Hands-on with the new Apple MacBook Air with Retina display
Note: This article was first published on 30th October 2018 and is re-published as the MacBook Air is now available in retail.
It has taken a while but the MacBook Air has finally been refreshed with a new display, new internals, and a slightly updated design. You have probably read about it first here but I’m going to tell you my first impressions about the machine having spent a couple of minutes with it at the event.
The new MacBook Air looks familiar. It retains its iconic wedge design and it is still made out of aluminum (100% recycled aluminum to be exact) but it is thinner and lighter. Thickness is down from 17mm to 15.6mm while weight is down from 1.34kg to 1.25kg. In terms of overall volume, the new MacBook Air 17% more compact. The old model was getting porky and I’m happy to report that in my hands, the MacBook Air felt comparable to the current generation of thin and light ultraportable notebooks. There are certainly thinner and lighter notebooks around but the new MacBook Air certainly feels light and portable enough.
Arguably the biggest news about the new MacBook Air is the display. It finally has a Retina display. It is 13.3-inch large and has a display resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels giving it a pixel density count of 227 PPI. Unsurprisingly, like all other MacBook notebooks, it looks great with nice colors and good viewing angles. But because of its glossy finish, glare and reflections can be a problem. That said, there’s no TrueTone here nor is there support for the wider P3 color space. If that is important to you, you need to look at the MacBook Pro.
Because of its thinner profile, the MacBook Air loses full-size USB-A ports. Instead, it gets two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports. These are the Swiss army knives of ports and can handle data transfer, charging, and video output. Apart from connecting the usual external storage devices, it can support external GPUs and can drive a single 5K display at 60Hz or two 4K displays at 60Hz. Apart from the Thunderbolt 3 ports, there is also a headphone jack. Sadly, there's no memory card readers of any sort.
The speakers have been improved too and are said to be 25% louder with twice the amount of bass and dynamic range. There’s also a three microphone array that more accurately captures your voice for FaceTime. Unfortunately, it’s hard to experience this at the event because its so noisy but I can attest to the loudness of these new speakers. I can hear them quite clearly over the considerable din at the hands-on area.
The keyboard is Apple’s newest third-generation design just like the new MacBook Pro notebooks. For owners of the old MacBook Air, this new keyboard will take some getting used to. It has very little key travel and has a clickety action that I think most people either hate or love. I have gotten used to Apple’s new type of keyboard and I generally find it quite pleasurable to use. The trackpad is larger too, up to 20% and it has the same smooth and fluid action that fans of Apple’s notebooks have come to know and love.
There’s no Touch Bar, which, can be a good or bad thing. Personally, I’m not fond of it so this is good news to me. However, there is still Touch ID. Now that I’m fond of and it’s good to see that Apple has included this in the new MacBook Air. It makes logging in so much easier.
Inside, the MacBook Air has upgraded internals with the latest 8th generation Intel Core processors and can be equipped with up to 16GB of memory and 1.5TB SSD. It has a 50.3 Wh battery and has a claimed battery life of up to 12 hours of web browsing or 13 hours of iTunes movie playback.
The new MacBook Air is available in three finishes: space grey, silver, and gold. They all look great but I like space grey best. Prices start at S$1,798 for the model with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and 128GB SSD. If you want more storage, the 256GB model costs S$2,079 with the same Core i5 processor and 8GB memory. This makes the MacBook Air slightly more affordable than the ultra-thin MacBook.
Based on first impressions, I think the MacBook Air will be a hit and has a very good chance of being one of the best-selling notebooks this coming Christmas season. The design is great, the specs are decent, and it is priced rather attractively. In short, it has everything that most people want in a think and light MacBook. For most users, this is the MacBook to get.
The new MacBook Air is available for pre-order now and will begin shipping on 7th November. We hope to put up a full review of it by then. Stay tuned!