Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) review:

Apple's most affordable MacBook

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CNET Editors' Rating

6 user reviews

The Good Thanks to a new generation of processors, the MacBook Air gets improved battery life, while maintaining its now classic thin and light metal exterior.

The Bad Little else has changed over the past few years, while the competition is catching up on design, battery life and usability. The low-res screen feels more dated than ever.

The Bottom Line While still a great all-around useful laptop, the 13-inch MacBook Air is stuck with a lower-res display and a design that's no longer cutting-edge.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Battery 10.0

Fall '16 update

In October 2016, Apple updated its laptop portfolio, delivering an overdue refresh of its 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. Considerably slimmer and lighter than their predecessors, the new MacBooks come equipped with larger Force Touch trackpads and Apple's new, dynamic Touch Bar with Touch ID. A 13-inch model without the Touch Bar was also announced. The new models cost more than their Pro predecessors, too.

For now, the Apple laptop portfolio includes the 12-inch MacBook, the new 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros and the older MacBook Air (reviewed below) in addition to last year's 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models, which remain on sale on Apple's website. The 11-inch MacBook Air is now available to only the educational market; to buy one, you'll need to be associated with a school or university or find one online somewhere.

Not sure which one is right for you? Consult CNET's full head-to-head comparison of the entire lineup of MacBooks, including the Pro and Air models, as well as Apple's new MacBook lineup: What you need to know.

Editors' note: The review of Apple's 2015 13-inch MacBook Air, originally published in May of that year, follows.

For the past several years, Apple's flagship MacBook Air has dutifully added the latest generation of Intel processors, and sometimes tweaked the included ports or the type of solid state memory inside, but those changes have felt very minor. Especially so when compared to the groundbreaking new-for-2015 12-inch MacBook , which is amazingly thin and stylish, or the MacBook Pro -- redesigned in 2012 -- which has a great higher-res display and plenty of high-end configuration options.

But that doesn't mean we're writing the MacBook Air off. It remains one of the most universally useful laptops you can buy, thanks to a still-slim design, excellent keyboard and touchpad, generally fast performance and great battery life. That the Air is the least-expensive MacBook, starting at $999 (£849 or AU$1,099) for the 13-inch model, means it's within reach for many shoppers who might not want to go up to the $1,299 or more being asked for the latest ultraportables from Apple, Samsung and others. (A model with an 11.6-inch screen and otherwise very similar specs is available for even less.)

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Sarah Tew/CNET

While other laptops continue to catch up to the Air, and even move past it in terms of design, the Air stubbornly holds onto its claim as having the longest-lasting mainstream laptop battery. That's because of a minor upgrade for 2015 to Intel's fifth-generation Core i-series processors, previously known by the codename Broadwell. The performance boost, as in most Broadwell systems, is slim to negligible, but the greater power efficiency of those new chips pays a significant dividend.

Along with a new CPU, you get the associated improved integrated graphics that are included with the Broadwell platform, as well as a speed bump from Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt 2 in the data/video port. The built-in flash storage, which switched to the faster PCIe interface last cycle, now also gets faster throughput, although in everyday use, you're unlikely to notice any of these incremental improvements.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The 2015 version of the MacBook Air ran for 18 hours on our video playback battery drain test, blowing past its previous versions, as well as the non-Apple competition. Even if more challenging tasks or heavy online streaming cut that number by 40 percent or so, you're still looking at no-compromise all-day battery life.

If not for the continued battery-life dominance and the relatively low starting price, it would be easy to ease the MacBook Air aside and suggest the Pro or 12-inch MacBook instead. Instead, you have three distinct products, each with strengths and weaknesses, and each best-suited for a different audience. I suspect that, for some time to come, the Air will remain the best choice for students and casual coffee shop websurfers.

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015)

Price as reviewed $999, £849, AU$1,099
Display size/resolution 13.3-inch 1,440x900 screen
PC CPU Intel Core i5-5250U
PC Memory 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz
Graphics 1536MB Intel HD Iris Graphics 6000
Storage 128GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Apple OS X Yosemite 10.10.2

Design and features

The MacBook Air has an almost universally recognized silhouette at this point, largely unchanged since 2010 and still substantially similar to the original 2008 version . From the outside, the smooth aluminum still looks modern and minimalist, and it's a look since copied by others, including Dell's XPS 13 series , which we sometimes refer to as the DellBook Air.

At 2.92 pounds (without the power cable; about 1.3kg), this MacBook Air is unchanged from last year's version , and sits right in the middle of the current MacBook lineup. The 12-inch MacBook is nearly one-third lighter, at 2.04 pounds, and the 13-inch Pro is a heftier 3.46 pounds (just under 1kg and 1.6kg, respectively).

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From the bottom, the Air, the Pro and the 12-inch MacBook. Sarah Tew/CNET

Opening up the clamshell shows just how old this design is. Most modern laptops now include touch displays, something that's still off the table for now for a MacBook, but touch or not, newer laptops also have slimmer screen bezels with an edge-to-edge glass overlay. That gives the interior a cleaner look, and you'll find it on both the MacBook Pro and and new 12-inch MacBook.

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