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Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2012 – Usability, Screen and Speakers

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers



Our Score:


MacBook Air 2012 Keyboard and Touchpad

Unsurprisingly, usability is eminently familiar. The MacBook Air 2012’s chiclet keyboard is well laid out even if keys are spaced just a tad too far apart for ideal comfort. Travel is good and there’s not a hint of flex, making it mostly a pleasure to type on; only the Lenovo IdeaPad U300 tops it by offering firmer action and ergonomic keys. Adjustable white LED backlighting is the cherry on the Apple-cake.

The massive frosted glass touchpad is still top notch, and though it’s been matched on some non-Apple laptops it has yet to be bettered. This is especially true since, unlike Windows 7, MacOS makes extensive use of its multi-touch capabilities in a way that’s intuitive and genuinely useful. Mind you, for just moving your pointer about this touchpad is easily matched by the likes of the Samsung 900X3B.

MacBook Air 2012 Screen

When it first came out, Apple was ahead of most 13in competitors with the Air’s screen resolution of 1,440 x 900. However, with the 13-inch MacBook Air 2012 we’re seeing more and more rivals offering 1,600 x 900 or even Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) at the same screen size. On top of that, while the panel Apple has used is certainly one of the better examples of TN, it’s still inferior to the IPS and PLS we’re beginning to see in premium laptops from other brands, such as the Samsung Series 9 900X3B and Asus Zenbook Prime.

However, judged on its own merits the screen has good horizontal viewing angles and even looking from above can still get you an acceptable picture. Furthermore you get deep blacks, good dark detailing and rich colours. Our only major negative is reflections from the glossy finish, but these are not as bad as on a glass-fronted laptop.

What all this adds up to is that, while perfectly usable and in fact superior to the majority of slim and light laptops on the market, the 13-inch MacBook Air 2012’s screen simply doesn’t match up to some of the similarly priced premium competition, and the absence of the high resolution and IPS panel quality synonymous with the Retina branding seriously disappoints.

MacBook Air 2012 Speakers

The hidden stereo speakers are good by 13in ultraportable standards. They offer decent volume levels albeit with slight distortion at maximum. They also manage to project more depth and clarity than we’re used to from laptops this slim, though bass is inevitably absent. Certainly, the 13 inch MacBook Air 2012’s audio is on a level with the best of the rest.


July 3, 2012, 7:09 pm

"Oh, incidentally, those on their way to Hell may wish to consider purchasing a pair of skates." wtf?! lol


July 4, 2012, 4:47 am

Hehe, where did that come from - Is it one of those phrases put in to make sure we're paying attention?


July 4, 2012, 11:40 am

Such a shame it doesn't have an IPS screen. Still trying to decide if I want a laptop that could be used for some gaming, or a smaller, lighter beast like this...but so far the Samsung still looks like the winner with their Ivy Bridge updates (shame the Series 9 only has 128GB but I guess at least no Bootcamp is needed!)

On the subject of SSDs, I know I've commented on the Pro review, but it's interesting that the new MB Air can be upgraded to 512GB storage, but the base Retina Pro cannot! Apple definitely seem to have a "consumer, do as you are told" attitude, as beautifully made as their kit is.


July 4, 2012, 2:19 pm

- Lol, thanks for the comments guys, glad you're paying attention ;)
Just suggesting Hell has frozen over as Apple has actually put USB 3.0 onto its machines. Though I guess that won't truly happen till they add Blu-ray drives (remember, you read it here first!).


July 4, 2012, 2:22 pm

Couldn't agree more, with a higher-res IPS screen it would be the perfect Ultraportable (okay, maybe it needs Ethernet & HDMI too).

"Apple definitely seem to have a "consumer, do as you are told" attitude, as beautifully made as their kit is"
- again, totally agree. It's one of the things I dislike most about the company and many of its products (iPad especially). Though to be fair, in this instance at least they're offering the possibility of upgrading bits, which not all laptop manufacturers do...


