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When Apple announced the Retina Macbook Pro at the 2012 Worldwide Developer Conference, we noted how it seemed like the company was integrating the selling points from all of its devices into one, with the iPad and iPhone’s Retina display being the main point of interest. Fast forward a year and Apple has done something similar, but this time with the MacBook Air. One thing the iPad has always been praised for is its battery life. It almost always lives up to the expectations set by Apple and can often exceed the marks with lighter usage patterns.

With the mid-2013 Macbook Air, Apple has taken that amazing iPad battery life and stuck in a laptop. While it’s not the Retina Macbook Air many of us were hoping for and may look nearly identical from the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that matters. Assuming, of course, that it can live up to the hype. Keep reading for our full review of the mid-2013 Macbook Air.

The Display:

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Despite the lack of a Retina display, the Macbook Air’s panel is still nothing to slouch at. The 2013 13-inch Macbook Air features the same exact display as its predecessor, which is a 1,440 x 900 resolution LCD panel. This comes out to 127 pixels per inch, which is far less than the 226ppi on the 13-inch Retina. In reality, however, numbers mean very little. Real-world usage is what matters.

Color reproduction on the Air is great and the screen is incredibly bright. Viewing angles were a tad disappointing, with the color quality dropping greatly when viewing it off-center. The Macbook Air doesn’t feature the same edge-to-edge glass design as the Macbook Pros do, which in some cases, is a good thing. The glare on the all glass designs can get horrible in the correct lighting, while the aluminum bezel around the Air greatly helps reduce that problem. Glare is obviously still there, but it’s nowhere near as bad as on the Macbook Pro.

Coming from using a Retina Macbook Pro for the past 8 months, there was a noticeable difference with the Air’s display. It’s nothing that you can’t get use to in a week’s time, but it’s there. Colors on the Air aren’t quite as realistic and stunning as on the Retina and the same can be said for the text. If you’re coming from almost anything other than a Retina panel, however, you most likely won’t notice any difference. By no means is the Macbook Air’s screen horrible. It’s great, it’s just not as good as the Macbook Pro with Retina, and for $500 less and much thinner, would you expect it to be?

The Design:

From afar, you wouldn’t be able to whether someone is using a 2012 Macbook Air or a 2013 Macbook Air, as the two are nearly identical in every visual aspect. The only change you’ll find is a second microphone on the left-hand side.

When Apple introduced the original Macbook Air in 2008, it was a praised extensively for its design, but fell short in nearly every other category. It was a classic example of form over function. Apple reintroduced the Air in 2010 with much better internals and a design that was just as slim and just as gorgeous. Three years later, that’s nearly the same design we’re still looking at here.

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The Macbook Air weighs in at just under 3 pounds, making it a breeze to carry in a backpack for extended periods of time. It has a wedge design, meaning that it tapers from back to front in terms of thickness. At its thickest point, the Air is .68-inches, while at its thinnest point, it’s .11-inches. Both of those numbers are incredible design feats, though nowadays, some Windows laptops have managed to be even thinner. But hey, they run Windows.

The keyboard and trackpad are also unchanged on the 2013 Air and that’s undoubtedly a good thing. The keyboard is absolutely a breeze to type on. The keys have good feel and are spaced out perfectly. At first, the keyboard seemed a bet squishy compared to other Macbooks, but that improved during the first few hours of use The keyboard is also backlit, which means working at the wee hours of the morning is no issue.

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The trackpad is still the best of any laptop on the market. The all-glass design makes it very smooth and easy to use for extended periods of time. You also can’t beat the multi-touch gestures it is capable of doing. While many other laptops have gone on to include touch screens, the gestures on OS X are easily just as useful as a touch screen.

The old adage “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” remains true with the 2013 Macbook Air’s design. It still caries the same wow-factor as it did three years ago and is arguably the most gorgeous laptop Apple has ever made.

Ports:

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The Macbook Air has never had a plethora of ports, and sadly, that remains true this time around. On the right-hand side, you’ll find a single Thunderbolt port, a single USB port, and an SD card slot (only found on the 13-inch model). The left-hand side is home to the MagSafe charging connector, another USB port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and dual-microphones. We’d certainly like to see another USB port and another Thunderbolt port, but given the lack of space available on the sides, it’s quite obvious as to why Apple didn’t include any more. After all, the Air is meant to be a portable machine, not something you hook up to all your peripherals and monitors.

802.11ac:

The new Macbook Air also supports 802.11ac, a draft standard for the next generation of wireless connectivity. The technology promises download speeds of 1.3Gbps and overall more stable performance, though some people have been reporting issues with WiFi connectivity on the laptop.

Apple is also selling a new AirPort Extreme that supports 802.11ac for $199.

Haswell:

Earlier this year, Intel announced its latest line of chips, dubbed Haswell. They started appearing in PCs at the Computex conference in Taiwan earlier this year, many weren’t shipping until later this fall. This led most people to believe that Apple wouldn’t announce any Haswell-powered machines at WWDC. Apple always surprises, though, and sure enough, the 2013 Macbook Air is powered by Intel’s latest generation chips.

