Thursday, November 8, 2018

MacBook Air 2018

Tom Warren:

Apple’s MacBook Air from 10 years ago signaled a new era for laptops, but the company’s latest refresh, unveiled earlier this week, shows how the competition has caught up.

Dieter Bohn:

When I started testing the new MacBook Air, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I should compare it to. For $100 more, you could get a 13-inch MacBook Pro with a more powerful processor and brighter screen that only weighs 0.27 pounds more. You could also opt for a 12-inch MacBook with a slightly less powerful processor that weighs 0.72 pounds less. You wouldn’t get Touch ID with either, but the point is that choosing between this new Air and existing MacBooks is not as easy as it ought to be.


There is one knock on the screen, though: it doesn’t get as bright as I would like. The spec on it is a max of 300 nits, but the important thing to know is you’ll be cranking up the brightness to near 100 percent more often. I haven’t had a problem viewing this screen, even in bright rooms, but I do have a vague worry that it’s affecting my battery life to have it cranked up higher.


This laptop feels a lot nicer than the old MacBook Air. It fits the same size screen in a smaller body, but it’s not as thin or as light as the thinnest and lightest of laptops you can get today. When the first Air came out, it amazed everybody. This one, though very well-built, does not stand out from the pack when it comes to size or weight.


So let me just bottom line it: this new MacBook Air is faster than the old MacBook Air, but not by the kind of margin you’d expect after three years (or even one, if you happened to buy the 2017 model).

John Gruber (tweet):

Apple is not going to throw Intel under the bus — they’re taking an “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” approach, as they should. Macs are Apple’s products, not Intel’s, and it’s ultimately Apple’s responsibility that both of these products went so long between updates. But Apple’s frustration with Intel as a partner is palpable at this point. Look no further than the other product introduced at the same event, the new iPad Pro. Apple spent an entire segment talking about the A12X chip in the iPad Pro and the performance it delivers. They spent almost no time talking about the performance of the CPU or GPU in the new MacBook Air. Performance is actually pretty good for the price and for the intended audience of the MacBook Air — but only when compared against other Intel-based notebooks. When compared against the iPad Pro, it doesn’t look good at all.


Behind the scenes last week in New York, I asked a few folks from Apple for any sort of hint why these two Macs — the MacBook Air and Mac Mini — went so long between updates. One thing I was told is that Apple wants to focus on “meaningful updates”. The days of “speed bump” updates are largely over. The value just isn’t there.


There’s only one CPU option for the new MacBook Air: “1.6GHz dual‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz”. There are no build-to-order CPU options. I could be wrong, but off the top of my head, I think this is a first for a Mac notebook in the Intel era.

He seems to think that the keyboard is fixed.

Chance Miller:

In terms of comparison to the mid-2017 MacBook Air, which features a 5th-generation dual-core Intel Core i5 processor at 1.8GHz, the 2018 Retina MacBook is roughly 27 percent faster in single-core and 28 percent faster in multi-core.

Meanwhile, the MacBook Air offers similar performance improvements compared to the base model 12-inch MacBook, with a 20 percent improvement in single-core and a 17 percent increase in multi-core.


Last but not least, the MacBook Air is blown out of the water by the 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro, which scores a 16464 in multi-score testing, more than double the Air. Single-core testing is closer, with the Pro scoring 4504.

Owen Williams:

The choice of an Intel Y-Class processor in the 2018 MacBook Air is genuinely baffling. You spend thousands of dollars to get a new laptop and basically get the same performance as three years ago with a better screen.

Wojtek Pietrusiewicz:

I’m still waiting for a 15 W TDP quad-core MacBook, be it a MacBook Air or refreshed MacBook Pro Escape. There’s currently a hole in the line-up and it feels that it’s there so as not to cannibalize MacBook Pro sales — the Air has a 7 W CPU, the Pros have 28 W parts, and the 2017 Escape has dual-core 15 W processors. Where are the quad-core 15 W TDP Intel Core i5s and Core i7s?

