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Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, April 2014) review: Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air is now for schools only

As of October 2016, the 11-inch MacBook Air has been relegated strictly to the educational market.

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Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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7 min read

Editors' note (June 27, 2017): The 11-inch MacBook Air from 2014, reviewed below, has now been fully discontinued after a brief period where it was available only in the education market. Apple's sole remaining MacBook Air -- the $999 13-inch model -- has been updated with faster, more powerful Intel processors as as has the new $1,299 12-inch MacBook. And Apple has upgraded the 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. 

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8.3

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, April 2014)

The Good

The new 11-inch MacBook Air is a little faster and runs even longer, thanks to a small spec bump. More importantly, the base price drops by $100 to $899.

The Bad

The new CPU is a very minor upgrade over last year’s Air and the system is still lacking an SD card slot.

The Bottom Line

Apple’s 11-inch Air is now only available to educational buyers. Everyone else looking for a light Apple laptop should check out the 12-inch MacBook or new MacBook Pro.

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.

fl-2017macbookpro-15inch
Watch this: Apple's MacBook Pro gets an early upgrade
Apple's MacBook Pro gets an early upgrade
1:49

The now-familiar MacBook Air hasn't seen a design overhaul in several generations, and the small update to the 13-inch and 11-inch models released in April 2014 does nothing to change that.

The current MacBook Air models differ from the 2013 versions in that the base model uses a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5, an upgrade from the previous 1.3GHz processor. More significantly, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air now starts at $899 (from $999) in the US and at £749 (from £849) in the UK, while the 13.3-inch version now drops to $999 (from $1,099) in the US and to £849 (from £949) in the UK.

We've tested the new 2014 versions of both the 11-inch and 13-inch Airs, and found their performance to be slightly improved. (Some have seen different results, owing to Apple using SSDs from multiple manufacturers in Airs, but our tests all fall in line with expectations from this small CPU uptick.) There's certainly no reason to upgrade if you have last year's MacBook Air. Instead, the price cut is the big news here, making this an even more viable option for midprice laptop shoppers.

While the lower price is a plus, the lack of significant performance improvement and the static physical design remind us that the Air is overdue for a more radical overhaul. Balancing out those two factors, our rating remains the same, and the remainder of this review is essentially unchanged from the 2013 version. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs are still universally useful laptops that are largely frustration-free, but that also lack some of the latest bells and whistles (edge-to-edge glass, touch screens, higher display resolutions) you may be looking for.

We're living in a post-iPad age for PCs. With tablets offering excellent battery life and supremely portable forms versus a laptop's subpar battery life, why not just get things done on a tablet instead?

The current MacBook Airs erase part of that question: the battery life in these models is astounding. They hit iPad territory, and even add about 90 minutes to last year's performance. So, Mac laptops with iPad-strength batteries, check. And lower prices, too? Check again.

And your choice in Airs comes down to screen size preference, as the 13-inch and 11-inch Air are more similar than ever, with the same exact newfourth-gen Intel Haswell processors, storage options, RAM, and upgraded 802.11ac Wi-Fi capability. Which also means that, other than the battery, in most ways they're pretty much the same as before.

The $899 entry-level model has the same 128GB SSD as the 2013 version (previous 11-inch Airs defaulted to a measly 64GB SSD), and the battery life tops a dozen hours. In its size class, the 11-inch Air has become a seriously perfect little laptop...if you can forgive its year-over-year sameness.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I'd be lying if I didn't say I wish the new Airs had bigger, better-resolution screens and more ports. Still, unless you've got your heart set on a Retina Display, these new Airs are worth considering for that battery life alone. In practice, this Air has made practical improvements, and it's the workhorse to beat, mainly because of that impressive battery.

PC Geekbox Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014)Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)
Price as reviewed $899 $999 $899
Display size/resolution 11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 screen13.3-inch 1,440x900 screen13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen
PC CPU 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 4260U1.4GHz Intel Core i5 4260U1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200
PC memory 4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 50001,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 50001,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400
Storage 128GB SSD128GB SSD500GB+16GD SSHD
Optical drive NoneNoneNone
Networking 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system OSX 10.9.3 MavericksOSX 10.9.3 MavericksWindows 8.1 (64-bit)

Design and features

Swap someone's 2013 MacBook Air with the newer 2014 model and he or she will never know the difference. Cosmetically, it's identical to last year's version (and couple of versions before that as well): same aluminum unibody construction, same ports, same 1,366x768-pixel 11.6-inch display, and same keyboard and clickable trackpad.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Consider that the MacBook Air is a laptop that's stayed largely unchanged (and the 11-inch version feels identical to the one that debuted in 2010), and you have what amounts to a very conservative computer update.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And yet, the Air's still one of the all-around best-feeling laptops. Apple did its homework making the Air feel comfortable, and it's paid off with a long shelf life. The glass multitouch trackpad is still the most responsive out there, although the surface area on the 11-inch Air is small and narrower, making four-finger gestures feel cramped. The backlit keyboard is the same size and feel as on the 13-inch Air, and still feels great, although the row of function keys are pretty shrunken down.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Air doesn't feel as wafer-thin, though. Last year'sSony Vaio Pro 11 trumps the Air on size and weight (1.9 pounds), compared with the relatively more beefy 2.3 pounds of Apple's all-aluminum design. It still feels good to hold, but it's not astonishing anymore.

The 11-inch Air and the Sony Vaio Pro 11.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The 11.6-inch display feels too small for the Air's size, though. It's the only 16:9 widescreen display in Apple's laptop arsenal, but you could have fit a larger screen in there -- the bezel is awfully wide. That's because it really has the base of a 12-inch laptop, which is how it accommodates such a large keyboard. Interestingly, the 11-inch Air's screen and bezel have exactly the same height and bezel thickness as on the 9.7-inch iPad. The Air's 16:9 screen is wider.

The Vaio Pro 11 (right) has a smaller footprint than the 11-inch Air, and a 1080p display.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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
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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) 534Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013) 532Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 478Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014) 476Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch) 475Apple 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) 333Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013) 330Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch) 310Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014) 289Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014) 269Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 253
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch) 124Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013) 82Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013) 82Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014) 77Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014) 77Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 76
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

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

Apple_MacBook_Air_11-inch_35781454_03.jpg
8.3

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, April 2014)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Battery 9
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