DiskSpeedTest

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For this review, we used the base, 13-inch Macbook Air. Specs included a 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost of 2.6GHz), 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and Intel HD 5000 graphics. The SSD on the new Air is PCI Express based, which means you shouldn’t experience any SATA slow-downs, which should greatly improve performance. Using the Blackmagic Design Speed Test benchmark, the 2013 Air pulled in write speeds of over 400MB/s and read speeds of over 700MB/s. The 2012 Macbook Pro with Retina, on the other hand, pulled in write speeds of just under 300MB/s and read speeds of about 430MB/s.

Using the GeekBench app, the Macbook Air received a score of a just over 6700, while the Retina Macbook Pro received a score of around 7300. The Retina Macbook Pro we are testing is the base 2.5GHz Core i5 model (3.1GHz Turbo Boost) with 8GB of RAM and Intel HD 4000 graphics.

In Cinebench, the Macbook Air pulled in about 23 frames per second, while the Macbook Pro with Retina pulled in roughly 20fps. The Air received a CPU score of 2.6pts, while the Retina was awarded 2.9pts.

Finally, in the UniGine Vally benchmark, which is a gaming simulation test, the Macbook Air blew away the Retina, coming in with 30fps and a score of 762, while the Retina managed just 19fps and a score of 535.

As you can tell, given the rather large difference in clock speed, there is not all that big of a difference in benchmarks between the 2012 Macbook Pro with Retina and 2013 Macbook Air. In fact, the Air outperformed the Retina in many aspects. As we mentioned before, however, numbers don’t mean all that much. It’s real world usage that matters.

The Macbook Air performs outstandingly compared to other laptops on the market. Swiping between desktops was smooth as butter, as was scrolling though graphics heavy websites such as The Verge. In our use, the Air even ran much smoother than the Retina Macbook Pro. When you think about it, it’s pretty said that Apple’s supposed laptop for professionals is getting outperformed by the entry-level Air. It’s obvious that the Haswell chips have some pretty big effects on performance, as do the new Intel HD 5000 graphics. We should also note that Apple will most likely unveil a new Macbook Pro with these internals sometime this year, so it’s a little unfair to compare a 2012 device to a 2013 device, even if it’s a late-2012 model.

Long story short, you shouldn’t have any issues running even things like Final Cut Pro X on the 2013 Macbook Air. We do recommend going up to 8GB of RAM if you plan on doing a lot of video editing, though. For day-to-day usage, however, the base $1099 Macbook Air is perfect for nearly every average consumer.

Battery Life:

The biggest selling point of the 2013 Macbook Air is obviously the battery life. Apple is promising 12-hours of usage on the 13-inch model and 9-hours on the 11-inch variant. While we can’t vouch for the latter, we can say that Apple is spot on with its claims for the 13-inch model.

We don’t have a specific process to test battery life, because more often than not, you’ll get artificial results that aren’t relatable to real-world usage. So, to test the battery life on the 2013 Air, we just used it. It’s as simple as that. We worked on it and we played on it. We started using it about 12PM and wrote, watched a few YouTube videos, checked Twitter with Tweetbot for Mac, and much more.

By about 1AM it was down to about 5% battery remaining and it died shortly there after. That equals out to a little over 13 hours, a tad above what Apple claimed. We had the screen set on 75% brightness and the keyboard backlight on towards the end of the day. Keep in mind this is real-word usage, so there were bits and pieces of time throughout the day when it wasn’t being used, as we had to do things like eat lunch, but for the better part of the day, there was at least Spotify streaming music.

Now, battery life performance will very from user-to-user and laptop-to-laptop. If you are doing things like editing video, using Photoshop, and streaming high-definition Netflix all day, then your battery life will not be anywhere near 12 hours. It really just depends on how you use the laptop. Also, Chrome has been a notorious battery hog on OS X, so that could also cut down on your battery life.

Wrap-Up:

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Apple has a truly wonderful computer in the 2013 Macbook Air. We have never seen a Mac laptop get over 12 hours of battery life; it’s just unheard of. Especially when you factor in that you are also getting excellent performance on top of that battery life.

Really, there’s not much to dislike about the new Macbook Air. It’d be nice if there were a few more ports, but that’s not a big deal since it’s a portable machine, not a desktop replacement. We were somewhat disappointed that we didn’t see a Retina display, but in order to get this kind of battery life, cuts had to be made somewhere, and you also have to remember that Apple doesn’t want to cannibalize sales of the 13-inch Retina Macbook Pro…yet. The 15-inch Retina Macbook Pro is, however still one of the best computers a true professional can buy.

If someone were to ask us what Mac they should get, we’d have an incredibly hard time not recommending the 13-inch Macbook Air. With new lower starting price, the $1099 base model is arguably one of the best computers Apple, or anyone, has ever made. If you are set on having a Retina display, however, we suggest that you wait until this fall when Apple will most likely introduce new models with Haswell chips and Intel HD 5000 graphics, because as the benchmarks show, those two things really affect performance, as well as improving battery life.

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