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Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2012 review

Ardjuna Seghers



Our Score


User Score


  • Good screen (for TN) with 1440 x 900 res
  • Class-leading connectivity
  • Sleek, attractive design
  • Relatively powerful specifications
  • Excellent usability


  • No (Retina) upgrade to the display
  • Same old chassis
  • No Gigabit Ethernet or HDMI
  • Non-standard screen resolution
  • Noisy under load

Review Price £999.00

Key Features: 13.3in 1440 x 900 TN display; Intel Ivy Bridge Core i5-i7, HD 4000 graphics; 4-8GB RAM, 128-512GB SSD; White-backlit keyboard; USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, DisplayPort

Manufacturer: Apple

MacBook Air 2012 Intro

The MacBook Air remains an iconic product in the laptop market. Not because it was the first premium ultraportable to be thin enough to fit in an envelope - Sony did that years earlier with its VAIO TZ1, among many other models – but because it achieved a higher level of market penetration and public awareness than others.

- Looking for the best MacBook Air rival? Have a read of our: MacBook Air Versus Samsung Series 9 showdown.

Even till early last year, the 2011 MacBook Air was one of the best ultraportables around, until the Samsung 900X3B came along and stole its crown. However, now Apple has upgraded its entire laptop range, so we’re testing the 13 inch MacBook Air 2012 to see how the new and improved model holds up.

Let’s start things off with a quick summary: the new MacBook Air is a relatively minor upgrade from its predecessor, especially when compared to the stunning overhaul that is the MacBook Pro with Retina Display. In stark contrast, the 2012 Air has the same chassis, layout and screen.

What’s new is that the internals have been upgraded to Ivy Bridge, which provides a modest CPU bump and a very noticeable GPU one. In other words, the new MacBook Air is better to game on, but of course the same goes for all its competitor Ultrabooks. Connectivity has also been given a major boost by the long-overdue addition of USB 3.0.

SEE ALSO: Best Laptops, Ultrabooks and Hybrids

MacBook Air 2012 Design and Build

At first glance, you might be forgiven for thinking this is the same machine as its predecessor – Apple simply hasn’t fixed what wasn’t broken. The 2012 MacBook Air 13 inch is still a gorgeously minimalist unibody affair sheathed in anodised aluminium, that’s just 17mm thick and weighs a mere 1.35kg. If it wasn’t made by Apple, it would be called an Ultrabook.

The same angular lines, glossy black screen, matt black keyboard and huge silver touchpad are all present to greet you, while build quality is just as superb. In fact, the only way you can tell anything’s different from the outside is by looking at its connectivity, and specifically at the slightly more elongated MagSafe 2 connector (and no, your old MagSafe kit won’t fit unless you buy an adapter).

Aside from softening a few edges, there’s really not too much we wanted to see changed, so we’re not complaining. Of the non-Apple ultraportable crowd, only the Samsung 900X3B, Dell XPS 13 and, to a lesser extent, Asus Zenbook are playing in the same field when it comes to the combination of premium looks, sleek lines and superb build on offer.

MacBook Air 2012 Connectivity

Though it might look identical, connectivity has seen a very significant update. Even if they haven’t changed their appearance, the USB ports are now of the speedy 3.0 variety, finally letting you plug in the multitude of high-speed memory sticks and other external storage on the market. This is the one area where Apple’s machines were lagging most when compared with their Windows PC competition, and we’re glad to see it finally rectified. Oh, incidentally, those on their way to Hell may wish to consider purchasing a pair of ice-skates.

Twin USB 3.0 ports aside, there’s the same SDXC card reader and headphone jack. Of course the Thunderbolt/DisplayPort connector also remains in place, along with Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi N - all helping to make the 13in MacBook Air one of the best-connected ultraportables on the market. If it had a Gigabit Ethernet jack and maybe HDMI, it would be in pole position. As is, it joins the Sony VAIO Z at the front of the ranks.

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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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