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Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) review: Apple's most affordable MacBook

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Apple MacBook Air 2015 (13-inch, 128GB)

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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

Editors' note (June 27, 2017): Apple has updated the 13-inch MacBook Air, the 2015 version of which is reviewed below. Now the sole remaining MacBook Air in the lineup, the $999 13-inch model has received a faster, more powerful Intel processor as has the 2017 edition of the $1,299 12-inch MacBook. Apple has also upgraded its MacBook Pros -- the $1,299 13-inch, $1,799 13-inch with Touch Bar, and $2,399 15-inch with Touch Bar -- with those new Intel processors as well as new graphics hardware. 

Otherwise, aside from a RAM bump here and a slight price drop there, the 2017 batch is very similar to the one from 2016, with the same enclosures, ports, trackpads and screens. But be forewarned: Buying a new MacBook Pro may require you to invest in a variety of adapters for your legacy devices. Also note that the 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2015 has been discontinued though the $1,999 15-inch model from that year remains available for those who want all the ports and fewer dongles.

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.)

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.

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).

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.

On the Air, you have a very thick bezel, the dead space between the edge of the display and the edge of the lid, and the screen is inset underneath that, giving you a less-premium look and feel. Besides the other MacBook lines, which have moved to a slimmer bezel and edge-to-edge glass, laptops such as the aforementioned Dell XPS 13 have gone even further, taking the display nearly all the way to the edge of the lid, much like current "borderless" televisions. It's a striking look, and makes it all the more obvious that parts of the MacBook Air design are well out of date.

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