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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Beautiful Retina display
Slim, lightweight design
Speedy macOS experience
Solid battery life
Touch ID security is handy
Very stingy with ports
Not great for resource-intensive games/apps
No longer overlooked by Apple, the MacBook Air revival in 2018 was one of the best ultraportable laptops you could buy when it came out last year, and it still manages to hold up well today.
We purchased the Apple MacBook Air (2018) so our expert reviewer could thoroughly test and assess it. Keep reading for our full product review.
With its ultra-thin design, Apple's MacBook Air revolutionized the laptop space and quickly became a fan-favorite. However, as Apple implemented high-res Retina displays into its MacBook Pro line and launched the also-thin premium MacBook, the Air seemed almost forgotten—occasionally updated with newer components, but ultimately left with a dated screen and some confusion about its place in the Mac laptop ecosystem.
Thankfully, that changed in late 2018 with the introduction of the then-new MacBook Air. Keeping the slim profile while implementing a much-improved screen and other technological and feature upgrades, the 2018 MacBook Air keeps everything that was great about the original while making it a fully useful and competitive premium laptop for today.
It’s a year old now, and superseded to some extent by more recent upgrades, but even still the 2018 model is worth a look. Here's why.
The MacBook Air largely keeps the classic silhouette of the line, with a slim figure and a tapered design that's thickest near the hinge and ports and thinnest at the bottom where your wrists rest.
At 2.75 pounds, the MacBook Air is very light, yet doesn't feel flimsy or unsubstantial.
Machined entirely from recycled aluminum, the wedge-shaped laptop is svelte yet sturdy, coming across as a durable device that can survive at least a few years of steady usage. It's about a foot wide at 11.97 inches with a depth of 8.36 inches, and a thickness ranging between 0.16-0.61 inches. At 2.75 pounds, the MacBook Air is very light, yet doesn't feel flimsy or unsubstantial.
Apple's hyper-minimal MacBook allure remains fully intact with the current-gen Air, which is available in Silver, Space Grey, and Gold finishes and is solid aluminum on the outside with the reflective Apple logo in the middle. The recycled nature of the material doesn't have any effect on the actual feel of the laptop, as it's similar to the touch as other MacBooks we've handled. The plastic "feet" pads on the bottom of the MacBook Air aren't always successful at keeping the laptop securely in place on a surface, but that might be due to the lightweight, as well.
On the inside, you'll find Apple's latest keyboard, with third-generation butterfly switches that it swears are more effective than the traditional scissor-style mechanism. Previous versions have been controversial, however, as there have been many reports of them failing and requiring very expensive replacements. Apple has since launched a keyboard repair program for all MacBooks with butterfly-style keyboards, offering free repairs for any issues.
Our time spent with the MacBook Air's keyboard was strongly positive. The keys have minimal travel, which could take some getting used to if you're coming from a different laptop or an older MacBook, but they are consistently responsive all the same. They are a little bit clacky, however; this isn't one of the quietest laptop keyboards we've used of late. As for durability, we have no way of knowing whether the third-gen butterfly key revision will hold up over time, but at least you can rest assured that a free fix is available should you run into an issue.
There's a neat little addition in the upper right corner of the MacBook Air's keyboard too: a Touch ID security sensor. While Touch ID has been stricken from all current iPhone models, it lives on here as an easy way of bypassing the security screen when you open up the screen. Simply touch your registered finger on the pad and the computer will rapidly unlock. It was very responsive in our testing, and very convenient as well.
The MacBook Air's large trackpad sits below the keyboard. It’s a Force Touch trackpad that doesn't actually push inwards when you click it, even though it feels like it does. That's due to precise haptic feedback that sends a pulse to your finger, no matter where you press. As usual, Apple's trackpads are among the best around: super smooth and precise, with responsive multi-touch gestures and plenty of space to work with.
You get what you pay for with Apple devices: polished, impressive, and reliable hardware paired with useful and refined software.
