Review: Apple MacBook Air 13 inch (2015)
4.4Overall Score
Price (RRP): $1349; Apple's MacBook Air starts at $1249 for the 11 inch equivalent, and is $1349 (base model) for the 13 inch; Manufacturer: Apple

Now that there’s a new Intel chip out in the world, you can bet that Apple is ready with an update to its popular MacBook Air computer, and here we are with one that does away with the fan and makes a truly silent Apple laptop.

Features

Apple’s “MacBook Air” range has predominantly been about laptops that kept things simple, with a basic design — silver with a black keyboard — and not too many choices when it came to customisation. Essentially, it’s a system that works, and is light, thin, and easy to get your head around.

This year, Apple hasn’t changed the formula too much, if at all, updating what’s inside and really leaving everything else in place.

Case in point, you’ll find the same 11 (11.6) and 13 (13.3) inch screen choices here, the 11 inch running the same 1366×768 display as previous models, and the 13 inch sticking with the same 1440×900 screen from previous Air units.

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Both machines (11 and 13) come with pretty much the same stock spec out of the box, with the difference in price points coming down to storage options, though you can, of course, customise this if you so choose.

As such, expect Intel’s fifth-generation Core i5 processor out of the box, a chip that is set to 1.6GHz, though this can be switched out for a different processor, the 2.2GHz Core i7 for an added cost.

Memory arrives at 4GB standard out of the box, and can be upgraded to 8GB for a cost, and storage arrives in several options, with 128GB and 256GB the standard sizes, though 512GB can be selected if you need more. There are no more 64GB MacBook Air models anymore.

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Beyond these bits, you’ll find graphics powered by Intel’s HD 6000 graphical processing, network connections handled by 802.11a/b/g/n and even 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 720p FaceTime HD camera sitting above the screen.

Ports are fairly standard for Apple, with two USB 3.0 ports, one Thunderbolt 2 port, the 3.5mm headset jack, and Apple’s proprietary MagSafe power connector on each, though an SDXC card slot is also present on the 13 inch model.

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Apple’s Mac OS X 10.10 “Yosemite” arrives on the MacBook Air out of the box.

The review model used for this review is the 13 inch base model, with the Intel Core i5 processor set to 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, and 128GB storage.

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Performance

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Apple’s MacBook Air has been one of its more successful laptop-based products. Since the design first turned up in 2008, we have seen other companies try their hardest to make their own versions of it, and the whole Ultrabook movement seems like a target for the MacBook Air.

Over the years, Apple has improved the design, changed the spec, and overall come up with a machine that makes it a starting point for anyone looking for something thin and light and very compelling.

But when it comes to changes, Apple tends to hold back, and here in the 2015 MacBook Air, we’re pretty much seeing evidence of that, beyond the chip inside the system.

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Yes, Intel is still inside (bing!), but this time there’s the latest generation Intel Core i5 dual-core processor, clocking in at 1.6GHz and delivering just enough performance to make the MacBook Air an ultra-light machine for people who like to work with minimal weight, while also bringing in some new power saving goodness.

The system is definitely optimised for power efficiency, and we think Apple has managed to scrape by without a fan in this system, because try as we might — and we did — we were never able to get the 2015 MacBook Air to switch a fan on and make some noise.

That’s great news for people who like to work with complete silence from their computer, and not worry about the machine spinning up and making a peep, with the Air being as quite as, well, air.

Heating also seems to be something under control, because while it can get a little warm, we never felt it get toasty, with a comfortable aluminium base not even providing a bump in heat that would startle us.

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Performance is reasonable from this machine, as it is an ultra-light and made for productivity. As such, you’ll get by with writing, office work, social networking, web surfing, and a little more, possibly a game or two, but the specs aren’t high enough for any major productivity, and Apple would probably point you to its recently updated MacBook Pro instead.

We did find a few slowdowns here and there as we used the Air, mostly when we ran multiple tabs in Google Chrome, kept Evernote in its own space, and ran Photoshop and Mail alongside it.

The machine tolerates our working it a little harder than the average customer, and only occasionally pops up with a little bit of a slowdown here and there depending on what we’re doing.

That’s not a huge shock, and we suspect it would probably go away if the memory was upgraded to 8GB instead of the 4GB the stock MacBook Air (and our review model ships with. Most people won’t run into this, however, so it likely won’t pop up until you start finding a reason to make your Air work a little harder.

