Long-term review: Apple's newest MacBook Air continues to impress

With some judicious power management, you can exceed 10 hours on battery

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One option you don't get is the possibility of a Retina display. Those super-high-resolution screens are still only available in the MacBook Pro line, which is too bad. Even so, the screen is very nice, very bright and well-saturated. I'm sure most buyers won't see that as a deal-breaker.

Unboxing the Air

Inside the box, you won't find much except the laptop itself, a 45W power adapter and the AC wall plug and cord. As with the previous model, there's no Ethernet port or optical drive, so if you can't survive on Wi-Fi connectivity alone, you'll need to get a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter for $29. And if you still use CDs or DVDs, you'll need an external drive; the Apple-made external SuperDrive sells for $79.

All Air cases are built of aluminum using Apple's unibody design for the main enclosure and display housing, meaning they were cut from a single block of aluminum. The result is a laptop that doesn't flex, creak or bend under its own weight -- even when lifted from any of the corners. The fit and finish in the construction is noticeably top notch. This device feels as expensive as it looks, and a latch-less, magnetic mechanism snaps the lid shut and keeps it there until a gentle pry opens the clamshell and wakes the computer.

Like other Apple laptops, the Air also comes with the now-familiar glass-coated trackpad. Im still a big fan of the trackpad, and Im not sure why Apple doesnt have all of the gesture motions it allows turned on by default. Sure, advanced users will just go into the System Preferences and turn them on, but I think most people using the Air now are accustomed to touch. Having the swiping motions available for use right of the box makes sense.

Speed improvements

Waking is virtually instantaneous, the obvious result of an operating system and hardware designed to work well together. There wasn't a single time during my three weeks with this Air that OS X wasn't awake from sleep and ready for input by the time the screen was set in place.

The improved read times from the PCIe flash-based storage have much to do with this. I found that the Air surpassed the write speeds of my mid-2012 Retina MacBook Pro -- still Apple's high-end model -- and was nearly twice as fast as my laptop on disk read tests. The MacBook Pro, which sports a Core i7 chip, had read/write values of 457.1MBps and 414.5MBps, respectively. The MacBook Air had read/write values of 442.3MBps and 723.6MBps. Both laptops were tested using Disk Speed Test.

The megahertz wars are more or less over since chip speeds alone don't really reflect real-world performance. But to tell you the truth, after using the machine for a few days, I was pretty surprised that the Air was equipped with a basic 1.3GHz Core i5. This computer ran all of my apps without hesitation (in other words, there were no instances of the Spinning Beach Ball), including a virtual copy of Windows XP in Parallels running multiple apps. The processor is actually clocked at 500MHz lower than the original 2008 Air, yet, it performed admirably under stressful conditions, never hesitating or choking during use while delivering excellent battery life.

Mind. Blown.

MacBook Air Disk Speed results
Credit the MacBook Air's PCIe flash storage for faster write speeds than a Retina MacBook Pro and even faster disk read test results.
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