In short, pretty well. The Air certainly doesn't feel sluggish at all, and the OS felt satisfyingly nippy at all times. HD video content played extremely smoothly, too. We wouldn't expect the Air to handle much gaming (unless you're a fan of older titles), but this laptop doesn't feel slow.
In our Xbench benchmark test, the Air achieved a score of 162.45. Compare that with the 202.71 our managed when we reviewed it in October. With the Air, you're paying lots of cash for relatively mid-spec hardware, but if you can handle that, the actual experience of using this laptop is extremely pleasant, and far from sluggish.
Start-up time is very impressive -- our review sample went from zero to desktop in a fraction over 14 seconds. By the sixteenth second we'd fired up Safari. That's an attractive proposition for the kind of on-the-move Apple fans this laptop is aimed at.
The Air comes with two storage options. Ours sports 256GB of space, but there's a smaller 128GB version that retails at a start price of £1,099. Rather than a traditional hard drive, all the new Airs use flash storage.
Flash storage is faster and more reliable than traditional HDD drives because it doesn't have any moving parts. That means if you accidentally drop it, it's less likely to lose all your precious data. Something to bear in mind, however, is that this laptop doesn't use standard SSD drives, and because the body is completely sealed, accessing or upgrading those delicious flashy chunks will be next to impossible.
With a laptop this thin, connectivity is always going to be compromised. We think previous Airs were a little too pared down -- only one USB port is a bitter pill to swallow. Things are slightly rosier here, with two (count 'em!) USB ports, a headphone jack, multi-format card reader and a Mini DisplayPort for outputting your display. You'll need to buy some adaptors to get that port to play nice with most monitors and TVs.
Hard to port
That's hardly a generous selection -- VGA and ethernet ports are notably absent, and it's a way smaller selection than what you'd typically find on little netbooks. Still, it's a modicum of improvement. We have no doubt that, at some point, you'll find yourself immensely frustrated with the stingy port selection, but it mightn't happen too often to spoil your enjoyment of the laptop.
As for battery, again, there are good things and bad things about the Air's set-up. On the one hand, the battery is still completely inaccessible, so if you need to replace it, you'll have to send the whole machine away.
On the other hand, battery life is impressive -- we left the Air running 1080p video on a loop, and it took three hours and ten minutes for the battery to completely exhaust itself. That's impressive, and you'll get several more hours of usage if you're more responsible with your power consumption. We reckon Apple's rather vague claim of seven hours of 'wireless productivity' (whatever that is) are about accurate.
Furthermore, there's a really impressive standby time on offer here. Apple reckons the Air will last a month on standby, waking up from its slumber almost instantly when you lift the lid. While we haven't had a whole month with this machine yet, based on what we've seen, we don't think that's too outlandish a claim.
The Apple MacBook Air is expensive, relatively low-spec and in many ways very restrictive. But it's also beautifully designed, offers impressive battery life and, most importantly, is a genuine pleasure to use, offering the seamless integration between hardware and software Apple is famous for. If you expect serious computing grunt and customisability from a laptop, steer well clear. If you're looking for something simple, portable and easy to use, the MacBook Air justifies its high price tag.
Edited by Emma Bayly