Apple's new Air does get stingy with ports, however, offering just two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports on the left side of the laptop and a 3.5mm headphone port on the right. You'll use one of those USB-C ports for charging, and if you need to plug in any USB-A (the typical USB cable size) devices, then you'll need to buy an adapter. You might as well buy one with the computer, as you're sure to eventually need it. We've already used one for an external mouse and a gamepad.
The entry-level MacBook Air comes with a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD) for internal storage, but it can be upgraded to 256GB for extra cash. While 128GB isn't a huge amount of local storage to work with, it should be enough for most users in this streaming-centric media era.
Macs are consistently user-friendly computers, and that process starts from the moment you open the box. There's also not much in there: the MacBook Air itself, the 2-meter USB-C cable, and the 30W USB-C power adapter. Plug one end of the USB-C cable into the power adapter and plug that into the wall outlet, and then plug the other end of the cable into one of the MacBook Air's USB-C ports.
Press the small Touch ID button in the upper right corner of the keyboard to power on the laptop and follow the Setup Assistant's prompts. It's all very straightforward: you'll need a Wi-Fi connection and to either log into your Apple account or create a new one. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes to complete setup and begin using the MacBook Air.
The screen is easily the biggest selling point in the 2018 MacBook Air. The 13.3-inch LED Retina display panel is a high-resolution beauty, weighing in at a crisp 2560x1600 resolution for 227 pixels per inch. Flagship smartphone screens might be crisper, but you'll typically have your phone closer to your face. In typical usage, the Air's screen looks super sharp.
It's also a very vibrant panel, delivering vivid colours and very good black levels. At 400 nits, it's solidly bright but doesn't hit as high of peaks as some other laptops. The current MacBook Pro's display hits a higher level of 500 nits, for example, and it's a noticeable enhancement.
Note that the 2019 MacBook Air revision adds True Tone functionality to the display. That optional setting automatically matches the display's settings to the color temperature of your surroundings, making for what Apple calls a more natural viewing experience. It seems like a modest enhancement, albeit one that some users will surely appreciate.
The MacBook Air has a 1.6Ghz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor within, with a Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz for more demanding processing tasks, and 8GB RAM in the base model (upgradeable to 16GB). In the realm of $1,000 laptops, that's pretty modest in the grand scheme of things. Credit that to the ultra-thin design.
Even so, that's plenty of power for everyday tasks, such as surfing the web, chatting with friends, typing out documents, watching videos, and listening to music. MacOS Mojave is super speedy throughout, and we rarely experienced any slowdown when it came to our typical computing needs. Power users and creative types who need a laptop capable of handling heavy-duty image editing, layout work, and video editing will surely want to look to the MacBook Pro instead, which has more power in the base unit and can be significantly upgraded.
As you might expect, the MacBook Air also isn't a gaming beast, especially with an integrated Intel HD Graphics 617 GPU onboard. Firing up battle royale shooter sensation Fortnite, we were able to run the game decently at medium settings—but it got choppy once other players came into view, or when we made sudden camera movements. We had to trim down most settings to improve the situation, but truly competitive players won't want to game on the Air.
We were able to run Fortnite decently at medium settings—but it got choppy once other players came into view, or when we made sudden camera movements.
With raucous car-soccer game Rocket League, we had to remove nearly every visual effect to make the game smoothly playable. In both cases, the games looked and ran pretty similar to how they do on the Nintendo Switch: visually compromised, but still playable and fun. And whether playing 3D games or putting heavy strain on the CPU—such as with tackling massive downloads—you can expect the onboard fan to get very loud.
In benchmark testing, the gulf of power compared to other laptops in this price range becomes clear. Using Cinebench, we registered a score of 657—but pulled down 1,017 on the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 (higher is better) and 1,675 on the new 2019 MacBook Pro (both entry-level configurations). That's a huge difference with the MacBook Pro, especially, and it shows just how much more power you can get by spending $200 more and adding a smidge more bulk by going Pro.
Slim as it might be, the MacBook Air packs a punch from its stereo speaker grates located to the left and right of the keyboard. They're tiny little pinhole openings, but the collective effect of the sound pumping out of all of them is really impressive. It sounds full and clear, and can get extremely loud if you please. Compared to Apple's MacBooks from just a few years ago, it's a significant improvement.
