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MacBook Air 2018: hands-on with Apple’s new ultra-thin laptop

MacBook Air 2018: hands-on with Apple’s new ultra-thin laptop


This is the MacBook most people should get

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Apple has finally unveiled a long-awaited revamp of the MacBook Air, replacing the influential but outdated laptop with a new model that adds a high-resolution Retina display, USB-C, and Touch ID. The laptop strongly resembles the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro that was released two years ago, but the design has been tweaked with a subtle taper to make it a bit smaller and to more closely resemble the iconic Air.

The laptop was unveiled onstage at the Howard Gilman Opera House in Brooklyn, and Apple brought us out into a demo area to check out the new machines. It really does look a lot like a MacBook Pro, but the taper makes a huge difference in the overall feel of the device. I can fully understand why Apple just went for it and called this a MacBook Air — because that’s what it feels like.

But you’re here to learn about the screen, so I’ll just tell you that it’s great — at least compared to the old MacBook Air. It’s not True Tone, but it is a full Retina Display with the same resolution as the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The smaller bezels make a big difference in making the computer more portable, but it doesn’t feel cramped like the smaller MacBook sometimes can. The bezels are black, and the whole thing is a glossy glass now, which might annoy some people, but that’s most laptops these days. Bottom line: it’s pretty much on par with the screens on the MacBook Pros from what I can see.

The keyboard is Apple’s “3rd generation,” which is another way of saying that it has super minimal key travel but is a little bit quieter and (hopefully) a little more dust-resistant than older MacBook Pros. It’s also been fine-tuned to try and fix some of the big issues that plagued the initial and follow-up runs of MacBook Pros over the last two years. It’s still pretty clacky sounding, though, but I’ll need to take it into a quiet room (no easy feat right now) to really see how it sounds. It’s still a polarizing design, even this many years in, but I don’t think that’s a reason not to upgrade.

Build quality is top notch, as you’d expect. The device, like the new Mac mini, is now made of 100 percent recycled aluminum, a first for Apple’s laptop line. The lid opens with a single finger to reveal the massive touchpad, which is Force Touch now. I’m glad there are two USB-C ports, both Thunderbolt-enabled, but I am just a little sad that MagSafe is truly dead now. Overall, the trade-off is worth it, I think, but you are probably going to need to buy some dongles. There’s a headphone jack, too, which is a thing that I have to mention simply because it’s not a given anymore.

I didn’t get a chance to test out Touch ID, but I’m pleased to see that Apple figured out that it was the best part of the Touch Bar MacBook Pros, and it bought just it and the T2 chip over. It’s a lot more button-like than what you’ll find on a MacBook Pro.

This has been a long time coming for Apple. The MacBook Air hasn’t seen a redesign in eight years. But that last redesign in 2010, propelled the laptop into a class-leading position and forced every other PC manufacturer to play catch-up with ultra-thin designs of their own. In time, they did. And as laptops began switching to high-res displays with touchscreens and novel form factors over the past five or so years, the Air began to look more and more like it was stuck in time.

Apple hasn’t been entirely sitting still. In the time since, it’s released the even tinier MacBook and a slimmed-down MacBook Pro. But those two laptops have started at $1,299, whereas the Air was able to make such a dent by starting at $999. This new model doesn’t quite hit that low price — it starts at $1,199 — but the MacBook Air didn’t get that low with its very first models, either.

At that price, the Air comes with a 1.6GHz Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. It can be specced up to 16GB of RAM and a 1.5TB SSD, and all models include Intel’s 8th Gen processors. We’ll do a fuller price breakdown and comparison to other laptops soon, but my initial impression is that while I think this machine is worth $1,199, I still wonder if that’s too high of an entry price. But the only real way to know the answer to that question is to wait to see how it sells.

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Correction: an earlier version of this article misstated the clock speed of the base model’s processor. It is 1.6GHz. We regret the error.