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MacBook Air 13 inch 2014 review

Andy Vandervell

By

Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR
MacBook Air 13 inch 2014

Summary

Our Score:

9

User Score:

Pros

  • 12+ hours of battery life
  • Timeless design
  • Great touchpad
  • Cool, quiet and fast

Cons

  • Screen is very average

Key Features

  • 13.3-inch, 1,440 x 900 screen
  • 1.35kg
  • 128GB or 256GB SSD
  • 1.4GHz Intel Core i5
  • 4GB RAM
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • Mini DisplayPort / Thunderbolt 2.0
  • Memory card reader
  • 720p FaceTime camera
  • Manufacturer: Apple
  • Review Price: £850.00

What is the 13-inch MacBook Air 2014?

It's an exceedingly light update on the 2013 MacBook Air. Apple has given the 2014 MacBook Air a small processor speed bump, from 1.3GHz to 1.4GHz, but the design, screen and basic features remain exactly the same. The only other technical improvement is a claimed 12 hours battery life, up from 10 hours last year, added to the fact each version is now £100 cheaper than before with the 13-inch starting at £850.

Is this enough for the MacBook Air to continue as the gold standard of ultraportable laptops, or is the lack of the much-demanded improved screen update a black mark too far? It's an argument that will doubtless rage on for a while, but the MacBook Air's quality still remains hard to argue with.

2014 MacBook Air 12

13-inch MacBook Air 2014: Design & Features

We're not going to waste much time here because there's nothing much to report apart from it's the same, and that's fine. The basic design of the MacBook Air hasn't changed for several years, but we're yet to see a rival conclusively beat it. It's a timeless piece of design.

Nothing illustrates this better than the large, glass-surface touchpad, which has spawned many (often poor imitators). It remains one of the best things about all Mac laptops, where its size, friction-free surface and neat gesture support make using the MacBook Air very enjoyable. The backlit keyboard, by comparison, is just quietly excellent. Usual Mac / Windows differences aside (don't ask where the '#' key is), it has a great layout and it's very nice to type on.

Connectivity is, as ever, basic, with two USB 3.0 ports joined by a DisplayPort / Thunderbolt 2.0 port and a memory card slot. It's just enough to get by and that's about it. Inside, meanwhile, you get Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which is as much as you can ask for and should keep you future proof for several years to come.

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2014 MacBook Air

13-inch MacBook Air 2014: Screen and Sound Quality

The MacBook Air's screen, in contrast, is nothing like as 'future proof'. It isn't downright bad, but it's certainly nothing more than adequate and quite a step behind what we'd expect from laptop at this price and one with Apple's logo on it.

The resolution debate is something of a distraction, actually. A retina screen is, arguably, a stretch too far right now on cost and performance grounds (it would make the MacBook Air more expensive and would likely reduce battery life considerably) and the 16:10 aspect (1,440 x 900) screen means a switch to a 1080p screen to match rivals would necessitate a re-design. A 1,900 x 1,200 resolution would be ideal, but we suspect Apple can't find anyone to make such a screen at a reasonable price. Apple has, more than likely, worked itself into something or a corner here.

So far as resolution goes, however, we're of the opinion this resolution works well at this size -- it's a reasonable compromise between usable space, readability and sharpness. We'd like more, but there's more to screen quality than just resolution, and it's in these areas where the MacBook Air's screen really disappoints.

2014 MacBook Air 11

The measured contrast ratio of 633:1 is half that of the Sony VAIO Pro 13 (1,215:1) and considerably worse than the 2,326:1 of the Toshiba Kira we reviewed recently. This shows up in videos, where the MacBook looks a little washed out and lacking depth in nuanced, dark scenes in comparison to better screens. This is further supported by an underwhelming 0.5 nit black level, compared to 0.1 for the Kira and a 0.3 average on most laptops in this class. This means blacks look 'greyer' on the MacBook than rivals.

Colours look pleasant enough, but tests show it only covers 59% of the sRGB colour space, much less than several laptops we've tested recently such as the Toshiba Kira (94%) and the Dell Precision M3800 (92%). Colour accuracy is decent enough and an uneducated eye won't be disappointed with what they see day-to-day, but it will disappoint you if you put greater demand on screen fidelity.

2014 MacBook Air 15

The saving grace is the brightness, which at 342 nits is very bright. We have seen brighter, but it's more than bright enough for all but direct sunlight. Indeed, for a glossy-screened laptop, the MacBook Air is quite usable in bright light, a fact helped by the lack of an extra touch layer as on many Windows rivals.

And, as ever, the speakers on the MacBook Air always sound a little better than you initially expect. As with any laptop this size they lack a little bass and are at their best when you're actually sat at your screen (go to other side of the room and things sound messy), but there's a decent amount of mid-range that's ample for casual music listening.

torjs99

May 20, 2014, 10:47 am

crappy screen £850.00?

