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Tech Preview: Rethinking The New MacBook Air (2018)
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DwayneD   |  @   |  
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Macbook Air (2018)

Keyboard shot of the MacBook Air 2018.

A mere fortnight ago, GoD’s The Drill Down podcast dug deeply into the toys that Apple showed off during its Fall hardware event. The long-awaited MacBook Air and the surprising new form factor and functionality of new iPad Pro were the showstoppers; and while both have received generally favorable reviews, something doesn’t quite sit right about the new laptop.

Perhaps it’s the form factor, which is only moderately refreshed. Or perhaps it’s the fact that since 2015 we’ve seen the  MacBook 12” as a successor, or “heir to the old Air,” so to speak, with its improved slender wedge shape, its extreme battery life, and its incredible portability. The new MacBook Air ups its direct predecessor in the categories — it’s clearly a better computer than the previous version — and people have been waiting for the Air to come back with Retina display, TouchID, and the larger track pad — all necessary standards on modern MacBook computers.

With all of that in plain view, it’s nevertheless not exactly clear that the new MacBook Air is the Apple computer you want. That’s because of a surprising competitor — the MacBook Pro 13” (no Touch Bar). The MacBook Air’s starting price is $100 less than a MacBook Pro 13” model and with the exception of the new Air’s TouchID power button, the laptop’s internals are somewhat stripped down from the MacBook Pro. For the $1,200 price of a MacBook Air, you’re getting a 1.6ghz dual core i5 — the MacBook Pro gives you a 2.3ghz dual core i5 for $100 more.

MacBook Air & Pro 13"

Same price… almost as nice.

Both come with 8GB of memory or RAM — the thing that allows your computer to run smoothly with a few apps open at once.

Both have what seems to be the exact same Retina display, with the same 2560 x 1600 resolution, though the MacBook Pro 13”’s screen has 500 nits rather than the 300 nits present in the new Air. Nits are fancy technical way of saying the Pro is brighter or has a more vivid screen.

While both computers have displays driven by graphics cards manufactured by Intel, the video adapter on the Pro is significantly better than the one on the Air.

So you get more processing power, a better screen, and a better video adapter for $100 more if you get the MacBook Pro 13”.

What’s that you say? A MacBook Air is lighter and thinner than this boring MacBook Pro? That’s true — but only sort of.

MacBook Air is thicker

Apple’s own stats show that the MacBook Air 2018 is actually thicker than the MacBook Pro 13″.

Back in the day, the MacBook Air was easily considered teeny-tiny compared to a MacBook Pro 13”, but nowadays, in the age of Retina Display, Thunderbolt 3 MacBooks, that distinction has mostly fallen by the wayside. The wedge-wonderful MacBook Air, at its thickest bit, is actually *thicker* than today’s MacBook Pro 13”! That’s right — Apple says that the MacBook Air’s thickest bit is 0.61 inches — a whole .02 inches thicker than the entire body of the MacBook Pro 13”.

And what’s that you say about weight? For the $100 more that it costs to get your hands on an entry-level MacBook Pro 13”, you’ll get 0.27 lbs. more heft — delta that most people wouldn’t be able to distinguish in a double-blind weight test.

The bottom line is that, given the design advancements that Apple has been able to deliver to its entire line of laptops, the MacBook Air is no longer the super-thin, super-light stand-out that it was when it debuted more than a decade ago in January of 2008.

So why sell the new Air at all when Apple takes home $100 more for the entry level, almost-as-thin, almost-as-light MacBook Pro 13” (2017)? Because of what the MacBook Air represents. Ever since its debut in 2008, the svelte system has been a design leader; and the Windows-based Ultrabook era that followed the debut of the MacBook Air is a testament to that. The undoubtable cultural impact of the Air created an aura around the MacBook brand, and the Air became a brand unto itself. It represents not only what Apple can do with silicon and aluminum, but also how far Apple is willing to push the state of the art in portable computer design. Ever thinner. Ever smaller. Ever more elegant. Ever more powerful. What one understands when playing with a MacBook Air in 2018 is not what Apple has compromised with when making a small form factor computer — for that look to the 12” MacBook. The MacBook Air, rather, shows what Apple is capable of achieving without compromising.

Recycled aluminum

What’s old is new again.

The conclusion to reach here isn’t that the new MacBook Air isn’t worth the price, but perhaps that the recent MacBook Pro 13” computer is a bit of an aberration. Perhaps that’s the computer that doesn’t fit in the line up. The fact is that for a device a company with the performance chops of Apple is calling “Pro,” the MacBook Pro 13” laptop isn’t very powerful, and because of that, while the MacBook Air was in line to receive the significant update Apple debuted last week, this so-called “Pro,” was basically sitting on the same cushion that the MacBook Air has traditionally cozied up on.

Yes, when it comes to the MacBook Pro 13”, the Air’s screen is a little duller. Yes, it barely weighs less. Yes, it’s a teeny bit less powerful in the silicon arena — but the fact is that none of that matters. The machine is powerful enough to run every modern productivity application seamlessly, and powerful enough to play with most applications overall — and yet, it has two hours of batter life more than its 13” MacBook Pro cousin, and has a profile that’s become iconic over the last ten years — which is the reason consumers have been holding onto their older MacBook Air laptops for years, waiting for a worthy, not only suitably modern, but suitable stylish computer to upgrade to, with, lest we forget 2 more hours of battery life, a power button that allows for the convenience of TouchID, and, for the first time, the computer is made from 100% recycled aluminum.

All for $100 less.

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