The MacBook Air was in a weird place for a long time. It was stuck with the same design for years, and only featured 5th-generation Intel Core processors – several generations behind the MacBook Pro and MacBook. However, even though it’s since been replaced by the MacBook Air 2018, the MacBook Air 2017 is still the cheapest way to get into macOS Mojave on a laptop.
This isn’t the fastest MacBook on the block. But, the MacBook Air 2017 is still fast enough to handle most everyday tasks. Whether you’re surfing the internet, doing some word processing or even light photo editing, you’ll find a lot to love with the MacBook Air 2017.
The MacBook Air 2017 may just be one of the best laptops for anyone trying to break into the macOS ecosystem without emptying their savings account – especially when those Cyber Monday deals hit. It may be a little old, but most everyday users will find a lot to love here.
Price and availability
While the model sent to us was a maxed out MacBook Air with the highest specs you could get at the time of its original writing, it currently comes in a wide range of different configurations.
The MacBook Air 2017 still starts at the relatively low price of $999 (£949, AU$1,499), but you’re looking at a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD space for that price. This means the MacBook Air is still the most affordable way to get macOS on a laptop, even before the Cyber Monday Apple deals.
If you want to beef the MacBook Air up, you can upgrade the processor to a 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 processor and a 512GB SSD for a pretty penny more. For that configuration, you’re looking at a price of $1,549 (£1,384, AU$2,339).
That’s more than what the MacBook Pro starts out at for a frankly older set of components (the MacBook Air has a 5th-generation Intel Core processor as opposed to the MacBook Pro’s 8th-gen chip). Frankly, compared to most modern laptops, the MacBook Air is woefully out of date, but it may still be worth it for anyone that needs long battery life and a ton of storage.
For the most part, the MacBook Air pretty much looks the same as it has since 2010, and there don’t appear to be any changes in tow, either. That’s a shame, especially because we’re starting to see a ton of bezel-less laptops with smaller footprints and high-resolution displays that put the MacBook Air in its place.
Forget the Dell XPS 13‘s physics-defying InfinityEdge display, which is light years ahead – even Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, once seen as slightly tubby compared to the Air, has a smaller footprint and takes up slightly less space on your lap.
The MacBook Air is also easy to clean – just get a damp cloth. If there’s one drawback, it’s that the aluminum body is easy to scratch, which can leave permanent black marks, so you may want to buy a sleeve or a skin if you’re going to carry it around.
At the end of the day, the old ‘if it ain’t broke’ mantra applies – at least to a point. The MacBook Air’s aluminum unibody design, which supports the main enclosure and the display, is as durable as ever. Its lid can be easily raised with a single finger and doesn’t droop in any position, and you have to press really hard to detect flex on the machine’s base or lid.
Bill Thomas and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this review
The 13-inch MacBook Air is more interesting than the 11-inch model due to housing flash storage twice as fast as its predecessor – or so Apple claims. It’s available in two configurations starting at £849 ($999, AUS$1,399) for a 1.8GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.9GHz) Core i5 CPU, 128GB of flash memory and 8GB of RAM.
We reviewed the top-spec early 2015 model, starting at £999 ($1,199/AUS$1,699) and netting you a 1.6GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz) CPU, 4GB of RAM and 256GB of flash memory. Our unit had been further configured to ship with 8GB of RAM which, at the time added £80 (around $124, or AUS$170) to the total cost.
That price makes the 13-inch MacBook Air more expensive than the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina (early 2015), which also starts at £999 ($1,199/AUS$1,699). Price is no longer a differentiator, so which one you go for depends on a few factors that will be explored in this review.
- CPU: 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz) with 3MB shared L3 cache
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 6000
- RAM: 8GB 1600MHz DDR3
- Screen: 13.3-inch, LED-backlit glossy widescreen display (1440 x 900)
- Storage: 256GB PCIe-based flash storage (configurable to 512GB flash storage)
- Optical Drive: Not included
- Ports: Two USB 3.0 ports (up to 5Gbps); Thunderbolt 2 port (up to 20Gbps); MagSafe 2 power port; SDXC card slot
- Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology
- Camera: 720p FaceTime HD camera
- Weight: 1.35kg (2.96 pounds)
- Size: 32.5 x 22.7 x 1.7 cm (W x D x H)
One advantage of the MacBook Air versus the 12-inch MacBook is its wider selection of ports. On the left-hand side is a MagSafe 2 connector for power, one USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack. On the right is a Thunderbolt 2 port, another USB 3.0 port and a full-sized SDcard slot. The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro doubles the number of Thunderbolt ports compared to the Air, and adds HDMI.
macOS Sierra is the version currently shipping with Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air. It doesn’t divert too much from the visual style of its predecessor, OS X 10.11 El Capitan, but it does introduce a range of new features such as Siri, Continuity between your Mac and iOS devices and Apple Pay for expediting online purchases.
macOS Sierra has since been succeeded by macOS High Sierra and then macOS Mojave, though you’ll have to download and install it yourself – for free, of course. Luckily, macOS Mojave brings a wealth of improvements to the MacBook Air, like a Dark Mode, a more detailed Preview window and speed improvements.
That said, given that you don’t have to pay for it, macOS High Sierra is probably worth the 4.8GB hit to your data cap for the also-new Apple File System (APFS) alone. The new 64-bit file system brings native encryption and faster metadata operations to the table, making the MacBook Air quicker to use as a result.
