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Gadget Review: An Upgrade, Long Overdue

How well does the 2018 Air follow up on the intent and spirit of the original Apple MacBook Air?

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Apple has finally delivered  the MacBook Air upgrade that the faithful have been clamouring for for the last three years, including an updated design, a vastly improved Retina display and processors and ports that sound right in place in 2018. So, is this the update that will breathe new life into Apple’s most popular ultra-portable, or should you consider the slew of competent Windows options instead?

For fans of the original carry-everywhere wedge-shaped design, Apple hasn’t disappointed, retaining the popular look and top-notch build quality while shrinking its dimensions in both width and length. Open it up and you are essentially looking at a replica of the MacBook Pro, albeit the variant without the fancy Touch Bar, and the thick grey bezels around the screen now make way for the thinner black borders that are the norm on other Apple laptops.

Predictably, the old selection of ports have made way for only two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and one headphone jack, and while USB-C is clearly the way forward, some upgraders will bemoan the lack of an SD card reader. The new MacBook Air uses Apple’s third-generation butterfly keyboard, and the reality is that some folks like it, while others find the key travel too shallow for their taste. You do get the Touch ID fingerprint sensor accompanied by regular Function keys instead of the Touch Bar, and the expansive and responsive trackpad, both of which are big usability wins in my books.

The headliner upgrade, one that most folks would be most interested in, is the long-overdue addition of a higher resolution Retina display. It is a good display and lives up to Apple’s reputation in delivering sharp and colour accurate screens, but brightness levels are middling when compared to similarly priced Windows laptops and absolutely pale when compared to the pricier MacBook Pro. Glare can be an issue as well. The speakers see a well-deserved upgrade – they now face upward like in the MacBook Pro and are among the best speakers you will find on a 13-inch portable, enough to fill a small room.

With the hardware on offer, which includes the power-efficient-but-lower-performance Y-series Core i5 chip, you are getting adequate performance for day-to-use, falling behind only in the more graphically challenging or computationally intensive tasks. With the SSD and memory on tap, macOS Mojave is snappy and after using the MacBook Air as my primary workhorse for the past two weeks, it is easy to vouch for its ability to get the job done… while lasting about 9-10 hours between charges. Charge times aren’t the fastest though, with the relatively small 30W USB-C charger.

The question remains – how well does the 2018 Air follow up on the intent and spirit of the original? It certainly lives up to the standard in terms of build quality and portability and, minor compromises aside, is a perfectly balanced every day machine for macOS users. It is just that the competition around the new, higher price point has increased dramatically over the past couple of years and strong options from Dell and Microsoft may tempt you both in terms of pricing and performance if you aren’t tied to macOS.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Magazine 8 December 2018 macbook air apple

Tushar Kanwar

The author is Technology Columnist and Program Manager in Bengaluru, India

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