Joe Rossignol:

In all other MacBook and MacBook Pro models with a Retina display released since 2012, when a customer has required a battery replacement, Apple has replaced the entire top case enclosure, including the keyboard and trackpad. This is because the battery is glued into the top case in Mac notebooks with Retina displays.

The battery in the new MacBook Air is still glued into the top case, the aluminum enclosure that houses the keyboard and trackpad, but Apple will be providing Genius Bars and Apple Authorized Service Providers with tools to remove the battery and reinstall a new one with no top case replacement required.

Previously: October 2018 Apple Event.

Update (2018-11-12): Michael Potuck:

iFixit is out with its Retina MacBook Air teardown. While there are some notable repairability improvements, Apple’s latest notebook got its lowest marks for non-serviceable, non-replaceable RAM and storage. However, overall, it scored higher than the 2018 MacBook Pro and the 2017 MacBook.

Here’s the iFixit report.

John Gruber:

The bit about performance-per-watt (around the 2:50 mark) seems like an argument Apple will be making again, this year or next, when they announce Macs running with Apple’s in-house ARM chips.

Tom Warren:

Inside the new MacBook Air vs. Surface Pro 6. It’s still impressive Microsoft manages to squeeze quad-core U series into a tablet without a fan, while Apple has dual-core Y series with a fan

See also: Hacker News, Apple (MacRumors).

Update (2018-11-16): Juli Clover:

We went hands-on with the MacBook Air last week, and this week, we picked up an older MacBook Air to compare the new model to see just what’s different and whether it’s still worth buying the old version, which sells for $200 less than the current model.

Rob Griffiths:

I was quite impressed by the Air’s benchmark results: Using a CPU with much lower power draw, it held its own against older but arguably more-powerful chips—besting the 2012 Air by a lot, and slightly outperforming the 2013 MacBook Pro. In the disk and graphics areas, there was no comparison: The new Air has a wicked-fast solid state drive, and (at least after the supplemental update) the graphics chipset is notably faster, too.

Things are even more impressive if you consider performance per watt.

Jason Snell:

This feels like the future of the Mac, certainly on the consumer end of the product line. With the new MacBook Air, Apple has picked a processor and stuck with it. Would any of us be surprised if it did the same with a future update to the MacBook? Or low-end iMacs?


What does shopping for a Mac look like if all you can choose is how much storage and how big your display is? A lot like shopping for an iPad. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider that Apple is currently making six different laptop models.

Update (2018-11-19): Paul Haddad:

I’ve watched/read a number of MacBook Air reviews, still haven’t seen a good explanation of why anyone would get one vs the 13” MBP.

Marco Arment:

It feels nicer, it runs cooler, it has better battery life, it costs less, and it weighs less.


Oh yeah. Touch ID, and the cool stuff in the T2.

Miles Wolbe:

Last chance to buy a proper MacBook

Update (2018-11-21): Josh Ginter:

I regularly experienced phantom taps on my MacBook Pro due to my thumb resting on the corner of the trackpad while typing. That same part of my thumb doesn’t rest on the left side of the trackpad on the MacBook Air, but there is significant overlap of my right thumb and the trackpad. So far, I haven’t had too many phantom taps, but I do recommend turning off “Tap to Click” in the settings if a) you’re used to actually clicking the trackpad and b) if you experience these random clicks like I do.


Regarding reviews saying the MBA spins up the fan a lot, I have a strong feeling it’s also because of this setup. There’s no heatpipe going from the CPU to behind the fans airstream, the fan is just pushing air out and creating negative air pressure inwards, no direct cooling.

Update (2018-11-26): Nick Heer:

When these Macs are all specced with 256 GB of storage, a different pricing picture begins to emerge[…]


Instead, by starting the MacBook Air with a 128 GB drive, Apple has priced it to fit its status as the default consumer Mac portable to buy. A 128 GB drive is probably enough for a bare minimum user who relies upon Apple Music and offloads their iCloud Photo Library. It’s a little dicey, I think — we all know how easily a hard drive can fill up in unexpected ways, like if Mail downloads a decade’s worth of email — but there are ways to manage that. I really do think 256 GB ought to be the baseline, but a good enough argument can be made for 128 in the Air.

