Apple MacBook Air 2013 Review Roundup: Critics Examine That 'All-Day' Battery Life, Test Against Rivals And Predecessors

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The new 2013 MacBook Air looks exactly like the 2012 model in size, shape, display, keyboard and I/O, but lurking beneath the surface of Apple’s latest, thinnest notebook are a number of significant internal changes. According to many early reviewers of the new 2013 MacBook Air, its power and performance have finally caught up to the sleek design that many have grown to love since the first MacBook Air arrived in January 2008.

Fitted with Intel’s fourth-generation Core i-series CPUs codenamed “Haswell,” the 2013 MacBook Air is indeed slightly faster than its Ivy Bridge-powered predecessor, but Apple’s newest MacBook Air is all about battery life. Haswell certainly helps in that department, but thanks to the new compact all-flash storage system, Apple was able to drastically improve battery life from five to nine hours in the 11-inch model, and from seven to 12 hours in the 13-inch model. While both laptop models will run OS X Mountain Lion out of the box, the upcoming OS X Mavericks should improve battery life in the 2013 MacBook Air even further, thanks to the operating system’s new battery-saving technologies like timer coalescing, app nap and compressed memory.

The new battery life in the new MacBook Air, plus price cuts across both models, certainly makes it an attractive option for consumers in the market for a new ultrathin, ultra-portable laptop, but don’t take our word for it: Take a look at some of the early reviews of Apple’s latest and greatest MacBook Air.

Dan Ackerman, CNET review:

“Battery life is where the new MacBook Air (both the 11-inch and 13-inch versions) really stands out. The previous generation 13-inch Air ran for 7:27 on our video playback battery drain test. The 2013 version blows that out of the water, with an astonishing 14:25 on the same test. That's better than Apple's estimate of 12 hours, and one of the only times our tests have indicated longer battery life than a manufacturer's claims. … Even if our 14-hour video playback battery life run is cut by a third or more in rigorous real-world conditions, you've still got a true all-day, always-on computer. Couple that with OS X and the best-in-show touch pad and gestures, and I'd be hard pressed to think of a single competitor that comes close to the ubiquitous usefulness of this system.”

Chris Mills, Gizmodo UK review:

“If you’re in the market for an ultraportable laptop with oh-my-god-what-the-hell-happened-here battery life, then yes. The price, although high, certainly isn’t any more than what comparable ultrabooks will run you, and the excellent trackpad and keyboard are just icing on the cake. The battery makes this Air what it is, and that is properly ridiculous. On a video run-down test: — streaming Nyan Cat over Wi-Fi, with brightness on 80 per cent — the Air lasted 13 hours 6 minutes.Thirteen hours and six frigging minutes. That’s well over double the six-hour life of this generation’s ultrabooks, more than the most stamina-happy tablets, and way more than any smartphone. … However, the MacBook Air doesn’t stand all on its own. Haswell-powered ultrabooks are starting to trickle out — Sony released the awesome-looking Vaio Pro the other week, and you can bet your Apple-tattooed left kidney that other manufacturers with great products (read: Samsung Series 9 and Asus Zenbook) will be refreshing the market stall in the next couple months. If you’re really after better connectivity options, Iris graphics or a hi-res screen, it’s probably worth holding out to (at the very least) see what happens.”

Mark Spoonauer, Laptop Magazine review:

“The MacBook Air 13-inch is a marathon runner of a notebook, offering all-day battery life in a design that's just as sleek and ergonomically perfect as before. For $1,099, you also get blazing fast flash memory and much improved graphics performance. The only thing missing is a sharper display, although the Air's screen is still as bright and colorful as before. Among 13-inch ultraportable Windows 8 laptops, there are lighter and even sleeker options with touch screens (such as the Acer Aspire S7 and Sony VAIO Pro 13), but their standard batteries don't last nearly as long on a charge. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display has a superior screen -- and will likely see a bump to a Haswell CPU before too long -- but that system starts at a steeper $1,499 and is a bit heavier. Overall, the 13-inch MacBook Air remains the best ultraportable value on the market.”

Larry Magid, Forbes review:

“To punish the system, as I write this post inside a Chrome tab, I’m also running PowerPoint, iMovie, Word, Excel, iPhoto and 20 Chrome tabs — three of which are running either Netflix or YouTube videos. Plus I have Safari running a QuickTime movie – yet everything is working OK despite the fact that my machine has only 4 GB of memory.  It is swapping memory to disk but it’s doing it so quickly that I can’t notice any system degradation. The only slow-down I’m noticing is my hotel Wi-Fi network slowing to a crawl because of four videos running at the same time. The Air also has an Intel HD Graphics 5000 processor, which, says Apple, “offers up to 40 percent faster graphics — performance you’ll especially notice with games and other graphics-intensive tasks. Not being a gamer, I’m not sure I’m seeing that but what I am seeing is very quick loading of Microsoft Office, Chrome, Safari and other applications as well as fast loading of my large data files. Of course, if you need a lot of storage or a great deal of processing power and memory, the Air isn’t for you.  It maxes out at 8 GBs of memory which is more than enough for the vast majority of users (my sense is the 4 GB is fine for most people) but if you’re doing heavy video or photo editing, you might need more power.  The Air maxes out at 512 GB of flash storage which is paltry compared to today’s high capacity hard drives but should be more than enough for most users.  If you have more files that you don’t need with you all the time, you can store them on external hard drive.”

