Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, April 2014) review: Latest MacBook Air is faster, runs longer, costs less

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.2
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Battery life: 10.0

Average User Rating

5 stars 1 user review
Review Date:

The Good While minor, the small upgrade to the stock CPU in Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air results in improved performance. The multitouch trackpad is still the industry's best, and even better, the 13-inch Air now starts at $999, which is $100 less than the previous model.

The Bad Newer features such as touchscreens and higher-resolution displays are still missing. The ultrabook competition is catching up, in terms of design.

The Bottom Line If you own a MacBook Air from the past couple of years there's really no need to upgrade, but a small spec bump and minor price cut make the most-current Air even more attractive.

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The now-familiar MacBook Air hasn't seen a design overhaul in several generations, and the small update to the 13-inch and 11-inch models released in April 2014 does nothing to change that.

The current MacBook Air models differ from the 2013 versions in that the base model uses a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5, an upgrade from the previous 1.3GHz processor. More significantly, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air now starts at $899 (from $999) in the US and at £749 (from £849) in the UK, while the 13.3-inch version now drops to $999 (from $1,099) in the US and to £849 (from £949) in the UK. List prices in Australia are AU$1,099 for the 11-inch and AU$1,199 for the 13-inch model.

We've tested the new 2014 versions, and found their performance to be slightly improved. (Some have seen different results, owing to Apple using SSDs from multiple manufacturers in Airs, but our tests all fall in line with expectations from this small CPU uptick.) There's certainly no reason to upgrade if you have last year's MacBook Air. Instead, the price cut is the big news here, making this an even more viable option for midprice laptop shoppers.

While the lower price is a plus, the lack of significant performance improvement and the static physical design remind us that the Air is overdue for a more radical overhaul. Balancing out those two factors, our rating remains the same, and the remainder of this review is essentially unchanged from the 2013 version. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs are still universally useful laptops that are largely frustration-free, but that also lack some of the latest bells and whistles (edge-to-edge glass, touchscreens, higher display resolutions) you may be looking for.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the 2013 Air, this model has an Intel Haswell-generation CPU, and also Intel's improved HD5000 graphics. It's still not anything like having a discrete GPU, as in the 15-inch Retina Pro , but with game services such as Steam and EA's Origin now being Mac-compatible, it may make some small inroads for OS X gaming.

The 2013 Air also added 802.11ac Wi-Fi , a new standard that will slowing working its way into wireless routers, as well as Apple's AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule hardware. If you have an 802.11n router, which is a much more likely scenario, this may not help you, but it's a nice piece of future-proofing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life remains a big selling point, and when you consider the cost of the base model has come down from $1,199 to $999 in two years, the 13-inch MacBook Air is, despite not being the newest design on the block, still one of the most universally useful laptops you can buy.

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014) Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)
Price as reviewed $899 $999 $899
Display size/resolution 11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 screen 13.3-inch 1,440 x 900 screen 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen
PC CPU 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 4260U 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 4260U 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200
PC Memory 4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics 1,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000 1,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400
Storage 128GB SSD 128GB SSD 500GB+16GD SSHD
Optical drive None None None
Networking 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system OSX 10.9.3 Mavericks OSX 10.9.3 Mavericks Windows 8.1 (64-bit)

Design and features

The MacBook Air keeps the same external look as the previous couple of generations, a look that still rivals the newest ultrabooks, although some systems, such as Sony's Vaio Pro line , are getting thinner and lighter without sacrificing much in the way of productivity.

Both the 11-inch and 13-inch versions of the MacBook Air still have the same thickness, ranging from 0.11-inch to 0.68-inch. Spread over the larger footprint of the 13-inch chassis, the 13-inch version still feels satisfyingly thin.

The Vaio Pro 13 next to the 13-inch MacBook Air. Sarah Tew/CNET

As with previous versions, the rigid aluminum construction makes the Air feel sturdy enough to just throw it in a bag and carry it along with you without a protective case or sleeve, and it's interesting to contrast the aluminum unibody construction here with the lighter carbon fiber in the aforementioned Vaio Pro. I'd still trust the Air and its unyielding lid more in a throw-in-your-luggage field test.

The backlit keyboard and trackpad are the same as on the previous models, and the trackpad especially remains the standard by which all others are judged. Many other laptop makers have moved to larger clickpad-style touchpads, but we have yet to find a touchpad that comes close to this for multitouch gestures. The pad is again hinged at the top, allowing the entire pad to click down, and we strongly suggest going into the Preferences menu and turning on all of the tapping options for further ease of use.

It will be interesting to see how Apple's user interfaces develop in the face of both Windows 8, which tries (not always successfully) to reinvent the entire concept of working with a computer OS, and the upcoming OS X Mavericks update . For now, flicking around with three-and-four-finger gestures on the MacBook trackpad remains the most seamless way to swap between windows and applications, at least in my experience.

Unlike the 11-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch screen is still not a 16:9 display. The screen area also lacks the edge-to-edge glass over a black bezel found in the MacBook Pro; instead the screen is, as in previous years, surrounded by a thick silver bezel.

On the positive side, the native resolution of the display is 1,440x900 pixels, which is slightly better than the 1,366x768 you find in many 13-inch laptops, although even midpriced models are quickly switching over to 1,600x900 or even 1,920x1,080, and premium systems are adding higher-than-HD displays.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date 30 Apr 2014
  • Resolution 1440 x 900 ( WXGA+ )
  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Weight 1.35 kg
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