July 4, 2012, 3:06 pm

If it had an IPS screen I'd probably have my credit card out already and not worry about having a laptop capable of gaming!
But then I'm (perhaps excessively) fussy about screens, I've had IPS at home since 2006 and I really notice the difference using TN monitors at work.
Until I can find a buyer for my spare kidney to get the new MBPwR, I guess Apple don't get my cash quite yet. :o)

As an aside, is the Samsung Series 9 SSD user replaceable? (Still find it irritating they don't at least offer the option of a 256GB drive, 128GB would require a lot of space management)

Glenn Gore

July 4, 2012, 3:31 pm

Why on earth would one test battery life on an Apple computer using Windows 7? Is this an extremely common use for the device, therefore making it acceptable to test in this manner? I would think playing some video files or doing a video conversion or playing a heavily video-intensive game, or some other much more common use of the product would be more appropriate, but I guess I am wrong. Devoting 15 Gb of an already small hard drive to a VM installation of Windows 7 doesn't seem to me to be the way most users would utilize this product and make this testing procedure worthwhile. But as I said, I must be wrong.


July 4, 2012, 4:51 pm

They will never install BR drives, because YOU the consumer do not use Blu Rays. Do you? If you do, Apple says you shouldn't, so be good chaps and start downloading all your HD content from iTunes instead! ;o)

(with my 1MBps connection I shudder to think how long it would take me to download even an hour of HD TV content!)


July 4, 2012, 5:47 pm

SSD in the Series 9 is replaceable. A few users on another forum have already done so with various brands.

Two reasons for this: 1. 128GB not enough for some people, 2. Samsung fit this notebook with a Sandisk U100 not their own model that is considerably better.

You may or may not notice it but the Sandisk model has slow 4k random writes or something like that. It chokes quite easily when multitasking. It's a shame you may have to fork out more money when the laptop is already more expensive than the air.


July 4, 2012, 5:58 pm

I am currently deciding between this and the Samsung Series 9.

Pros for the 2012 Air:
- faster and larger SSD
- 8GB memory
- Thunderbolt port (perfect for thin laptops)

Pros for Series 9 13"
- IMO, the Samsung looks better and more professional. Maybe because the Air design has been around a while now.
- smaller and lighter
- better screen (higher res. + good quality matte display for using outdoors)
- Windows 7 (personal preference)

It's a shame Samsung cut corners on its flagship model otherwise it would be an easy decision for me. It is more expensive than the Air so really should match or surpass the Air's specs. But they put in an inferior SSD and some silly proprietary micro-vga port instead of Thunderbolt or DisplayPort.

The biggest thing holding me back from the Air is the BootCamp compatibility. Heard some issues regarding battery life and the CPU getting stuck at one speed.


July 4, 2012, 6:41 pm

I'd read that about the use of the Sandisk. Seems weird that they'd use a third party drive that's inferior to the own drives they produce, for one of their flagship machines!


July 4, 2012, 6:42 pm

I'd say I agree 100% with this, I played around with a the Samsung in store and it's a nice machine if you're in the market for a W7 based ultraportable....such a shame the storage options are so limited (And as you said, that they used an SSD which is inferior to their own drives!)


July 5, 2012, 7:28 pm

Well said, @gdawg304.


July 5, 2012, 7:37 pm

You're not 'wrong', but it's because we subject all laptops (and X86 tablets) to the same battery benchmark which gives a like-for-like indication of their actual battery capacity relative to the power draw of their components.

We also tried mixed usage under MacOS (as mentioned in the review) and got around six and a half hours.

RE "an already small hard drive" - you do realize you can go up to 512GB on the Air? Besides which, there are many games and programs that simply aren't available for MacOS, plus Windows users may want the Air for its hardware rather than OS.


July 11, 2012, 10:16 am

Although it is very small and a good traveling laptop. I would not recommend it if youre going to be using this for home. It can be very uncomfortable, just because you must purchase a seperate CD-Rom drive. Also due to the fact it is very slim, the laptop will get extremely hot.


August 24, 2013, 11:00 am

No one uses a CD-ROM drive now! All other UltraBooks do not have a CD drive either. Have you used one of these? They do not get hot in normal use and can be very comfortable on your lap.

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