The latest-gen MacBook Air 13in doesn’t feature a revolutionary screen. It uses a 1440×900 pixel panel, powered by an LED backlight, just like its 2010 predecessor. However, the resolution is higher than the majority of 13.3in Windows-driven counterparts, which tend to feature 1366×768 pixel displays.
This may not sound like a huge upgrade, but it noticeably improves the viewing experience. The pixel density of the Apple MacBook Air 13in is 131dpi (against 117dpi for 1366×768 screens), and at a normal distance that leaves the display looking very crisp indeed. Crisper screens of this size are out there though, such as the Full HD-screened Sony Vaio Z.
LED-backlight aside, the technology used in the display is traditional – rather than the advanced IPS-style displays seen in the Apple iPad 2, it has a TN panel. As such, the image doesn’t stay perfect when viewed from extreme angles, succumbing to slight contrast shift and loss of brightness.
Its quality is excellent though, and the loss-of-brightness effect is kept at bay in use by the limited screen tilt. The mechanism comes to an abrupt halt at around the 45-degree mark, just as the screen starts to dim in normal usage.
The LED backlight is powerful, contrast is great and colours are vivd. Many may complain that 13.3in laptops are available for around a third the price of the MacBook Air 13in, but the screen quality just doesn’t compare in almost all cases. MacOS comes with a handy display calibrator tool too.
Adopting a “best of both worlds” approach to its screen finish, the MacBook Air 13in’s display is semi-glossy. Glossy screens offer more vibrant colours than the matt type, but also have a highly reflective surface – not good for sunny days. The finish here provides the benefits of gloss, while cutting down about 80 per cent of reflectiveness. It works extremely well too. Take the laptop out on a sunny day and you’ll see reflections, sure, but up the brightness a tad and it’ll be usable.
The design tweakery involved in the speaker array is even more impressive, though. Try as you might you won’t be able to find a dedicated speaker output on the MacBook Air 13in – it’s because the sound filters through between the keys of the keyboard. Technical difficulties this raises aside, it’s a great solution, as it gives the sound breathing room.
As you might expect of a laptop of this size, the audio isn’t thunderous, but it surpasses the nasally, tinny sound we’ve heard from many other small form factor laptops. The speakers here are surprisingly good. The one disappointment is that at high volume the vibration causes a slight buzzing that some may find distracting. However, for any listening sessions likely to inspire passion, you’d be mad not to stick in a pair of speakers or headphones.
Another potentially surprising non-casualty of the slim form factor is battery life. Having installed Windows 7 on the laptop using the fab built-in Boot Camp feature, we set the MacBook Air to run our standard MobileMark 2007 battery test – designed to simulate real-life usage. It managed a respectable five hours 41 minutes, which is close enough to the claimed maximum seven hours to keep us happy. Here it is soundly beaten by some cheaper PC rivals, though, such as last year’s 13.3in Asus UL30a, which kept on rolling for almost 11 hours.