Apple MacBook Air 13 – Design, Connectivity, Usability and AV
We have the new MacBook Air, or MacBook Air 2012, on our test bench awaiting full review. But knowing how hotly anticipated Apple products generally are, we figured we would bring you a quick hands-on preview to whet your appetite ahead of the full verdict.
Most of you will already know exactly what the Air is all about. It’s an ultraportable laptop made by Apple that’s available in 11 and 13in sizes, and we’re looking at the more popular 13in model.
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. It’s 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).
MacBook Air 2012 Connectivity
That’s not to say the connections are actually the same. 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 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 helping to make the 13in MacBook Air one of the best-connected ultraportables on the market.
MacBook Air 2012 Keyboard and Touchpad
Unsurprisingly, usability is familiar. The 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 or sticky keys. Throw in the white LED backlighting, and it’s mostly a pleasure to type on.
The massive frosted glass touchpad is, if anything, even better. 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 Series 9 900X3B.
MacBook Air 2012 Screen and Speakers
When it first came out, Apple was ahead of most 13in competitors with the Air’s screen resolution of 1,440 x 900. However, now 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.
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 other negative is reflections from the glossy finish, but these are not as bad as on a glass-fronted laptop.
The hidden speakers are good by 13in ultraportable standards, with decent volume levels, depth and clarity, despite the absence of bass and slight distortion when you pump that volume up.
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