Apple MacBook Air (2017) review
In June 2017 Apple updated the processor on its 13in MacBook Air from 1.6GHz to 1.8GHz - not a massive improvement as the processor is the same generation as the MacBook Air used when it was last significantly updated in 2015 - but the MacBook Air remains a great choice for an entry-level Mac laptop.
The MacBook Air is the laptop you see in coffee shops, libraries, offices and student digs all over the world. Apple might have forgotten it in favour of the sharper-screened 13in and 15in MacBook Pro and dinkier 12in MacBook, but the masses still love the lightweight, entry-level Air.
Apple isn't calling its most recent MacBook Air update a 'new' model, but to distinguish it from its otherwise very similar Early-2015 MacBook Air we'll call it the Mid-2017 MacBook Air.
Apple hasn't changed the Air much at all since it wowed the laptop world in 2010 with its sharp, wedge-shaped case - which still looks great, in our opinion. There were some minor processor and port changes in 2015, but since then the only real updates have been upticks on the processor speed and a welcome doubling of the default memory (from 4GB to 8GB).
It's still available in just the one silvery colour, unlike the 12in MacBook (Silver, Space Grey, Gold or Rose Gold) or 13in and 15in MacBook Pro (Silver or Space Grey).
MacBook Air 2017: Processor, graphics and RAM
2017's changes are limited to the slightly faster processor. Everything else remains the same from the most recent 2015 model: it's still an Intel 'Broadwell' processor.
MacBook Pro models have used the later 'Skylake' and the most up-to-date 'Kaby Lake' processors, so if you need the fastest speeds from a Mac laptop you should look to the Pro range (from 2.3GHz to 3.6GHz chip speeds).
That said, for most of us, with our browsing, streaming, social and office needs the MacBook Air should be fast enough.
The 2017 model's Intel Core i5 processor gets a small speed bump from 1.6GHz to 1.8GHz; it's debatable whether this would justify upgrading from the 2015 model. If your Air is older than the 2015 model, however - and you still love the form factor - then an upgrade might well be worthwhile. You'll also get faster graphics (the 2015 and 2017 Airs both use the same Intel HD Graphics 6000 chip, which replaced the 2014 Air's HD Graphics 5000), and 8GB RAM as standard.
If 1.8GHz isn't enough, note that when buying the new Air you can configure up to a 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 processor.
Apple also offers a feature called Turbo Boost. In technical terms this over-clocks the processor to push to greater speeds. If enough power is available and the temperature is at a safe level Turbo Boost will 'over-clock' the core and enable it to work faster. The standard 1.8GHz i5 processor can be pushed to 2.9GHz. The custom option 2.2GHz i7 processor can reach 3.2GHz via Turbo Boost.
Turbo Boost will get the most out of your chosen chip. But remember that if speed is really vital to you, you should look to the MacBook Pro range.
MacBook Air 2017: Storage
The only difference between the two MacBook Airs you can buy in 2017 is the storage capacity. In the old days we'd have called this the 'hard disk' but the Air has always boasted much-faster 'solid-state' SSDs.
The choice you get (as standard) is either 128GB or 256GB, but you can also double the maximum on-board storage to 512GB for £150 ($200).
We'd recommend you go for as much storage as you can afford if you plan on storing music, images or video. But if your laptop is used mainly for browsing and light document work, the 128GB should suffice.
MacBook Air 2017: Ports and slots
The new Air features the same side ports as the 2015 model. You get:
- Two USB 3 ports (up to 5Gbps) for the usual peripherals.
- One Thunderbolt 2 port (up to 20Gbps) for adding a larger display or faster external hard drive.
- MagSafe 2 power port - still the best in our opinion, and much missed on the newer 12in MacBook, which uses its single USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) port for power and peripherals, and so requires a £69 ($69) Multiport Adapter if you need more than one at a time.
- SDXC camera card slot
- 5mm headphone jack
If you have lots of standard USB peripherals then the Air supports these out of the box. The MacBook and MacBook Pro models require newer USB-C accessories or £19 ($19) adapters.
It boasts the same great 802.11ac Wi-Fi standards (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible) as the top-of-the-range MacBook Pro.
MacBook Air 2017: Screen
The MacBook Air's screen is a 13.3in (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with a resolution of 1,440 x 900 pixels and a pixel density of just under 128ppi (pixels per inch).
It's not as crisp and smooth as the Retina screen you'll find on the MacBook or Pro models. In comparison, the 13in Retina MacBook Pro has a 2,560 x 1,600 native resolution at 227ppi.
The Air's display isn't a bad screen, but Pro users might find it a little fuzzy in comparison to the Retina. The Air screen does use less power, though, and contributes to the lower overall cost.
MacBook Air 2017: Price
The MacBook Air is the cheapest new Mac laptop you can buy, starting at £949/US$949 for the 128GB model. The 256GB Air is priced at £1,099/$1,199 - so you pay an extra £150/$200 for the larger capacity. Add a further £150/$200 and you get 512GB of storage in the custom build option.
The 8GB of RAM isn't upgradeable, but the processor is, as explained above: pay £135/$150 more for the 2.2GHz i7 processor.
You can buy all of these models of the MacBook Air direct from Apple here: MacBook Air on Apple Store.
MacBook Air 2017: Installed software and apps
You get a ton of great Apple apps, including the likes of FaceTime for free video calls with other Apple devices, and the office apps (Numbers spreadsheet, Pages page layout, and Keynote presentations), plus photo archiving, movie making and music making and listening apps.
Photos; iMovie; GarageBand; Pages; Numbers; Keynote; Siri, Safari; Mail; FaceTime; Messages; Maps; Notes; Calendar; Contacts; Reminders; Photo Booth; Preview; iTunes; iBooks; App Store; and Time Machine (backup).
MacBook Air 2017: specs
- 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor with 3MB shared L3 cache (Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz); with custom option of 2.2GHz Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz).
- 8GB of 1,600MHz LPDDR3 RAM
- 128GB or 256GB (or custom 512GB) PCIe-based flash storage
- 13.3in, 1,440 x 900-pixel display
- Intel HD Graphics 6000
- 11ac Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible); Bluetooth 4.0
- Ports: 2 x USB 3; 1 x Thunderbolt 2; 1 x SDXC card slot; 1 x 3.5mm headphone jack
- Stereo speakers
- Dual microphones
- 720p FaceTime HD camera
- Full-size backlit keyboard with Ambient light sensor, and Multi-Touch trackpad
- 54-watt-hour battery: Up to 12 hours wireless web browsing (claimed)
- Height: 0.3-1.7cm (0.11-0.68in)
- Width: 32.5cm (12.8in)
- Depth: 22.7cm (8.94in)
- Height: 1.35kg (2.96lb)
For buying advice related to the current Apple laptop range, read our Best MacBook buying guide and Best cheap MacBook deals articles. You can also see our one-stop guide to the best place to buy any Mac.
The 13-inch MacBook Air is Apple’s entry-level laptop, starting at £949 (US$999). It might lack the super-sharp Retina screen of the Macbook and MacBook Pro models but its display and performance is fine for most everyday uses. It boasts enough USB ports and other slots to make it more useful out of the box than the more limited, USB-C-only 12-inch MacBook or Pro. And its Wi-Fi is the same high standard as even the top-of-the-range MacBook Pro. If you need raw power go for the Pro. If you need the smallest Mac laptop there is, look at the 12-inch MacBook. But, all in all, despite it not changing much year after year we still love the MacBook Air for its design, price, size and features.