For now, macOS Sierra ships with Apple’s own iWork and iLife apps, including a modernized look for Garageband.
In addition to:
- App Store
- Photo Booth
- Time Machine
Manufactured on the 14nm fabrication process, the 13-inch MacBook Air’s Broadwell CPU is a die shrink of Intel’s 22nm Haswell chip. It means better battery life versus last year’s MacBook Air models, although the gains aren’t on the same scale as the switch from Ivy Bridge to Haswell. Still, battery life was staggering, clocking up more than 13 hours when looping a 1080p video over Wi-Fi.
- Cinebench R15 Single Core: 103cb cb; Multi Core: 255 cb
- Cinebench R15 OpenGL: 24.91fps
- Geek bench 3 Single Core: 2,873; Multi Core: 5,768
- Xbench (CPU and disk): 469.55
- NovaBench (Overall): 634; Graphics: 42
- Unigine Heaven 4.0 (Medium); FPS: 14.4; Overall: 438
- Blackmagic Disk Speed test: Write average: 612.4 Mbps; Read average: 1302.4 Mbps
- Battery, streaming 1080p video via Wi-Fi: 13 hours and 24 minutes
Broadwell brings performance gains too, even if they’re nothing to shout about. The MacBook Air scored 5,768 on Geekbench 3’s Multi Core CPU test, representing a 9% gain over the 13-inch Air from 2014. However, it proved 20% slower than the 2.7GHz Core i5 chip in the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina, which is to be expected considering that machine’s faster clock speed.
Apple claims that the storage in the 2015 MacBook Air is twice as fast as the 2014 version – and that stands up. The MacBook Air averaged write speeds of 612.4 Mbps, and average read speeds of 1,243 Mbps, which gives the MacBook Air storage speeds comparable to the MacBook Pro for the first time.
The MacBook Pro with Retina’s Iris Graphics 6100 proved 38% faster than the MacBook Air’s HD Graphics 6000 in Unigine Heaven 4.0’s benchmark. That said, Intel’s decision to allocate die space to graphics on the CPU has been paying off for some time, and the MacBook Air is capable of playing a wide selection of games on low-medium settings with the resolution dialled down – especially when installed on a Windows partition using Boot Camp.
The MacBook Air pulled out 60 fps at 1,440 x 900 with the graphics on Medium, while Skyrim managed the high 50’s played at the same resolution with low graphics settings. However, if you intend to play some games with the MacBook Air, you’ll want to pick up one of the best gaming headsets, as the speakers here are tinny and unsatisfying. Apple managed to squeeze an impressive amount of low and mid-range tones into the 12-inch MacBook’s speakers, but the MacBook Air has yet to utilize this tech.
If the MacBook Air’s consistency of design can start to get old, we’re happy that the keyboard remains unchanged on the 2015 MacBook Air. It’s slightly convex keys are the best we’ve ever used on a computer, and that includes the new Macbook, Lenovo’s ThinkPad notebooks and even Logitech’s well-regarded Mac keyboards. Even the MacBook Pro’s keys, which are pretty great, feel stiff in comparison. The keyboard is also backlit and easy to clean.
The MacBook Air’s trackpad is just as impressive, providing a smooth gliding action that makes executing OS X’s trackpad commands a breeze. It’s just a shame that Apple didn’t carry over the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Force Touch Trackpad – it’s once again regular two-button clicking action for owners of Apple’s slimmer machine.
Apple’s decision to put a 480p camera in the 12-inch MacBook was a poor one, and thankfully it hasn’t followed suited with the MacBook Air. At 720p it’s up to the task of Skype and Google Hangout sessions, producing sufficiently clear and defined images.
The 2015 edition of the MacBook Air, in short, remains a fantastic laptop held back by a shortage of noteworthy changes. This lack of substantial improvements is disappointing to say the least, but it’s gratifying nevertheless to see Apple continue to support one of its most iconic products. Over a decade later, the MacBook Air may still very well be the best version of the MacBook to date.
Not only does the MacBook Air boast favorable performance given the age of its guts, but the fact that it can go over 13 hours without charging is virtually unprecedented. In fact, there isn’t any modern MacBook that comes close. We’re equally proud of the legacy ports on deck, complemented by SSD speeds that bring double the trouble.
Its battery life may be the only way the MacBook Air has deviated from the norm. In terms of design, it hardly differs from the MacBook Air we’ve known since 2010. This reluctance to change will surely have some Apple users turning their heads to Windows, while those too loyal to make the switch will gladly shell out a couple hundred bucks more on a 12-inch MacBook.
Much faster storage and a better performing processor/graphics combo make the 2015 13-inch MacBook Air a technically better machine than its predecessor. However, unless you really want those gains, it may not be worth the upgrade. That’s especially true considering the absence of more modern features – like the MacBook Pro’s Force Touch Trackpad and Thunderbolt 3.
Elsewhere, it’s business as usual: while the MacBook Pro with Retina is faster than the Air and packs more features, Apple’s lighter machine is no slouch. And, while the Retina model is chunkier than the Air, it’s not a great deal heavier and has a smaller footprint. With both machines residing in the same price bracket, the deciding factor is more likely to be how prepared you are to put up with the MacBook Air’s outdated display.