The MacBook Air can connect to both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi networks, and turned out typical speed results on a home Wi-Fi network. We saw about 34Gbps download and 10Gbps upload during one test, which were almost exactly the same speeds we measured on a OnePlus 7 Pro smartphone connected to the same home network a moment later.
As with most laptops, Apple's claims of all-day battery life prowess don't exactly translate to real-world usage. Apple estimates 12 hours of wireless web usage on a full charge, but in our typical everyday workflow—surfing the web, typing out articles, a smidge of image editing and YouTube viewing, and listening to streaming music—we typically saw 6 to 6.5 hours at max brightness. Trim down the brightness and you can eke out some more uptime, but 12 hours seems like a stretch under any reasonable conditions.
As with most laptops, Apple's claims of all-day battery life prowess don't exactly translate to real-world usage.
In our intensive video rundown test, we constantly streamed a Netflix movie at full brightness as the battery drained from 100 percent to nothing, and the MacBook Air lasted for exactly 5 hours, 30 minutes. If you're watching a locally-saved video offline—like when traveling—then you should be able to eke out a lot more battery life, and brightness matters too. For example, we ran a downloaded iTunes movie at 50 percent brightness for 4 full hours and still had 80 percent of the charge left.
No matter how close some Windows PC makers get with their Apple-esque hardware, none of them can offer what the Mac can: the macOS experience. We can't offer a clear-cut answer on whether macOS is better overall than Windows 10; a lot of it is subjective and depends on what you're used to, as well as what you're looking to do with your device.
Apple's advantages typically come with the clean design and user-friendly navigation, as well as the wealth of bundled software—with included apps like Pages, GarageBand, and iMovie. Macs have far fewer security and malware struggles compared to Windows PCs, plus if you have an iPhone and other Apple devices, the ease of compatibility with Mac is surely a selling point. On the other hand, Macs have a fraction of the noteworthy games available on Windows PCs, and PC-centric VR headsets are still just for Windows.
The MacBook Air is the cheapest Mac laptop around, especially if you can find it on sale, but that’s still not very cheap. $999 starting price on Amazon puts the MacBook Air into premium laptop territory, and you can get a similar-quality PC for potentially hundreds of dollars less—and decent, lower-level Windows laptops can be found for a few hundred bucks.
But you get what you pay for with Apple devices: polished, impressive, and reliable hardware paired with useful and refined software. Apple makes all of it, and the end result feels like a cohesive experience. That's not always the case with Windows laptops, although there certainly are some great ones out there. And in our experience, MacBooks last and last for years: the proof is in the fact that we still recommend the 2018 model.
Microsoft's Surface Laptop 2 is a fine example of a great Windows laptop in a similar ballpark of pricing and capabilities. The base model comes with a 13.5-inch touch screen that's a little less crisp than the Air's, but pretty close overall (and taller too), plus it has an Intel Core i5 processor and Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU that collectively both beat the Air in benchmark tests and turn out improved game performance, as well.
There are design differences between the two: the Surface Laptop 2 isn't quite as hyper-minimal as the MacBook Air, but the fuzzy Alcantara surface around the keyboard is a neat touch. The Surface Laptop 2 offers a bit more battery life too, and otherwise, these devices are pretty close in capabilities. Microsoft's laptop starts at $999, but we've seen it in the $799-899 range whereas Apple's devices rarely see significant discounts. If you're not married to the idea of a Mac, the Surface Laptop 2 is a comparable device with a bit more power, and one that might save you some solid cash as well.
Air to the throne.
As an everyday, ultraportable computer for basic tasks, the MacBook Air is another Apple gem. It's svelte and speedy with a beautiful screen, and the modest processor here does a fine job of running macOS and handling things like web browsing, writing, and viewing media. It's not a powerhouse, however, and the MacBook Pro delivers loads more power and capabilities at just a $200 bump. If you want a premium computer but don't think you'll need one capable of heavy lifting and don’t want to splurge on the 2019 model, the MacBook Air (2018) is an excellent option.
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