Slim, fast and still the best
Ultra-portable laptops have been in vogue recently with a slew of Intel-branded Ultrabooks entering the fray. This means there is more competition for Apple's Macbook Air, which was first released in 2008.
The company's new mid-2012 range, including the Apple Macbook Pro with retina display, is mainly concerned with new components. We looked at the standard 13-inch model, which has a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory and 128GB of SSD storage. The 13in display is bright and looks great with a high resolution of 1,440x900 pixels.
With 4GB of memory now the standard across all versions, the Macbook Air is now a very capable laptop. While it still weighs just under 1.4kg, the Air could handle more demanding tasks such as HD video editing and working with large images imported from a digital camera.
It's worth remembering that the memory isn't designed to be user upgradeable, so if you need the maximum 8GB then you'll need to specify this when ordering.
The inclusion of SSD storage instead of a conventional hard disk certainly makes the Macbook Air more expensive, but it also makes it very fast. It turned on in 13 seconds. More impressively, it was ready in less than a second when woken from sleep mode by opening the lid. With no moving parts, the SSD is another reason for the Macbook Air's good battery life.
That said, battery life wasn't quite as long as we would expect. We managed to get just shy of nine hours, putting it well ahead of most Ultrabooks. Despite having a new processor designed to be power efficient, the battery life of this Macbook Air was shorter than the previous model's.
There are no noticeable changes to the Macbook Air's appearance – this is still a sleek, beautifully designed laptop. The excellent touchpad and keyboard on Apple laptops have been standout features for years now. Taking its cue from the Apple iPad, the touchpad on the Macbook Air supports various gestures such as pinch to zoom and two finger scrolling.
This made using the laptop intuitive and easy. This was particularly the case when working with large images. We were able to zoom in, move around the image and remove blemishes with minimal hassle. The backlight on the keyboard automatically adjusts to ambient lighting conditions. All this attention to detail made the Macbook Air a pleasure to use.
Connections have also been given an upgrade. While on the previous model USB3 was conspicuous by its absence, it is now standard on the Macbook Air. There are two USB3 ports, a Thunderbolt port and an SD card slot. Adaptors are now available that lets you plug an Ethernet cable or Firewire peripheral into the Thunderbolt port.
Annoyingly, these are expensive at £25. The webcam has been given a welcome upgrade, capturing video at 720p HD resolution, instead of standard definition, and the difference in quality was noticeable.
Tweaks to the innards of the Macbook Air, especially the inclusion of 4GB of memory and USB3 as standard, have made this an even better laptop than before. It is still expensive – this model costs £999 – but it is excellent value if you need a lightweight laptop. For all the Ultrabooks we've seen, none can quite match the Macbook Air.
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Improved specs make this lightweight laptop better value than before and it still beats the competition hands down
Great design; High-resolution screen; Excellent touchpad and keyboard
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