The big improvement that the new 13in MacBook Air offers over its predecessor is the display, which now has a resolution of 1,440 x 900 pixels. As we remarked of the Lenovo ThinkPad X300l, which had the same resolution, the extra pixels come in incredibly handy, not just making things look sharper, but also giving you more desktop to play with. Viewing angles only deteriorate quickly when vertically out-of line with the display, but are acceptable, if not amazing, to the left and right. Colour reproduction is good enough for desktop work, and light touching up of films and picures in iMovie and iPhoto, but you’ll still want a decent external display if you need to do some proper Photoshop work, or similar.
One strange quirk we noticed with the backlight was the how reducing it doesn’t give a consistent drop of in brightness over the whole screen. Rather, the effect is that of a shadow stretching inwards from the edges of the display. This didn’t hamper our use of the MacBook Air in any way, but it’s worth noting.
A positive improvement over the previous MacBook Air is the glossy coating on the new one’s screen. While this still picks up reflections in some situations (generally when watching dark scenes in films), it’s nothing like as bad as the previous model was for glaring light into your eyes. Overall, though, the display doesn't quite live up to those of the full size MacBook's, which is a bit disappointing.
Internally the MacBook Air offers exactly the same processors as previously. As standard Apple offers a 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, which can be upgraded to a 2.13GHz chip. We’re not sure we could recommend anyone make that switch-up (especially at the prices Apple charges), as the MacBook air is more than nippy enough with the standard processor.
Whether intentionally, or as a by-product of slimming down the MacBook Air’s chassis, the RAM is not user upgradeable. This makes the default 2GB (a 4GB upgrade will cost you £80) all the more lamentable, as although that’s enough currently, if you do end up needing more you’ll have to upgrade your entire system.
Similarly, the storage in the MacBook Air is ostensibly fixed, as Apple is using a proprietary circuit board and connector for its flash memory. Fortunately this isn’t a major concern as for the target audience 128GB will be more than enough – which is lucky because the 256GB-fitted system has a base price of £1,349, or as we prefer to phrase it “ludicrously expensive.”
The nVidia GeForce 320M is a much faster chip then the old 9400M, but not to the extent that you’ll be playing games on anything other than ‘low’ settings, especially as the resolution increase puts extra stress on the chip.
Although the use of a mini-DisplayPort makes it harder to connect a MacBook Air to a TV than laptops featuring HDMI ports, it has the advantage of letting you connect the Air to a high resolution display, such as the Apple 27in Cinema Display or the 30in 3007WFP Dell 3007WFP we tested it with.