Why the MacBook Air Is the Best Laptop You Can Buy

macbookair leadAlthough there’s a lot of strong laptop competition out there — in all shapes, sizes and prices —the MacBook Air 13-inch is everything a great notebook should be. That’s because Apple offers a near-perfect combination of design, comfort, performance and endurance. It’s also now priced at a quite reasonable $999.

On the fence about what to buy? Here’s why Apple’s ultraportable is hands-down the best laptop for your money.

MORE: See all of our Best Laptop 2014 Recommendations

Design without equal

Plenty of laptop makers have tried to copy the aluminum unibody design of the MacBook Air, but none has quite matched Apple’s combination of strong build quality and portability. I’ve never heard so much as a creak or pop when opening or closing the lid on my Air — or even when picking the light, 3-pound system up by the top half of the clamshell. No one beats Apple’s build quality.

portsThe reason I prefer the 13-inch Air to the 11-inch model — other than the extra screen real estate — is that the larger version offers an SD card slot on the right. This is an important amenity for people who like to transfer photos from their cameras. Otherwise , you’ll find two USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port for higher-speed peripherals. (I’m still waiting for more of those.)

MORE: MacBook Air (13-inch) Review

The MacBook Air’s 1400 x 900-pixel screen isn’t nearly as sharp as some Windows-powered Ultrabooks — or Apple’s own 13-inch inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (2560 x 1600p) — but it’s quite bright and offers wide viewing angles. I’ve spent plenty of time working outdoors with this notebook without any issues.

Unbeatable keyboard and touchpad combo

It’s not easy to squeeze a comfortable keyboard into a laptop with a 0.68-inch profile, but Apple continues to outclass the competition. The layout is spacious and evenly backlit, and it’s extremely easy to type on for extended periods. There’s not even a hint of flex here. I also appreciate the shortcut key for Mission Control, which makes it easy to see all of your open apps at once.

keyboard touchpadThe Air’s touchpad continues to be second to none. Whether I’m scrolling with two fingers, pinching to zoom or just selecting text, the trackpad on this laptop is smooth and seamless. I also use the Notification Center gesture quite a bit; you just swipe in from the right edge with two fingers to see all your alerts. The click action feels solid, and Windows converts can click down with two fingers to generate a right-click-like response.

MORE: 10 Biggest Gadget Design Fails

Crazy-long battery life

Whether you’re on a cross-country flight, running from meeting to meeting or have a day full of classes, the 13-inch MacBook Air has all the staying power you need — and then some. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi (at 100 nits of screen brightness), the Air lasted an epic 12 hours and 20 minutes. The average ultraportable lasts about 8 hours.

batteryWe have tested other laptops with even more endurance, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s (14:36) and X240 (20:28), but getting that runtime requires a bulky secondary battery.

MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life

Not just fast, but responsive

For the $999 starting price, the MacBook Air 13-inch packs a 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of zippy flash storage. This combination of components adds up to a system that’s always ready to do my bidding. I just flip the lid, and I can get right back to work within a couple of seconds. Many Windows systems stutter when resuming from sleep.

MORE: Laptop Interactive Buying Guide

This is one lean and mean productivity powerhouse. For example, on our OpenOffice test, in which the system matches 20,000 names and addresses, the Air took a mere 3 minutes and 46 seconds. Competing notebooks from Acer, Dell and HP all took 5 minutes on the same tests.

A webcam that’s actually good

webcam

I don’t make many video calls (or take selfies), but it’s nice to know that the Air’s FaceTime camera delivers a better picture than most Windows laptops. Expect warm and accurate colors without the typical fuzziness that plagues other systems’ webcams. It’s also easy to chat with friends and colleagues over FaceTime if they have an iPhone or iPad.

Software that doesn’t get in your way

If you’re anxious about dropping Windows for OS X, I can tell you that switching is easier than you think. In fact, the Mac desktop environment feels more intuitive in some ways than Windows 8′s split personalities. I especially like Spotlight Search for finding anything I need (complete with handy previews) and interactive notifications, so I can respond to messages without leaving the app I’m using.

spotlight

Starting this fall, OS X will get even better with Yosemite, especially for those who own iOS devices. For example, you’ll be able to start an email on your iPhone or iPad, and then pick up right where you left off on the Mac. You’ll even be able to text and make calls from the desktop. Apple will also finally offer a better cloud storage solution with iCloud Drive, though I’ll probably keep using Dropbox.

MORE: Apple OS X Yosemite: Top 7 Features

MacBook Air vs. Windows Competition

There are plenty of great alternatives to the MacBook Air, including Windows 8 models with built-in touch screens. For instance, the HP Spectre 13 Ultrabook (also $999) sports a sharper QHD screen and a unique ultrawide touchpad. However, that notebook’s battery lasted 3 hours less on a charge. If you’re looking for a business-focused laptop, the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s is another excellent choice; starting at $949, it boasts a sturdy design, best-in-class keyboard and fantastic battery life.

windowsDon’t have a grand to spend? You’ll find plenty of compelling Windows notebooks for less than $500. Those with very simple computing needs may gravitate toward Chromebooks, such as the 13-inch Toshiba Chromebook, which costs just $269. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to live with limited offline functionality and much fewer apps than Mac and Windows systems.

