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

While the Air screen isn't flat-matte, it's also not terribly reflective, which is a step up from the "mirror image" effect you get on some laptop screens.

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, April 2014)
Video DisplayPort/Thunderbolt
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery

The ports and connections remain unchanged on this version of the MacBook Air. That gives you two USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port to play with, with the latter used for both external accessory and video connectivity. The faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi will play nice with Apple's own upcoming new AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule hardware, but I suspect you're still working off an 802.11n router. There's more on what 802.11ac means for you here .

Sarah Tew/CNET

The base configuration for the 13-inch Air now costs $999, versus $1,099 in 2013 and $1,199 in 2012. The only difference here is a jump from a 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor to a 1.4GHz chip. The 128GB SSD and 4GB RAM remains the same (although that may depend on which company made the SSD in your particular unit).

The difference in our test results between the 2013 and 2014 models was minor. Application performance shows a small improvement, as one might expect from a CPU with a small increase in clockspeed, but you'd never really notice, even in side-by-side use. As a longtime MacBook Air user, in everyday use -- Web surfing, social media, HD video playback -- any of the past few generations is more than powerful enough for mainstream users.

The integrated HD 5000 graphics chip from Intel isn't meant for serious gaming, but at the native 1,440x900 resolution, it ran the recent Tomb Raider game (one of a handful of current Windows and OS X cross-comparable games) at medium settings at 17.6 frames per second. Anecdotal gameplay tests in Portal 2 show that the Air can handle mainstream games that lean a bit more on the casual side.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life is where the MacBook Air (both the 11-inch and 13-inch versions) really stands out. The 2013 13-inch Air ran for 14 hours and 25 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. The 2014 version adds to that, running for 16:26 on the same test. Note that our test involves offline video playback (such as one might do on an airplane trip), which has become easier for laptops over the past few years. But even if your online-heavy , multitasking workday cuts battery life in half, you're still looking at a truly all-day laptop.

Conclusion

The overly familiar design and lack of trendy new features (touchscreens, higher-res displays, NFC) make it hard to get particularly excited about this very minor update. If you have a recent Air, there's certainly no need to update.

But, the $100 price cut, which brings us down below that very-important $1,000 barrier (before sales tax, at least) is a big move, and will put the Air more within reach for some. Even without the small performance upgrade and price cut, I'd still be hard-pressed to think of a single competitor that comes close to the ubiquitous usefulness of this system.

Handbrake Multimedia Multitasking test

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014)
460
Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)
475
Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014)
476
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
478
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
532
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013)
534

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
253
Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014)
269
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014)
289
Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)
310
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013)
330
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
333

Note:

In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance

Apple iTunes encoding test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
76
Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014)
77
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014)
77
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013)
82
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
82
Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)
124

Note:

In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)
986
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)
865
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014)
723
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013)
637
Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)
435

Note:

In minutes, longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014)

Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i54260U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 128GB SSD

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)

Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i54260U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 128GB SSD

Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014)

Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i54260U; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 1TB HDD + 128 SSD

MacBook Air (13-inch, June 2013)

OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB SSD

Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)

Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.6GHz; Intel Core i5-4200; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz, 1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 500GB SSHD

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Where to Buy

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 128GB)

Part Number: MD760LL/B Released: 30 Apr 2014

Typical Price: $1,199.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications

  • Release date 30 Apr 2014
Hot Products