The battery is one area that definitely benefits from this change in processor, with the “up to 12 hours” claim by Apple resembling a real world result not far off, and sitting in the rough area of “around 10 to 11 hours”.

That’s what we had, and we even found that we could leave it off charge and work on the MacBook Air 2015 for a few days without needing to plug it in provided we kept our working to around two hours per day.

If you had to go without a power port for a while, that’s a pretty stellar result, and we had WiFi on the entire time. We can only imagine that the 12 hours claim by Apple might even be reached if you were sitting on an aircraft typing away. Not too shabby at all.

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Over to the keyboard and mouse, and these haven’t changed. It may have been over a year since we last saw the MacBook Air, but Apple has kept the excellent keyboard and solid glass-button trackpad around from last time, meaning there’s no learning curve associated with this laptop, and anyone familiar with a Mac from the past decade — or even a computer from that time — can likely get stuck into using it without having to relearn how either of these bits and bobs work. No worries.

And you’ll even find a familiar assortment of ports, which are just enough to get your work done and not have to worry about buying extra cords or cables, with two USB 3.0 ports, an SDXC card slot, the standard headphone jack we all love so much, and a Thunderbolt port if you decide to send video to a different monitor.

We wish there was an HDMI port here, but given the size requirements and Apple’s tendency to choose Thunderbolt over HDMI aren’t terribly surprised.

Well Mr. MacBook Air screen... we meet again.

Well Mr. MacBook Air screen… we meet again.

But while Apple may well have updated what’s on the inside, one of the things that so desperately needed a refresh on the outside is still very much the same.

We are of course talking about the screen, which is still one of the less-than-fantastic parts of the MacBook Air package, especially in comparison to everything else you’re being sold.

Like last year, this is a screen that still feels old in the grand scheme of things, displaying a resolution we’re honestly surprised Apple is still going with, sitting at 1440×900, marginally higher than the 1366×768 resolution we still see on some PC laptops of this size, though very few.

The screen is great when viewed dead on. And not so great when, well, not viewed dead on. Like last year.

The screen is great when viewed dead on. And not so great when, well, not viewed dead on. Like last year.

 

We wouldn’t be surprised if this was the same resolution Apple used on its MacBook Pro without the Retina, as this is much lower grade, with weak viewing angles, looking good dead on, usable to the left or right, and downright washed out from the top or bottom.

Sufficed to say, you won’t likely want to use this in close or cramped quarter because looking down at the screen, you won’t be able to see anything as the display washes out and inverts.

Reflections are also easily noticed, so make sure to find somewhere that isn’t too bright or reflective to work in, otherwise you might struggle to see what you’re doing.

You might find a few reflections here and there depending on where you are.

You might find a few reflections here and there depending on where you are.

Beyond these issues, the screen is still bright, still vibrant, but just nowhere near the impressive display seen on the MacBook Pro with Retina, which means it also isn’t in the same category of screen that will be gracing the recently announced MacBook with its super-thin Retina-class display.

And that makes us wonder: is the MacBook Air the new entry-level Apple laptop?

We think so, or we will when Apple decides to finally kill the optical drive altogether and remove the MacBook Pro without the Retina screen from its line-up, though this is a little less expensive than that model, too.

This image points out two features that are worth commenting on the MacBook Air, because you can clearly see the lack of quality in the screen, in stark comparison to the other MacBook computers available today, while the keyboard below it is still excellent.

This image points out two features that are worth commenting on the MacBook Air, because you can clearly see the lack of quality in the screen, in stark comparison to the other MacBook computers available today, while the keyboard below it is still excellent.

Conclusion

If thin and light are the main things you’re looking at when it comes to a computer, it’s hard to look past Apple’s 2015 MacBook Air, even if the screen needs a bit of work. It has the looks, a solid design, enough ports, and a battery life that we wish other machines in its class neared, and now it has a system that stay cool under pressure.

Next time, we’d really like to see a different screen, but if you don’t care, this is a computer worth considering.

Review: Apple MacBook Air 13 inch (2015)
Price (RRP): $1349; Apple's MacBook Air starts at $1249 for the 11 inch equivalent, and is $1349 (base model) for the 13 inch; Manufacturer: Apple
Still really thin and still really well built; Upgraded processor with impressive battery life; Very, very quiet;
Screen is still lacking in viewing angles and features a relatively mediocre resolution (or to put it another way, isn’t Retina); Misses out on those new Force trackpads; No HDMI port; 
Overall
Features
Value for money
Performance
Ease of Use
Design
4.4Overall Score
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