Once the pretty underachiever of the Apple family, the MacBook Air has matured as the years have gone by, and experts now say that the 13-inch MacBook Air is powerful enough to act as an everyday computer despite its diminutive size.
The MacBook Air has more than enough power for most users. With a dual-core 1.8 GHz Core i5 Intel Ivy Bridge CPU, 4 GB of RAM and a blazingly fast 128 GB solid-state drive, the 13-inch MacBook Air is more than capable of handling everyday computing tasks with aplomb. The improved graphics capabilities of Ivy Bridge let you play modern 3D games, but you'll need to tweak the graphical settings in order for recent titles to run smoothly. A step-up version (*Est. $1,500) ups the storage to 256 GB. Apple does allow for some user upgrades (more powerful processor, more memory, etc.), at a price. If that's something of interest, it bears noting that the higher-end configuration offers a wider range of upgrade options than the base model. If you're looking for even more power, experts say the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (*Est. $2,200 and up) is the best high-performance Apple notebook available, complete with discrete Nvidia graphics and a jaw-dropping high-resolution display (2,880 by 1,800 pixels).
The MacBook Air travels light and feels great. Experts rave about the 13-inch MacBook Air's backlit keyboard and glass trackpad, and at around two-thirds of an inch thick and less than 3 pounds, you'll barely notice the notebook when you have to carry it around. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities help on the road, but you'll need to pick up a separate adapter if you want an Ethernet connection. The lack of an optical drive annoys some reviewers, but only mildly.
A reference design ultrabooks aspire to mimic. The wedge-shaped, all-aluminum design of the MacBook Air is iconic -- and recently patented. Above-average stereo speakers and a 1,600-by-900-pixel display add to the allure. Experts say everything about the MacBook Air screams high class.
Apple has a strong reputation for quality. Users report that Apple products rarely break down but, if they do, the company's support staff is friendly and helpful. Any Mac owner can bring their notebook in for free help at a Genius Bar with a reservation. Phone support is limited to just 90 days after purchase, which lags far behind industry standards, but the notebook itself is under warranty for a full year.
The 13-inch MacBook Air hits the sweet spot for value in the Apple lineup. Experts say this notebook is the one most buyers should get, as it delivers plenty of power, a decently big screen and enough storage space even in the 128 GB base configuration that you won't feel constrained. A $100 price drop in mid-2012 makes it an even more attractive proposition, though some reviewers note that Windows-based Ultrabooks are starting to rival the MacBook Air's capabilities at lower prices, albeit without Apple's best-in-class battery life, keyboard and trackpad.
Reviewers also say it isn't worth upgrading if you already own a MacBook Air with 2011's Sandy Bridge Intel processors, as the Ivy Bridge refresh brings only an incremental performance upgrade. If you can deal with a smaller screen and hard drive, budget-minded shoppers might want to consider the 11-inch MacBook Air (*Est. $1,000 and up). Experts say the base model delivers roughly the same amount of performance as this 13-inch variety, but for $200 less.
Review Credibility: Excellent Lower-priced Ultrabooks keep the 13-inch MacBook Air from snagging an Editors' Choice award at PCMag.com, though Joel Santo Domingo rates the notebook at 4 stars (out of 5) and calls it a "class-leading line."
Review: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (mid 2012), Joel Santo Domingo, June 15, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent Dan Frakes reviews all the different MacBook Air models; all score 4.5 (out of 5) mice or higher. He says the best model for you depends on your usage needs, but he recommends that most users opt for the 13-inch screen.
Review: Mid-2012 MacBook Airs Offer Improved Performance and Connectivity, Dan Frakes, June 22, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent CNET's Scott Stein says the improvements over last year's MacBook Air are small, but they're good enough to earn an Editors' Choice award for the 13-inch MacBook Air. The strong performance combined with the new, lower price point seals the deal.
Review: Apple MacBook Air Review (13-inch, Summer 2012), Scott Stein, June 18, 2012
4. Computer Shopper
Review Credibility: Excellent Matt Safford gives the 13-inch MacBook Air a 4-star (out of 5) rating and an Editors' Choice award. Though he says graphics professionals and hardcore gamers should pass on this notebook and its integrated dual-core graphics, for everyone else the Air "strikes a great balance between performance and portability."
Review: Apple MacBook Air (13.3-Inch, 2012 Version) Review and Ratings, Matt Safford, June 14, 2012
5. Laptop Magazine
Review Credibility: Excellent Laptop Magazine's Michael Prospero says the 13-inch MacBook Air is just as thin and stylish as ever, but the component upgrades bring better performance and faster boot times than ever before. Although he wishes the display had a higher resolution, Prospero gives the notebook a 4.5 (out of 5) rating and an Editors' Choice award.
Review: Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2012) Review, Michael Prospero, June 14, 2012
Review Credibility: Excellent The long-lasting battery and performance enhancements brought by Ivy Bridge impress Dana Wollman, who says the MacBook Air is still the king of the ultraportable hill. "It ticks off the most boxes, and in particular, succeeds in the areas that matter most to shoppers: speed, longevity and comfortable design," she writes.
Review: MacBook Air Review (13-inch, mid 2012), Dana Wollman, June 18, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good The 13-inch MacBook Air wins a Recommended award from TrustedReviews.com. As impressive as Ardjuna Seghers finds the latest iteration, he says the changes from last year's model are minor and the display resolution lags behind some of the Ultrabook options.
Review: Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2012 Review, Ardjuna Seghers, July 4, 2012