As I said in my preview piece earlier this week, I wanted to spend more time putting the Air through its paces before weighing in on performance. To recap, I unboxed the machine on a Friday afternoon and spent Saturday and Sunday doing weekend things: catching up on email, texting in Messages and other apps, streaming Spotify, performing random Google searches, updating my to-do lists in Notes and occasionally popping into Slack. The machine wakes from sleep quickly, though a cold boot -- admittedly not something I do every day -- takes a good 10 seconds, from power-on to the login screen.
As the work week has worn on, I've basically been living in Google Docs and Sheets and have also been using the machine for several Google Hangouts calls a day -- something that causes the fans on my old Air to make a distressingly loud noise. On the new Air, Hangouts makes the keyboard feel slightly warmer, but the system at least stays quiet.
Also since starting the workweek, I've been spending more time at the office with the Air plugged into an external monitor. (Apple says you can power two 4K displays or one 5K monitor.) I put on one of the cable networks and streamed morning-after Election Day coverage in full-screen mode while attempting to get work done. The stream was fluid, with no dropped frames or audio cutouts. All of the apps on my machine continued to run smoothly. I had the same success playing 1080p YouTube videos on the monitor in full-screen.
As you might expect, my experiment took a turn for the frustrating when I ratcheted up the resolution. Thanks to YouTube's "Stats for nerds" overlay, I know that the Air dropped nearly half the frames on a full-screen 4K video (or more, at certain points) and more than half with an 8K clip. While the videos struggled to play for more than a couple of seconds at a time on my monitor, the rest of my workload didn't exactly grind to a halt, though I noticed that Slack in particular seemed less responsive.
I should add that full-screen 4K video playback wasn't much better on the Air itself; it stutters too much to really enjoy. As you might expect, all that full-screen, high-res video streaming got those fans to pipe up: This was one of the few times during my week of testing when the cooling system really made itself known.
It should be clear by now that the Air was sufficiently equipped to handle my real-world needs, that 4K streaming experiment aside. But, as ever, your mileage may vary, which makes this a good time to talk specs. It's worth noting that I tested the entry-level Air, which offers a 1.6GHz dual-core, eighth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, integrated Intel UHD Graphics 617 and a 128GB SSD for $1,199. Upgrading to 16GB of memory costs $200. You can also step up to 256GB ($200), 512GB ($400) or 1.5TB ($1,200) of storage.
The lack of processor options feels wrong in principle.
Unfortunately, though, that's one of Intel's lower-powered Y-series processors, and no, Apple doesn't offer an upgrade option. No Core i7 chip, no quad-core, no nothing. For that, Apple is steering people toward the more expensive Pro line, where the Touch Bar model comes standard with a quad-core 2.3GHz processor and can be configured with a quad-core 2.7GHz Core i7 chip. (The $1,299 entry-level 13-inch Pro, which does not have the Touch Bar, has dual-core processors only, but they're higher-clocked and there's at least a Core i7 option.)
Again, none of this stopped me from getting my work done on the new Air. But the lack of processor options feels wrong in principle. And for some of you, it might actually be a deal-breaker.