Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, April 2014) review: Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air laptop cuts price, boosts performance

The 1,366x768-pixel-resolution display is admittedly very crisp and covered with a bit of antiglare coating. But all you have to do is stare at your Retina iPad display to see what a richer, higher-res display could look like. And many laptops now have higher resolutions: the Vaio Pro 11 has 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution, and the 12.5-inch Surface Pro 3 has a 2,160x1,440-pixel display.

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, June 2013)
Video DisplayPort/Thunderbolt
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Apple_MacBook_Air_11-inch_35781454_05.jpg
Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance and connections

What's new here? A bump in the base model (previously $999, now $899) to a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 CPU, from a 1.3GHz one.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The processor change is a small move forward in terms of performance. That's good, because the 2013 Air went with a lower clock speed and some slightly slower benchmark scores compared with the CPU in a 2012 Air. That said, any MacBook Air from the past few generations is more than powerful enough for everyday tasks, from Web surfing to HD video playback, and you're unlikely to notice a hands-on difference between models from 2012, 2013, or 2014.

The Intel HD 5000 graphics in the Airs are a touch better than the ultrabook average. There aren't as many great Mac games for benchmarking as there are on Windows, but the relatively recent game Tomb Raider ran at the laptop's native 1,366x768-pixel resolution at 21.9 frames per second at medium settings. It's not for "serious" games, but this tiny Air can play casual games better than you thought, but it's not designed to be a killer gaming laptop.

You won't be using that charger much. Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery

The 11-inch Air lasted an extremely impressive 12 hours and 3 minutes in our video playback battery-drain test, which was about 90 minutes longer than the 2013 version. That's a nice jump, owing perhaps to small improvements made since last summer to both Intel's Core i-series CPUs and Apple's OS X operating system. Note, however, that this offline video playback battery test has become much easier for laptops over the past few years, and a full day of online Web surfing and multitasking could cut that time significantly. But even if you only get two-thirds of our test time, it still means we've reached a point where you can charge up, leave the house for the day, and basically not worry.

The 13-inch Air has an even better battery (a whopping 16 hours on the same video playback battery test), but I'd argue that anytime you cross over 8 hours you're in a territory that's all gravy afterward. You're looking at a laptop that can get through a full workday.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

The 2014 MacBook Air, like the largely similar 2013 version, is all about battery life and portability. This 11-inch laptop, nearly the size of an iPad, now lasts almost as long as one, too. It could tip the balance in favor of the 11 for some. For others, though, an iPad plus keyboard might have replaced this already. Apple now has two major computing products in the 11-inch-and-under category.

The 11-inch Air trails the 13-inch in battery life, but the 128GB $899 11-inch Air will be extremely tempting to a lot of people. It's got battery galore and no real performance compromises compared with the 13-inch.

It would be great to see the rest of the Air get redefined and redesigned someday in the future, bridging the gap between iPad and iMac. For now, we'll have to settle for this. If you're a mainstream user or a heavy traveler, it won't matter; the Air is the one for you, in either its 11-inch or 13-inch incarnation.

HandBrake multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

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

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)

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

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

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

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

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

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Find out more about how we test laptops.

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; 1,536MB (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; 1,536MB (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; 1,792MB (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; 1,024MB (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 1,600MHz, 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 500GB SSHD

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Operating System Apple OS X 10.9 Mavericks
  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Weight 2.4 lbs
  • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • CPU Intel Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.4 GHz
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