Hands-on: New 11-inch MacBook Air gets big battery boost

The little Air isn't a slouch at all. In fact, it looks like it's every bit the machine as its bigger 13-inch sibling.

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. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
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Scott Stein
3 min read
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple updated its MacBook Air line today at WWDC, and we got our hands on the new 11-inch Air to start reviewing. Stay tuned for all of that soon, but for now here are the details.

Apple's latest MacBook Airs don't change the equation, but they do finesse the product further with new Intel fourth-gen "Haswell" processors and some new features like improved 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Lower price
The Air's base price remains $999, making it the cheapest MacBook in town. But you get more for your money: 128GB of SSD storage, as opposed to 64GB last year. The step-up $1,199 model doubles that storage to 256GB. Upgrading to 512GB costs less than last year, too: you can get an 11-inch 512GB Air for $1,499 -- not cheap, but finally a price range that's more acceptable.

Swap someone's 2012 MacBook Air with the 2013 model and he'll never know the difference until he starts using it. Cosmetically, it's identical to last year's version: same aluminum unibody construction, same ports, same 1,366x768-pixel 11.6-inch display, same keyboard and clickable trackpad.

That formula works; in fact, the Air's still one of the best-feeling laptops, all-around, that exists. But, it's no longer a cutting-edge design. It is, however, a nearly perfect one for standard laptop use.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Keep in mind, Apple doesn't tend to make sweeping design changes to its products every year...or even every three years. The thicker MacBook Pro's stayed virtually identical-looking since 2008. The Air, too, has settled into a form. Kudos to Apple for figuring out a formula that worked and kept somewhat timeless, but it's not exciting, new stuff.

James Martin/CNET

The 11-inch Air doesn't make any compromises: it's practically the same machine as the larger 13-inch Air, from the processors to the integrated graphics to RAM and SSD storage options. All you're giving up on the smaller Air, it seems, is the smaller screen and less battery life (and an SD card slot). The 11-inch Air's closed the gap big time.

A new dual-core fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor should offer a decent bump over last year, but the graphics and SSD speed could be even bigger factors. Apple claims the new SSD technology in these Airs offers significant speed improvements over last year's model.

Intel's new fourth-gen Core i5 and i7 processors are geared toward ultrabooks, setting things up perfectly for the Air. Indeed, the 9-hour and 12-hour battery life claims on the new Airs are a big step up from the 5- and 7-hour battery results we got when we reviewed last year's models. Of course, these processors should also offer some speed bumps over last year. Once again, dual-core Core i5 and i7 processors are the options.

Graphics get a bump up to Intel HD 5000, which, based on our initial CNET tests on Haswell laptops, should provide another good step up in gaming and photo/video work.

Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Count 802.11ac Wi-Fi as another performance boost, providing you have an 802.11ac-capable router like Apple's new AirPort Express and Time Capsule; 802.11ac is a new Wi-Fi standard that's appearing in many new PCs this year.

Stay tuned for a full review.