2018 MacBook Air review roundup: A beautifully big improvement

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MacBook Air 2018
The original ultraportable is back with a bang.
Photo: Apple

The long-awaited MacBook Air update sports an all-new design and more powerful internals, but early reviews indicate there’s still room for improvement.

It’s also the most expensive MacBook Air to date. So, should you spend $1,199 on it when it lands in stores this week? Here’s what the first 2018 MacBook Air reviews have to say.

2018 MacBook Air reviews roundup

Packed with new features like a Retina display and Touch ID, the 2018 MacBook Air finally arrives Wednesday. It’s thinner than ever before, and most reviews indicate it’s a fantastic upgrade.

The new MacBook Air is a stunner

Apple didn’t pack newer internals into the MacBook Air’s aging chassis to keep costs low. This year’s model ships with an all-new design that’s thinner than ever before. It comes with a glossy glass display, the latest butterfly keyboard, and a larger trackpad.

The look has been well-received by reviewers, but it has its downsides.

“This laptop feels a lot nicer than the old MacBook Air,” writes Dieter Bohn for The Verge. “It fits the same size screen in a smaller body, but it’s not as thin or as light as the thinnest and lightest of laptops you can get today. When the first Air came out, it amazed everybody. This one, though very well-built, does not stand out from the pack when it comes to size or weight.”

MacBook Air 2018
The new MacBook Air looks simply stunning.
Photo: Apple

“The 2018 model is somehow thinner and lighter than the first MacBook Air, with a slightly shrunken footprint,” writes Lauren Goode for Wired. “It’s the sushi knife of laptops, honed on one side and impeccably precise. The Air is still made of aluminum, but Apple has made a point to say that this new chassis is made of 100 percent recycled aluminum.”

“The second I opened the MacBook Air box in the office, my colleagues all gathered around and attempted to slide it into purses and backpacks,” writes Todd Haselton for CNBC. “I love the brushed aluminum metal body, which makes it feel more premium and more rock-solid than other laptops on the market. There’s barely any flexing or bending.”

There’s one big thing reviewers don’t like about the MacBook Air’s new look, though: the lack of connectivity. Just like the MacBook and MacBook Pro, the new Air does away with MagSafe, USB-A ports, and an SD card reader and replaces them with USB-C ports. (There are two USB-C ports in this case.)

2018 MacBook Air
Only two USB-C ports remain.
Photo: Apple

Fortunately, you do still get a headphone jack, which is slowly but surely disappearing from all of Apple’s iOS devices.

MacBook Air performance is … OK

The new MacBook Air is powered by the latest eighth-generation processors from Intel, but they’re mobile Y-Series chips as opposed to the desktop-class U-Series chips found in the MacBook Pro. They also have just two processing cores.

The updated Core i5 CPU certainly makes the MacBook Air faster than its predecessor, but for a $1,199 machine, performance can be a little disappointing at times.

“This new MacBook Air is faster than the old MacBook Air, but not by the kind of margin you’d expect after three years,” Bohn explains. “I have been running a half-dozen apps at a time along with more than a dozen tabs in Chrome, and everything is pretty okay. I think for what most people will do with this laptop, it’s fine.”

MacBook Air 2018 open
The new MacBook Air packs Apple’s latest butterfly keyboard.
Photo: Apple

“If you want more power, seriously consider upgrading to the Pro,” writes Brian Heater for TechCrunch. “The new silicon is plenty zippy for most users’ daily tasks, but if you need more out of your system — be it for gaming or resource-intensive tasks like video edit — it’s worth the jump to the Pro.”

“I once bought and returned the smaller MacBook, because it comes with a less powerful processor that slugged when I had too many browser tabs and apps open. The MacBook Air doesn’t have that issue,” says Haselton. “However, if you want to do professional video editing, you may want to consider Apple’s MacBook Pros which have more muscle under the hood.”

“If you’re someone who builds graphics, edits 4K videos, or processes large photos for a living, the Air isn’t going to cut it,” says Goode. “It will, however, handle 15 to 20 browser tabs at once, let you edit photos in Lightroom without any hiccups, and keep ten apps running smoothly at once.”

The MacBook Air finally offers a Retina display

For a lot of MacBook Air fans, by far the biggest improvement this year is the introduction of a Retina display. It’s beautifully sharp and colorful. And while some say it could be brighter, all agree it makes Apple’s ultraportable infinitely better.

“The display is, as advertised, a massive upgrade over the last model,” writes Heater. “It’s big and bright, with a nice color balance…. It’s an immediately apparent upgrade — there’s a reason so many Air owners have been holding out for the addition.”

2018 MacBook Air
The Retina display brings a huge improvement.
Photo: Apple

“The display on the new MacBook Air is what stands out most,” adds Goode. “It’s not a touchscreen — Apple appears to believe putting a touchscreen on a laptop will summon the devil — but the display is so rich-looking that you kind of want to touch it anyway.”

“It’s sharp and beautiful under a glossy pane of glass, with much smaller bezels,” says Bohn. “Those bezels are not as tiny as what you can get on some Windows laptops, but it’s still a massive improvement over the old Air. There is one knock on the screen, though: it doesn’t get as bright as I would like.”

The MacBook Air’s much-improved speakers also impressed reviewers. Coupled with the new display, the enhanced audio offers a compelling multimedia experience.

The MacBook Air takes a step up in security

Not only does the new MacBook Air pack Apple’s T2 chip under the hood, but it’s combined with a Touch ID sensor that lets you log in with your fingerprint. And it works just as well here as it does on the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar — but it’s no Face ID.

“I appreciate the speed, but I wish Apple included its Face ID technology above the screen instead,” says Haselton. “I’m used to it on my iPhone XS Max, and there seems to be plenty of room above the display to fit the cameras required. Touch ID feels outdated, since Apple has already moved away from it on its iPads and iPhones.”

2018 MacBook Air Touch ID
Touch ID makes all the difference.
Photo: Apple

“The fingerprint sensor is quick and responsive, and works well both with Apple apps and third-party apps like 1Password,” says Goode. “The Air doesn’t include any kind of face-recognition technology, which many newer Windows laptops include. We’re getting to the point where not having facial bio-authentication in tech products could lose you points.”

“In the long run, the company may have done the Touch Bar a bit of a disservice by consciously uncoupling Touch ID, but for the Air, it was the ideal decision, bringing its most useful feature without driving up the price in the process,” writes Heater.

2018 MacBook Air: The verdict

The 2018 MacBook Air is a huge improvement, but it seems there’s room for more. If you really need an Air and that’s what you’re used to using, you’ll probably be very happy with the $1,199 purchase. But if you expected a tiny powerhouse, you may wind up a little disappointed.

“If you were hoping that lightning would strike twice and this new MacBook Air would be as revolutionary as the old MacBook Air, well, it’s not,” concludes Bohn. “It’s basically a MacBook that finally includes all of the stuff that has been happening with laptops for the past few years. It is on par with the rest of the laptop world, but it hasn’t moved beyond it.”

“Apple has heard the calls for a newer, better MacBook Air, and it has answered,” adds Goode. “But one might get the sneaking suspicion, as she stares at the gorgeous, liquid-looking display of this new machine, that such a laptop could have arrived two years ago. Or more. The new MacBook Air is not pure innovation; it’s an incantation composed to make you think it is.”

“People like me have been turned off by the lower-powered, small and more expensive MacBook,” writes Haselton, “and I don’t need the power or want to pay the higher price of the MacBook Pro. This sits right in the middle, and gives consumers almost everything they loved about earlier MacBook Airs, but with a beautiful new display and improved performance.”

Are you planning to pick up the new MacBook Air this week?