See also: Mac Power Users.

Update (2018-11-28): David Sobotta:

My last ten years at Apple also coincided with Apple’s last efforts to be price competitive. Many of those years Apple lived by the mantra that each year they should introduce new products at the same price point but with more features and power. Without giving away the rest of my story, I can still say that I am not alone in saying that those days of Apple attempting to be competitively priced are long gone.


My biggest surprise has been how well minor photo image editing and resizing works on the Pixelbook.

Did the MacBook Air have a chance? If the new MacBook Air had been priced at $999 instead of $1,199, I would have looked at it seriously.

See also: Hacker News.

Update (2019-01-07): Juli Clover:

When comparing the new MacBook Air and the older 2015 MacBook Air, however, we found a more noticeable difference in quality. The FaceTime HD camera in the 2015 MacBook Air is a bit clearer and brighter, with the 2018 MacBook Air's camera letting in less light and producing an overall grainier, less clear result.


2018 MacBook Air owners are disappointed, and honestly, MacBook Pro owners should be too. 720p looks awful and it is outdated technology. Apple implemented a better 1080p FaceTime HD camera in the iMac Pro, and the quality is much better.

Update (2019-01-09): Kuba Suder:

So, this is awkward… but I returned that new MacBook Air I was so excited about (yup, after 2 months, trololo ). I love the shape, the CPU isn’t bad, but the screen is so much worse than Pro’s. I’d say it isn’t even strictly better than old Air’s… (I got a 13” Pro instead)

Kuba Suder:

If you’re curious, I ran some “real life” benchmarks on these two + my older Macs (yes, I know, I’m not normal and need to get a job/life). I wouldn’t get the MBA for everyday all-day Xcode work, but for a mix of TextMate/terminal/light Xcode/Safari it’d probably be fine…

Update (2019-02-04): Robert Nyman:

I helped setting up a new MacBook Air for someone yesterday, and was quite surprised and sad to see how buggy it was. At one point the touchpad stopped working, and needed an OS reboot.

And App Store is a complete mess, where sign in and updates would constantly bug in 100 ways

When a Mac works, it and the OS is fantastic. But there seems to be a lot of QA missing as of lately.

Update (2019-02-12): Stephen Hackett:

The 2018 MacBook Air is a great computer. It’s what you should buy for your next home or office notebook, and it’s what parents should get for their kids headed off to college later this year. Apple finally has a new default notebook, and that is great news for Mac users. It’s just a shame that it costs a little too much, and comes with the additional costs of dongles and adaptors.

My wife and father both got 2018 MacBook Airs and really like the feel of the keyboard. They haven’t had any reliability problems with it so far.

Update (2019-02-27): Juli Clover:

In our latest video, we decided to pit the MacBook Air against Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2 to determine which machine is the better value and the best buy.


Both laptops have a questionable port situation, with the MacBook Air limited to two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and Surface Laptop 2 featuring a USB-A port, a proprietary charging port, and, inexplicably, a Mini DisplayPort, an odd choice for a modern laptop. It has no USB-C ports, which is disappointing given that USB-C is the standard device and accessory makers alike are transitioning to.


The base model Surface Laptop 2 features a 1.6GHz 8th-Gen dual-core Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage all for $999, while the base 2018 MacBook Air, offering similar specifications with less storage -- a 1.6GHz 8th-Gen dual-core Core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, and a 128GB SSD -- is priced starting at $1,199.

However, the Surface’s processor is higher performance (and higher wattage).

10 Comments RSS · Twitter

Gruber is being disingenuous.
he already had problems with the third-gen butterfly keyboards elsewhere:
and called it a bad keyboard:
so much for the " The Air skipped the bad keyboards."

I look at Apple's product line today, and I am reminded of the usefulness (or lack thereof) of the old Performa model numbering scheme.

I think the MacBook Air (and lower end MacBook Pros) can not be better to leave room for the iPad Pro:

[…] Gruber still says the keyboard reliability issues are […]

[…] that’s faster and has more ports. I’m surprised it wasn’t discontinued when the 2018 MacBook Air was […]

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