screen brightness—just 226 nits (or candelas), somewhat short of our 250-nit standard for comfortable indoor reading. While the ZenBook’s display was relatively easy to view in my office, I found myself squinting a bit when using the laptop near a bright window.
It’s also worth noting that the ZenBook 13 UX331UA lacks a key feature present in its sibling, the slightly pricier (and discrete graphics-equipped) UX331UN: a touch-sensitive display with active pen and Windows Ink support.
Back on the plus side, the ZenBook 13 comes with a comfy, snappy keyboard, complete with three-step backlighting, slightly concave key caps, about 1.4mm of key travel and a nice, tactile actuation bump. Most of the standard function-enabled hotkeys are available, including airplane mode, sleep, brightness, volume, and display preferences, although media playback and settings hotkeys are missing.
The Asus ZenBook 13’s comfy, tactile keyboard comes with three-step backlighting, while a fingerprint reader sits just beneath on the right.
The ZenBook 13’s glass-coated trackpad did its duty with a fair amount of precision, although I noticed a bit of herky-jerkiness on the cursor’s part, as well as a few accidental inputs from my palms while I was typing.
Sitting just below the bottom-right corner of the keyboard is the ZenBook 13’s fingerprint sensor, good for unlocking your Windows profile and quickly logging in to Windows Hello-compliant apps. While I’ve had trouble with finicky fingerprint sensors in the past, this one generally let me in on the first or second attempt.