As MacBook Air ages, Apple rivals show the way to Retina

It's time for Apple to update the Air and/or a thinner, lighter Pro with a Retina screen. It's certainly doable.

HP Spectre 13 is 3.25 pounds, 15mm thick, and can be equipped with a 2,560-by-1,440 touch display.  The raw physical specs mimic a 13-inch MacBook Air -- minus the very high resolution display.
HP Spectre 13 is 3.25 pounds, 15mm thick, and can be equipped with a 2,560-by-1,440 touch display. The raw physical specs mimic a 13-inch MacBook Air -- minus the very high resolution display. Hewlett-Packard

The Windows 8.1 crowd is demonstrating that a Retina version of the MacBook Air is possible if Apple is willing.

Certain aspects of the Air are getting long in the tooth. Particularly the display. That shortcoming forced me to trade in my Air -- I got the first MBA in March 2008 and used it and newer versions for the next four years -- for a 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina.

I needed the extra desktop space the scaled display settings provide (1,680x1,050 in my case), and I appreciate the clarity of a Retina screen.

That said, I miss the Air's tablet-esque portability.

Enter the latest round of Windows 8.1 featherweight lappies, which trounce the MBA's unimpressive 1,440x900 (13-inch MBA) and 1,366 x768 (11-inch) resolutions.

Let's look at some of the competition that was announced this week to see just what Apple is up against now. All come with Intel's latest "Haswell" processors.

  • HP Spectre 13 : At just over 3 pounds and about 0.6-inches thick, it's pretty close to the current 13-inch MacBook Air. But it can be configured with a 2,560x1,440 touch display. That resolution is only a little less than the 13-inch MacBook Pro and not enough for anyone to see the difference: 227 pixels per inch for the MBP vs. 220 for Spectre 13. It starts at $1,000.
  • Dell XPS 11 : The XPS 11 weighs 2.5-pounds, is 0.57-inches thick, and sports a chassis made from machined aluminum and carbon fiber. Dell squeezes a 2,560x1,440 resolution touch display with 400 nit brightness into an 11.6-inch design. That blows away the 11-inch MBA. To wit, that's 253 pixels per inch for the Dell vs. a mere 135 for the MBA. It will start at $1,000.
  • Sony Vaio Pro 11 : While this was announced back in June, it's a good competitive yardstick. The 2-pound 11.6-inch Vaio Pro comes with a 1,920x1,080 touch screen. That handily beats the Air's screen. And the price isn't too bad either: $1,150 (and $1,100 at some online retailers) with a 128GB SSD.

Here's another feature the Windows camp can crow about. All of the above have touch screens.

Despite what Apple has said in the past about the ergonomic impracticality of a touch screen on a laptop (e.g., your arm will get tired pocking at a vertical screen), it's becoming a feature de rigueur.

A word of advice: Hey Apple, I know you're a "post-PC" company but let's update the Air and bring it into the post-grainy-screen era.

2013 MacBook Air. A good design that's getting old in some respects.
2013 MacBook Air. A good design that's getting old in some respects. Apple
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

HOT ON CNET

Love heavy and clunky tablets?

Said no one ever. CNET brings you the lightest and thinnest tablets on the market.