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Apple MacBook Air 13 (mid 2012) review: Apple MacBook Air 13 (mid-2012)

The new 13-inch MacBook Air might not be the huge revision we were hoping for, but it's still an excellent laptop, borne out of years of refinement.

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Craig Simms
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Craig Simms Special to CNET News

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

4 min read

After the big excitement of the Retina display turning up on a MacBook Pro, we had hoped that the MacBook Air would have at least received a tiny screen-quality upgrade.

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8.5

Apple MacBook Air 13 (mid 2012)

The Good

Great build quality. USB 3.0 makes for a good boost. Industry-leading touch pad. Backlit keyboard. Dual-band Wi-Fi.

The Bad

Base model storage a bit small for the current day.

The Bottom Line

The new 13-inch MacBook Air might not be the huge revision we were hoping for, but it's still an excellent laptop borne out of years of refinement.

Connectivity

  • USB 3.0: 2
  • USB 2.0: 0
  • Optical: None
  • Video: Thunderbolt
  • Ethernet: none
  • Wireless: dual-channel 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.0

It wasn't to be — what we got was a third generation Core processor, USB 3.0 ports, a new MagSafe connector and an updated webcam, but the form factor stays the same, as does the use of a 1440x900 TN-based screen. It also doesn't help that the default storage levels are small, particularly on the 11-inch version, which still starts with a 64GB SSD. The 13 starts at 128GB SSD, which is a bit better by today's standards. It's possible to upgrade to a 256GB or 512GB SSD, but this will add considerably to the price. Considering the ever-dropping price of flash memory, it seems Apple's a little behind the curve here.

That's not to say that the MacBook Air isn't excellent — it most certainly is, it's just that, more than ever before, it's feeling the heat from the Windows competition. Samsung's Series 9, with a 1600x900 PLS screen is the perfect example. When Windows 8 happens, with its rash of IPS-based laptops and whether they be convertible or not, Apple's lead will be diminished, yet again.

It's still the same svelte, aluminium unibody construction, one that's been carved from years of refinement — although this means it misses the "wow" factor of years past, it's not a bad thing, as the design simply feels natural to carry around. Interestingly, an effect we noticed with previous models, where your fingers "buzzed" if you ran it over the wrist rest while the laptop was charging, is now gone. Apple's industry leading touchpad is still just that, and the backlit keyboard is lovely to work with.

Application performance

Choose a benchmark: Handbrake | iTunes | Photoshop | Multimedia


The 13's combination of hardware and OS X vaults it to the top of the Handbrake and, thus, multimedia multitasking tests, while returning admirable performance in our iTunes and Photoshop tests as well.

Battery life


The 13-inch Air manages to slot in the top five for battery life — it'll survive quite well away from the wall.

Conclusion

The new 13-inch MacBook Air might not be the huge revision we were hoping for, but it's still an excellent laptop, borne out of years of refinement. While Windows ultrabooks are approaching the cusp of overtaking the Air — and we hope Apple's got a big surprise for us next year — it's still hard to go wrong with one of these tucked under your arm.

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