They’re also expensive. The most affordable new model starts $1,499, and doesn’t include the Touch Bar. The other 13- and 15-inch models start at $1,799 and $2,399, respectively.
Lots of people don’t want to pay that. But lots of people also want a Mac. That could make the cheapest MacBook model Apple currently sells, the 13-inch MacBook Air, seem appealing.
After all, if you look at Apple’s Mac page, it’s now the only notebook that’s available for less than $1,000.
That said, you shouldn’t buy it. Though there’s always a certain allure to buying an Apple product, you can get better for your dollar in late 2016.
It’s been exactly 600 days since the MacBook Air received a significant refresh. (Apple quietly updated the base model from 4GB of RAM to 8GB this past April, but that’s it.) The company did not respond to a request for comment on whether or not a one-to-one update is coming, but considering how it pitched the Touch Bar-less 13-inch MacBook Pro as superior to the Air on Thursday, you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.
In any case, that age shows today. What was once a significant leap forward for notebook design has been surpassed on all fronts. There are several thinner and lighter laptops available now. Their bezels are slimmer to boot.
The entry-level MacBook Air runs on a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 chip. For a few hundred dollars more, you can go up to a stronger 2.2GHz Core i7 processor. Both of those processors sound fine, and for the most part they are, but they’re the 5th-generation “Broadwell” chips Intel launched in 2015. We’re on the 7th generation (“Kaby Lake”) now.
That doesn’t mean the Air can’t do most everyday tasks. Much like the iPhone and iOS, the MacBook can get more out of lesser specs because Apple intertwines hardware and software so tightly. But it’s still not great. “Fine” is not what you want when you’re shelling out $1,000 for a new computer.
It’s a matter of futureproofing. You don’t buy a laptop for today — you buy it for three or four years down the road. In 2019, you’ll want a Kaby Lake or Skylake (the 6th-gen chip found in the most recent MacBook Pros) machine more than a Broadwell one. Worse, the Air is notoriously stubborn about letting you upgrade other components like the RAM or hard drive.
Along those same lines, the MacBook Air has no USB-C ports. While we’ll all miss Apple’s old MagSafe connector dearly, there’s a reason why the company put four of these things on its new MacBook Pros: It’s very obviously where all laptops are headed. It’s where all non-iPhone smartphones are headed too. It’s faster, it’s more versatile, and most future accessories are going to use it. Unless you’re on a budget, it’s a must-have today.
The worst offender, though, is the MacBook Air’s display. With a resolution of 1440×900, it is simply not up to par for a $1,000 laptop in 2016. There are notebooks that cost less than $600 with sharper screens, letting you see more things at once. Resolution isn’t everything, but even then, the Air’s colours, brightness, and viewing angles are all just decent by today’s standards. Full disclosure: I look at it everyday for work. It’s just not enough.
To be clear, the MacBook Air isn’t a bad laptop. It’s sturdily built, its battery is great, its keyboard is above-average, and its trackpad is second-to-none. It’s just a laptop from 2015. If any other company launched it for $1,000 or more today, it’d be roundly ignored. Everyone else has caught up.
This makes it all the more frustrating that Apple opted not to update the device on Thursday. The way to make the MacBook Air appealing again seems simple: Refresh the processor, and update the screen to full HD. There is a big, vocal group of people who do not want to adjust to the super-thin keyboard on the new Pro models. But Apple is a business, and updating the Air would likely cut into the margins made by the iPad Pro and the new MacBook Pros.
Yes, that new MacBook Pro looks and feels fantastic. For now, though, if you don’t want to pay that kind of premium, it’s time to leave Mac behind. Try a Dell XPS 13, Razer Blade Stealth, HP Spectre x360, or — if you’re really strapped for cash — Asus Zenbook UX305UA instead.