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 and always seems to be a bit of a constant, with only the occasional processor swap every time a new model is released. Of course, it's entirely possible to argue that changing a winning formula is foolish, the market has become considerably more competitive than ever, and a laptop costing a hair under £1,000 really has to prove its worth.
DESIGN AND BUILD
Unsurprisingly, there's no change in the chassis design here, and it's the one piece of consistency we can't exactly complain about. The aluminium shell is as light (1.4kg) and as thin (17mm) as ever, and is a large part of what makes the MacBook Air such a desirable laptop. This is designed to take up as little space as possible, and yet again, Apple has succeeded. The tapering edges also help make the front end just a couple of millimetres thick, resulting in a genuinely attractive and impressive piece of kit.
The keyboard itself is also largely unchanged from the model we saw last year, keeping the same black, island-style keys. Keyboard Responsiveness is lively and there’s a reasonable amount of travel here too. 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.
Something that comes as a surprise, though, is that the touchpad is also unchanged too, meaning it sadly doesn’t benefit from Apple’s new Force Touch hardware. Of course, that’s not really to say the old touchpad is terrible; it’s still incredibly responsive and I feel is as yet unmatched by even the best touchpads on Windows-based laptops, yet it would have been welcome to incorparate the new technology.
As was the case with last year’s model, you get the best in terms of connectivity, with wireless 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4. It's worth pointing out there’s no Ethernet port here, although you can buy a Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet adaptor for £25 or a USB3 adaptor for £17 if you need to connect to a wired network. The lack of ethernet port is certainly a deal breaker for some, but the option of buying adaptors should help ease the pain a bit.
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 brand new for 2015, with twice the amount of bandwidth available to devices, bumping from 10GBps to 20GBps. In short, this is more than enough to work with 4K video files from an external hard disk, but if you have such enormous performance demands I feel the more powerful MacBook Pro would make a bit more sense here.
PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE
Don’t be mistaken, though, the 2015 13in MacBook Air is no couch potato. While the dual-core 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U processor, which while not exactly all that robust, is still perfectly decent and should be able to get you through most modest tasks with relative ease. General web browsing, document editing and the occasional bit of photo editing certainly aren’t exactly beyond the reach of this machine, although the latter will be a little bit more sluggish if you’re working with large images for instance. With results of 72, 49 and 33 in our image editing, video conversion and multitasking benchmarks respectively and an overall score of 45, performance is pretty average and didn't exactly wow us. If you're wanting that little bit more in terms of performance, the 2.2GHz Core i7 chip only costs an extra £130, so it's worth factoring that in.
The fifth-generation Broadwell processors are all also very power efficient. Something we were very impressed by was that 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 or plug socket, this is one perk that’s hard to replicate with the MacBook Pro.
Gaming performance is capable at best, 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, the occasional bit of light gaming is well within the MacBook Air's reach.
The model we were sent to test was a little lacking in terms 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. Thankfully, you can upgrade to 8GB at purchase for an extra hefty £80, but the RAM is soldered onto the board so you can't add more later. Make sure to make the right choice, because once it's made, you'll have to stick with it.