Apple 13-inch MacBook Air review (early 2015)
Processor: Dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U, RAM: 4GB, Size: 325x227x17mm, Weight: 1.4kg, Screen size: 13.3in, Screen resolution: 1,440x900, Graphics adaptor: Intel HD Graphics 6000, Total storage: 256GB SSD
The 13-inch MacBook Air hasn’t changed a lot in the last few years, with only a processor swap really defining each subsequent model. While it's possible to argue that changing a winning formula is foolish, the market has become more competitive than ever, and a laptop costing a hair under £1,000 really has to prove its worth.
DESIGN AND BUILD
Keeping the chassis design the same is one piece of consistency we can't really complain about. The aluminium shell is as light (1.4kg) and as thin (17mm) as ever, and this is a large part of what makes the MacBook Air such a desirable laptop. The tapering edges make the front end just a couple of millimetres thick, making it a genuinely attractive and impressive piece of kit.
The keyboard is unchanged from last year’s model, keeping the same black, island-style keys. Response is lively and there’s a reasonable amount of travel. As always, Apple has managed to provide one of the best laptop keyboards there is, and it’s easy to type quickly and fast with this laptop.
The touchpad is also unchanged, meaning it doesn’t benefit from Apple’s new Force Touch hardware. That’s not to say the old touchpad is bad; it’s still incredibly responsive and is as yet unmatched by even the best touchpads on Windows-based laptops, but we’d have liked the new technology here.
As with last year’s model, you get the best in wireless with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4. There’s no Ethernet port, although you can buy a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adaptor for £25 of a USB3 adaptor for £17 if you need to connect to a wired network.
Other than wired networking you get all the ports you’d expect from an ultraportable laptop, with two USB3 ports, a 3.5mm headset jack, SDXC card reader and a Thunderbolt 2 port. Thunderbolt 2 is new for 2015, with 20GBps of bandwidth available to devices instead of 10GBps. This is enough to work with 4K video files from an external hard disk, but if you have such enormous performance demands the more powerful MacBook Pro makes more sense.
PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE
Don’t be mistaken, though, the 2015 13in MacBook Air is no slouch. It has a dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U processor, which while not exactly potent, is still able to carry you through modest tasks with relative ease. Web browsing, document editing and light photo editing certainly aren’t beyond the reach of this machine, although the latter will be a trifle slower if you’re working with large images. We recorded results of 72, 49 and 33 in our image editing, video conversion and multitasking benchmarks respectively, with an overall score of 45. If you want a bit more performance, the 2.2GHz Core i7 chip costs an extra £130.
The fifth-generation Broadwell processors are all incredibly power efficient. The MacBook Air lasted an incredible 16h 34m when scrolling through a web page and playing a 10-minute HD video every half hour. If you don’t always have ready access to a charger, this is one perk that’s hard to replicate with the MacBook Pro.
Gaming performance is fairly capable, with the integrated Intel HD Graphics 6000 producing an average frame rate of 27fps in our 1,280x720 Dirt Showdown benchmark. If you’re happy to turn down your graphics settings and resolution, light gaming is well within the MacBook Air's reach.
The model we had on test was a little short of RAM; 4GB of LPDDR3 SDRAM is the minimum we’d expect from a laptop costing this much, and you may find yourself running low if you have lots of browser tabs, documents and emails on the go all at once. You can upgrade to 8GB at purchase for £80, but the RAM is soldered onto the board so you can't add more later. Once you've made a choice you'll need to stick with it.