Tim Stevens, Engadget review:

“It's no Retina, a fact that can be confirmed with a quick glance. Still, this remains a great-looking LCD, making the most of its 1,440 x 900 resolution. Viewing angles are as good as ever and brightness does not disappoint. Color reproduction is spot-on and the LED backlighting is both good for your battery and the environment. The Air's built-in speakers are capable of getting impressively (and uncomfortably) loud if cranked all the way, so hearing a concall from across a room won't be an issue. Still, it's hardly an ideal machine for music playback, with flat, bass-free renditions of all your favorite music. It'll certainly do in a pinch, but you'll want to make use of that 3.5mm jack (or, indeed, a Bluetooth connection) to enable something with a bit more acoustic range. But, there is one area where this new machine is significantly faster than before: I/O. This year's Air moves to PCIe storage internally, which means significantly faster speeds in theory. And in practice, as it turns out. The BlackMagic benchmark showed us 433.4 MB/s for writes and 725.4 MB/s for reads, considerably quicker even than the current Retina MacBook Pro. That helps the boot-up time too. Last year was a speedy 18 seconds. This year? Cold boot to login screen occurs in just under 12.”

Joel Santo Domingo, PCMag review:

“The system's new 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4250U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 5000 is nominally clocked 400Mhz slower than the 1.7GHz i5-3427U processor in the last MacBook Air, but both will turbo up to 2.6GHz if needed. The lower base clock speed no doubt helps the system stretch out battery life. The new MacBook Air 13-inch lasted a staggering 15 hours 33 minutes on our battery rundown test. That is more than double the six hours we get from the best ultrabooks using 3rd-generation Intel Core processors like the high-end ultrabook Editors' Choice Asus Zenbook Prime Touch UX31A-BH15T (6:38). Most systems return far less battery power, like the five hours for the Dell XPS 13-MLK (4:56) or four hours like on the Sony VAIO Fit 14 (SVF14A15CXB) (4:08). The downside of the lower-clocked processor is that the MacBook Air is a bit slower on the multimedia benchmark tests (Handbrake and Photoshop CS6), where it lags the Windows systems with faster-clocked Core i5 processors. On the flipside, the MacBook Air is still two to four times faster than Intel Atom-powered Windows 8 slate tablets on the Handbrake test, and those Atom-powered tablets can't run the Photoshop CS6 test at all. The integrated Intel HD Graphics 5000 of the new MacBook Air shows a much-improved Heaven benchmark score over previous MacBook Airs and other systems with Intel HD Graphics 4000. Essentially, since there is an obvious upgrade path for users who want a faster multimedia workhorse (namely the MacBook Pros), the tradeoff for battery life is well worth it for the general business and consumer user.”

Chris Hall, Pocket-Lint review:

“New internal hardware helps the MacBook Air maintain its position as one of our favourite notebooks. We're still happy with the 2012 MacBook Air, but there's enough here to make us want to upgrade: the improved performance and particularly that battery life, is a real driver to keep the MacBook Air in favour. Some may say that the display needs to be updated, but as we've said, we wouldn't want to sacrifice endurance for definition, not when the resolution of the Air is good enough. We're also keeping an eye on Mavericks, which if it delivers on its promises of power efficiency, should stretch out the battery life of the MacBook Air even further, perhaps to levels that others can't quite match without an external battery. If you're looking for more raw power, then there is a 1.7GHz Core i7 upgrade, as well as the option to expand to 8GB RAM and up to 512GB of SSD. That will cost you £1579, however, the MacBook Air starts at £959 for the 1.3GHz Core i5, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. That's £50 cheaper than the 2012 equivalent. As reviewed here with 256GB of SSD storage the MacBook Air is £1129. In our eyes, it's worth every penny as it delivers on that all day battery promise and continues to deliver a premium experience.”

Darrell Etherington, TechCrunch review:

“The battery is truly remarkable. In standby mode, I haven’t yet even begun to scratch the surface of how long it can last after a week of usage. It really sips power when managing background tasks, and that should improve even further under OS X 10.9 Mavericks, which adds even more battery-conserving features to Apple’s desktop OS. The Air still ships with Mountain Lion, but you can bet Apple’s engineers were working on the upcoming OS X release when they were developing the new Air hardware. Even without the extreme measures, this is a computer that you can forget is unplugged without fear of running into dire problems. If you’ve got a charge in the morning, and provided you aren’t doing anything too demanding that’s burning CPU cycles, you should have enough to get you through a reasonable mobile workday. Which is to say, we’re nearly at the point most people really badly want to be in terms of their MacBook’s battery life (short of limitless, endlessly clean and cool energy). …For those who value the portability, flexibility and economy of the Air above all, the 2013 edition definitely hits all the right notes.”

What do you think about these various reviews of the 2013 MacBook Air? Would you buy it, or are you holding off for a redesigned laptop, or newer and more significant MacBook Air features? Does the much-improved battery life in the 2013 MacBook Air appeal to you? Sound off in the comments section below.

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