MacBook Air (11-inch, June 2013) review: A Mac with an iPad's battery life

The processor change is a lateral move in terms of performance, effectively. The slower-clock-speed 1.3GHz Core i5 in this year's Air gives very similar performance to last year's 1.8GHz, and in some cases, a slightly slower benchmark.

Graphics performance, however, has increased. Not all fourth-gen Intel processors have the same integrated graphics, and 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 dated Call of Duty 4 ran at 41.5 frames per second compared with last year's 29.5 frames per second, at the same native 1,366x768-pixel resolution. Diablo III, with graphics settings on high, ran around 27 frames per second. The point is: this tiny Air should play everyday games better than you thought, but it's not designed to be a killer gaming laptop.

The good news for 11-inch adopters is there's no performance downgrade from the 13-inch: they're now using the exact same CPU (and the 11-inch Air is $100 less expensive).

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

Battery
Does doubling your battery life sound good? Yeah, it better. The 11-inch Air lasted an extremely impressive 10 hours and 37 minutes in our video playback battery-drain test, whereas last year's 11-inch Air lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes. That's a mammoth leap.

The Air has entered iPad-level battery life territory. That's no small moment in computing. It means we've finally reached a point where you can charge up, leave the house for the day, and basically not worry. Live-blogging from press conferences will never be the same.

I used the Air over a long weekend and found its quick-wake time instantaneous and its battery life extremely good, although not always as stupendous in real-world use as the benchmark suggests. I downloaded an 8GB game (Diablo III) while working, streaming video, and doing other things over the course of an evening and used about 50 percent of the Air's battery. That's heavy use. But even then, it shows how you have to really work to deplete the new Air batteries. Writing this review in a coffee shop over an afternoon, I used about a third of the battery (while charging my iPhone via Lightning, too). Fully recharging from empty to 100 percent via the MagSafe 2 AC adapter took a little less than 2 hours.

The 13-inch Air has an even better battery (a whopping 14 hours), 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

But, I'll repeat what my colleague Dan Ackerman said about the 13-inch Air: now, before you get too excited, there are a few caveats for that number. Much of the credit must go to Intel's fourth-generation Core i-series platform, which was pitched as being incredibly power-efficient. Our early tests confirm this, with the new 13-inch Sony Vaio Pro 13 running for nearly 9 hours. And, while this is a much better score than last year's Air got, the CPU itself runs at a lower clock speed, and the new Intel chips are especially optimized for video playback, which is the heart of our battery test. Using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth heavily, or playing 3D games, would cause that number to drop.

But lest we forget how good these are: the new diminutive Sony Vaio Pro 11 only lasted 5 hours and 56 in the same test. Sony sells a separate extended battery for $149 to double that up, but with the 11-inch Air, you're getting close to doubling that without any battery pack at all.

The point is this: the Air met and actually exceeded Apple's 9-hour battery claim. If you crave long battery life in a laptop, this is your golden moment.

Conclusion
The 2013 MacBook Air is all about the battery. That's an area I've dreamed of huge gains in, and it's no small accomplishment at all that the new Airs are battery-life kings. But you just might see other PCs emerge throughout this year with similar battery performance. Right now, the Air is the top of the heap if you don't want to use a charger.

It means 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 territory 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 $999 11-inch Air will be extremely tempting to a lot of people. It's got battery galore and no performance compromises compared with the 13.

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 Mac. For now, we'll have to settle for this. If you were about to get a MacBook Air before, make sure you buy one of the new models instead; but keep in mind that new Retina MacBook Pros will be lurking around the corner sooner or later. If you're a mainstream user or a heavy traveler, it won't matter; the Air is the one for you. And now, the 11-inch Air has finally become as good as its 13-inch big brother.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations
MacBook Air 11-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 Apple SSD

Sony Vaio Pro 11
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,748MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 128GB SSD

Asus Transformer Book TX300
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; HD1 SanDisk 128GB SSD, HD2 500GB 5,400rpm Hitachi

Toshiba Kirabook
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2GHz Intel Core i7-3667U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 256GB Toshiba SSD

MacBook Air 11-inch (Summer 2012)
OS X 10.7.4 Lion; 1.7GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 64GB Apple SSD

Acer Aspire S7-391-9886
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 256GB Intel 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 Apple SSD

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Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, June 2013)

Part Number: CNET-MBAir11-2013
MSRP: $999.00 Low Price: $779.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Weight 2.4 lbs
  • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • CPU Intel Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.3 GHz
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