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MacBook Air 2018 gets Retina display, Touch ID for $1,199, available Nov. 7

The long wait for a new MacBook Air is over.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Editors' note, Nov. 1: We've added hands-on impressions of the new MacBook Air, which starts at $1,199 and features a Retina display, Touch ID and USB-C ports.

Apple announced an update to its most popular laptop, the MacBook Air, at a special event in Brooklyn, New York, on Tuesday. The 13.3-inch laptop now has a Retina display with four times the resolution of past models.

Starting at $1,199 (£1,199, AU$1,849), the new MacBook Air is made from 100 percent recycled aluminum, with noticeably slimmer bezels around the display. It's lighter at 2.75 pounds (1.24 kg) as well as 17 percent smaller and 10 percent thinner. 

Like the 12-inch MacBook, the only ports you'll find are Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, along with a headphone jack. The Thunderbolt 3 ports support external displays up to 5K resolution and eGPUs for better graphics performance. 

MacBook Air 2018 specs

  • 8th-gen Intel dual-core i5 processor
  • 8GB or 16GB 2,133MHz memory 
  • 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1.5TB SSD
  • 13.3-inch 2560x1600-pixel resolution display
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2

The new hardware combination promises up to 12 hours of web browsing and up to 13 hours of iTunes movie playback. Apple also added one of its T2 security chips for Touch ID and Siri support, and the most secure boot process of any notebook, Apple says. The T2 also features an SSD controller that has automatic, on-the-fly data encryption.

Other additions include a third-generation butterfly keyboard, paired with a Force Touch trackpad; a FaceTime HD camera and a three-mic array for better voice recognition; and louder stereo speakers with more bass. 

These updates were much needed, but they definitely add to the laptop's overall price. The old 13-inch MacBook Air, with its processor that's three generations behind and thick bezels around its low-res 1,440x900-pixel display, was last updated in 2017 and hasn't really changed physically since the first model in 2008. It is, however, the cheapest Apple laptop starting at $999 and frequently found for less. 

The Air was somewhat supplanted by the thinner, lighter 12-inch MacBook model, despite a starting price around $1,299. The new Air, however, will start at just $100 less at $1,199 for the base model, and is now the cheapest Apple laptop with a Retina display. 

The last-gen Air stays in the lineup, for now, and remains the least expensive Mac laptop for cash-strapped students and schools. 

The new iPad Pro: Apple's other big reveal.

MacBook Air, Mac Mini and iPad Pro 2018: Everything Apple just announced.