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

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MSRP: $899.00

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.

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8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 9

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. 

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.

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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 screen 13.3-inch 1,440x900 screen 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touchscreen
PC CPU 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 4260U 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 4260U 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200
PC memory 4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,600MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000 1,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400
Storage 128GB SSD 128GB SSD 500GB+16GD SSHD
Optical drive None None None
Networking 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system OSX 10.9.3 Mavericks OSX 10.9.3 Mavericks Windows 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.