A. Mir

May 20, 2014, 12:24 pm

The screen is not "crappy". I think the price is genuinely fair considering the build quality, best in class trackpad, battery life and the intuitive OS, Mavericks.

danielfrisbee

May 20, 2014, 2:42 pm

their production costs must be low if making the same product for 5 years, so I'd be surprised if apple weren't still making a wild profit on these things, not least with a screen that probably costs under 10 dollars at this stage

torjs99

May 20, 2014, 3:06 pm

1,440 x 900 is garbage for the money

Paul

May 20, 2014, 3:34 pm

the resolution maybe but not the quality

torjs99

May 20, 2014, 4:32 pm

each pixel is worth ten of non-apple... keep taking the tablets ;)

Paul

May 20, 2014, 4:58 pm

stop talking rubbish you remind me of those megapixel people who have no idea there is more to a great camera then pixels, well so is the same with screens

torjs99

May 21, 2014, 12:19 pm

what rubbish! you know nothing

Pg

May 21, 2014, 1:19 pm

I'm sorry...did you just say the price is "fair"? An Apple product? Really? Or are you just comparing this to other Apple products?

Paul

May 21, 2014, 4:18 pm

lol in speaking of others you describe yourself perfectly

Person chap

May 22, 2014, 1:32 am

I came from using a mid end 2007 desktop, to using a more recent laptop with an Intel i5-3320M CPU, and the laptop i5 is slow slow slow.

To everyone who thinks having a laptop is cool, remember, if you can get a desktop, then get one... the performance will be so much better for the same amount of money.

PGrGr

May 23, 2014, 9:52 am

I would advise that anyone who buys this opts for the extra RAM. I bought a MBP in 2011. At the time, it was pretty beefy - 2.2 Ghz quad core i7, 4Gb. However, it has slowed a bit, and since upgrading to Mavericks (and with a fresh OS install), it grinds to a halt to a frustrating degree.

I have yet to put more RAM in, and I'm hoping that fixes things.

The point is, 4gb of RAM might be adequate on the day of purchase, but unless you are someone who splashes out for a new laptop every couple of years, you should keep an eye on longevity, and the extra RAM might just future proof it.

Once more thing: I was recently staggered to discover a colleague had spent £2,000 on a Windows laptop. After looking into it for a while, I actually don't think £850 is overpriced at all for the Macbook Air. Ok, maybe you pay a small premium for the design and Apple-ness of it, but no more than maybe £100.

Try finding a Windows laptop that performs as well, and you'll struggle.

SOFIA

July 6, 2014, 11:55 am

MacBook Air 13 inch is the best choice
http://goo.gl/dYfktN

Nischal Shrestha

September 27, 2014, 7:12 am

Long battery life my ass...I just got MBA 2014 model 1 week ago and it only last about 4 hrs...

Dagger

November 2, 2014, 9:56 pm

I'd replace it. Just bought one a week ago and it lasts north of 12 hours.

wolfmeister

November 9, 2014, 10:30 am

there's nowt wrong with the screen, it's fine, they must have been desperate to find a "con". As someone below said, get the 8gb ram. I was lucky to get mine from John Lewis, who that week were doing a deal: 8gb ram upgrade for just 50 squids extra. (and i got it while JL were offering a free 3 year warranty, always check JL for macs they often have deals and ex-demo units). Coming from an old-skool bg, I always viewed laptops through the same filter you often hear... they should have as much HD as possible, and in effect function as a portable desktop; but I re-thought my philosophy and got the 13" Air and I have to say it's the most impressive computer I ever owned (including mac pros, 2014 imacs, and assorted self-built windows machines going back to win 3.11).

It's a real thing of beauty, just so damned light and slim! like handling a slim childrens hardback book... It's REALLY fast with the SSD drive; boots and wakes up like lightning; the internet connction is super-nippy with the fast wi-fi, and best of all the (adjustable) backlit keys means i can type during lights-off, night-time use without my glasses, and of course the screen can be easily dimmed as can the audio. The small drive doesn't matter cos cheap USB 3 drives can be added if you need more on-location, and these usb3 drives give excellent speed/price we could only dream of 4 or 5 years ago. Also I love the trackpad thingy (usually i hate laptop mouse-pads and have to use a plugin mouse).

I got it for music and internet on location, and the dual core 1.4 gives 26 tracks for 'Evans Logic Stress test', which is fine for on location composition. Also runs FCPX fine & screenflow which i use for screen-capture work.

In short it's how a laptop should be. My partner was recently given a brand new 'works' lenovo thinkpad and it looks & feels positively stone-age by comparison.

PGrGr

December 10, 2014, 8:41 am

I've now upped the RAM from 4Gb to 10Gb, and lo and behold, everything works smooth as butter once again.

Point proven, I think.

Brandon Williams

February 23, 2015, 3:33 am

True but for the price the quality is still unmatched by competitors (screen aside). Personally I think the screen is fine for most people. People who are worried about nice screens are generally not worried about nice screens on a 13 inch laptop but on their 60inch HDTV. The screen is certainly not bad in my opinion though.

Brandon Williams

February 23, 2015, 3:36 am

Who worries about the screen resolution of a 13 inch laptop? If that is the main device you are using your HD content on then maybe consider getting a tv. Most people are doing their school work, business work, web surfing, etc. on these not professional photo editing. That is why the Macbook Pro with retina display exist for those people who need the better screen. For under a grand the quality you get from this machine will not be beat just as this article implies.

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