MORE: Top 8 Windows 8.1 Tablet-Laptop Hybrids

MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro

airvsproUltimately, the MacBook Air’s biggest competition is the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display. Although it costs $300 more, the Pro delivers a richer and higher-resolution screen and more horsepower, courtesy of a faster 2.4-GHz Core i5 processor. However, the MacBook Pro is also heavier and thicker, and while its 9.5 hours of battery life is fantastic, it’s still a few hours behind the Air.

Bottom Line

Thanks to its stellar design, superior touchpad, swift performance and all-day battery life, the 13-inch MacBook Air is the best all-around laptop money can buy.

AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Kurt Says:

    Long-time Apple-hater (25 years or so) who’s looking at Apple seriously for the first time.

    You left out the most important category… Operating System. I’m not talking about available apps or access to someone’s idea of a good business word-processing program (booOOring). On the OS level, Mac OS X has far surpassed the monstrosity that Microsoft has developed.

    Much prefer the hardware on the Surface Pro 3 by a long-stretch but just plain sick of how badly written each iteration of Windows has become. Under the hood, even Win7 is held together with tape and glue. Do not even want to get started with Metro…

    Much research still left to do but I like what I’m reading about Apple’s (ugh) OS.

  2. sirat Says:

    ‘Plenty of laptop makers have tried to copy the aluminum unibody design of the MacBook Air, but none has quite matched Apple’s combination of strong build quality and portability. I’ve never heard so much as a creak or pop when opening or closing the lid on my Air — or even when picking the light, 3-pound system up by the top half of the clamshell.’

    my Samsung series 9 (X3E) disagrees

  3. ssgsdgsdg Says:

    Sirat that’s a ugly product, I can’t believe you managed to compare it to a Air. What OS is that Samsung running windows 8?

  4. Dimitris Says:

    It’s an overpriced PC running Apple software. It’s just trash. And why would I ever want a 13” display unless I’m pretending to be a stylish wannabe geek who has no use for a computer other than posting crap on facebook? Because in actuality even you wanted to, you can’t REALLy be productive on a 13” display. Try doing some real work day in day out, such as designing graphics or editing video. even on a 15” or 17” laptop your eyes get raped. So I need a 21” inch laptop, and I’ll never get a MAC/APPLE crapioca. They have been perennially overpriced, they offer no control to the user, treating users with LIMITING “simplicity” and other such BS (I want simplicity when I WANT it and complexity when i WANT it), and the hardware is just being outperformed in nearly every product on the market. so I piss on the brand name. Here, take a sticker and slap it on my laptop, and now it’s a mac through my virtual machines.

    To give you an example:

    2 and a half years ago I was on a trip in Europe and I was super lucky to get an insane deal for €999. I bought a laptop fearing for the worst because of the unbelievable price, a special edition of the ASUS KVM95. It has an 8-core i7 @2.8Ghz, two hard drives one large one with 2 TB at 7200 RPM and one small one blank which I installed another 2 TB myself. It also had 8 GB memory and i upgraded later to 16 GB DDR3. Graphics is NVIDIA with 2 GB. Sound is awesome with bass and all. screen is a stunning 21” inches, full HD anti-glare. BlueRay multi read/write. WiFi/Bluetooth ready and web cam mic etc, cardslots and 4 USB3.0 ports, one HDMI and one eSATA. It is light at about 9 pounds considering the size and pretty sleek. Battery life at half brightness was initially at 8 hours or more with internet and bluetooth off.

    So tell me, why in the world would anyone who is downright moronic EVER get a MAC? why? Just to show off to their friends since Apple has convinced you somehow that it’s “cool” to have one? Screw them.

    Right now I’m looking for a new laptop and i stumbled across this Bullshit review. It’s NEVER true to say that a Macbook is good in any way shape or form. Every single time they are over priced and their specs are last year’s for nearly every other company. BTW I specialize in Graphic design and video editing and I take a dump on the myth that macs are the king for any graphics. I’ve been in the industry for about ten years and seriously Windows if you don’t mess around with it (i.e. Prevent ALL updates) I’ve never re-installed on ANY machine. The difference between Apple and Microsoft: Microsoft has the dignity to let you fuck around with the software at your heart’s content even you wanna break it. Or you can simply not tamper with the thing and do your job. Apple simply has prevented you from touching ANYTHING that might break, so it prides itself on robustness. If you want a real Apple product, get linux, that’s what you are running anyway, a customized Linux/unix system with an apple logo. besides, I use Linux and Windows seamlessly.

  5. Gordon Jack Says:

    Don’t forget to tell people that this very stylish and expensive bit of hardware comes with a touchpad that fails after a year of use. The frustration of having a cursor with a mind of its own will add years to your life.

  6. Ales Says:

    Whatever people say, if you are looking for a laptop to buy and are super confused on what and where to invest, stumbled upon this page and have never used Apple before or are not sure…. just go and spend your bucks on Macbook Air.

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