The performance of the 2018 Macbook Air is a mixed bag. On paper, although it seems underwhelming, the custom Intel chips optimized for short bursts of activity suggest that the laptop would perform well in everyday tasks, and for the most part it does so well. Problems arise for users who like to have several apps open, or are hoarders with many browser tabs. App performance may degrade noticeably in such circumstances, but it varies from app to app. The biggest problem with performance is switching between desktops. The transition animation drags on so slowly that the only way to make it bearable is to disable them entirely in Settings (under Accessibility). Overall, performance is adequate. As for features, MacOS continues to shine and compare very favourably with Windows in most domains. Key are ease of use, compatibility with apps and hardware, and a stellar backup system that can restore your entire system to exactly how it was. Speed & features: 8/10 (Performance alone is a 7/10).
The design of the new Macbook Air is stellar and Apple’s track record doesn’t slow down here. The machine is very thin, with a huge trackpad and large, bright screen. It’s so light that you might not even notice it’s in your briefcase/bag. Design & form factor: 10/10.
Battery life is a surprising disappointment as it was one of the key attractive points of the previous Macbook Air generation (excepting the very first version, of course). Apple’s claims of battery life do not bear out during average use. What “average” use means depends on the person. If someone is just browsing a few websites with medium brightness or writing a document while referencing online resources, the battery lasts for close to what Apple claims. However, for anything more substantial, including email (Apple’s Mail app is a surprising energy drain as shown in the very useful “Using Significant Energy” feature of the Activity Monitor), reading many PDFs and working on Word and Powerpoint documents simultaneously while editing images - e.g., in a typical business workflow - the battery percentage will tick down alarmingly quickly. A bout of a work session like this that lasts 30-60 minutes might drain the battery by a shocking 15%. The laptop can last a long transoceanic flight, to be sure, but don’t expect to be as productive as you would while plugged in. Perhaps the CPU is a double-edged sword here in that it can operate at high bursts of activity but at the cost of substantial battery drain. Or perhaps there are bugs in power management software and/or inefficiencies in the OS here. One big tip: you must cycle the battery when you first get the Macbook Air as it might seem at first that it drains incredibly quickly regardless of what you do. However, after a full drain and recharge cycle (to calibrate the OS’s readings of the battery), battery integrity will hold well unless you go ham on the machine. And by “going ham”, I mean noticeably less than what a typical power user would expect, but slightly more than casual use. Regarding power users, if you expect to edit videos or do substantial computational work (MATLAB number crunching, etc), it won’t be a pretty sight. To get around this, you will have to carry the power adapter with you. Luckily, it doesn’t weight much. Battery life: 6/10.
The display is a breath of fresh air after the previous Macbook Air generations. The retina display is bright and rich in colours, with generous viewing angles and plenty of screen real estate. The top 2% of computer afficionados will undoubtedly find flaws that may be unforgivable for their use bracket, but for 98% of users it’s a joy to look at and use Display: 9/10.
Durability is in line with the form factor and design category in that it’s one of Apple’s strong suits that holds up well with the new Macbook Air. Disregard the Youtube videos that go to extremes to “prove” that Apple’s products are shoddily built, with the funniest entry in this list being the variation on the “bendgate” pseudo-scandal where the video maker’s fingers turn white with how much sheer strength must be used to bend the iPhone/iPad/etc in question - an amount of force that would destroy *any* modern slim form factor electronics consumer product. The Macbook Air feels tough and durable, more so than current Thinkpads, surprisingly enough. It simply feels like a thin wedge of adamantium. Durability: 9/10
Expandability is another category where the de rigeur of complaints against Apple, including “donglegate”, are just plain wrong. First of all, Apple thankfully doesn’t follow in its own footsteps of the iPhone X variants in removing the headphone jack. Then there are *two* full-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports. This is huge. Many competitors, even with double the number of ports, either have only one full-speed Thunderbolt 3 port or one full and one half speed, or even just one half-speed. That Apple chose to incorporate two full-speed ports in the new Macbook Air is eyebrow-raising and frankly a bit of a head-scratcher considering that lack of power elsewhere. What is likely to be the reason is the desire to allow users to utilize either port for the power adapter, and still be able to have a full speed Thunderbolt 3 port available. In other words, to not burden owners with having to know which port is which, or to fall into a mistaken mindset that only one port is for “power” and the other for “data”. Whatever the case, full use of Thunderbolt 3 allows one to plug in an eGPU, external monitor, mouse, keyboard, external hard drives, and more. It turns the Macbook Air into a surprisingly decent gaming system or GPU programming terminal. Concerns of not having USB-A are entirely overblown. One dongle solves this problem handily, after which you absolutely forget about this non-issue (propagated by many reviews online). Instead, what you focus on is the remarkable flexibility of the machine. Thunderbolt 3 is the future of peripherals, period, and I’m happy that Apple is fully on board. Expandability: 10/10.
Noise: for the most part, the system is silent, but as soon as you start using it more seriously, the fan kicks in and is quite noisy. To the point that a nearby coworker remarked on how loud it was. Overall, however, for casual use it’s completely silent. Noise: 7/10.
Size, weight, and portability are very good. As written earlier in the review, you won’t even feel it in your bag. You can easily carry it around at work, like a notebook (of the paper kind). This aspect of the new Air is absolutely a premiere reason to own one, despite any potential performance or battery pitfalls. My previous laptop was a Dell XPS 15, and although it blew this Macbook out of the water in terms of power (and even the display), once I got the new Air, the Dell was instantly retired. Because let’s face it: an “underpowered” Macbook Air might be a problem for professional reviewers, but in reality, if you *really* need more power than what the new Air affords on a consistent basis, you’re simply better off getting a desktop. Portability: 10/10.
Overall, I have no regrets getting the Macbook Air, despite the flaws with performance and battery life. It feels great to use, and is is yet another example of Steve Jobs’ old adage for Apple products: It Just Works. Total score: 8/10.