Apple only makes big changes every few years. In the meantime, successful products are continuously refined and adapted to the current state of the art. The MacBook Air is the perfect example of this strategy: when Steve Jobs pulled the first version out of a house envelope in 2008, it was the thinnest notebook in the world at the time. The PC industry quickly adapted the concept and turned it into ultrabooks.
But while the PC competition continued to release new models in the following years, only details changed on the MacBook Air. It always got new Intel processors, the hard drive that was initially built in was quickly replaced by SSDs, the RAM was expanded and the connection sockets changed.
The first really big update came after ten years, when Apple finally installed a modern high-resolution screen and a modernized touchpad, in 2019 the screen technology was refined again.
Matthias Kremp / DER SPIEGEL
The MacBook Air was only completely renewed with the new model, which Apple presented this Wednesday in a press release and online presentation. I tried the most important innovation from my point of view when writing this text: the keyboard.
Apple had received a lot of criticism for the keyboards of the previous models. Because they were super flat and saved space. But they also had a very hard stroke and clacked very loudly, which bothered many users. In addition, many users had problems with dust and crumbs that disrupted the mechanics. Apple had to start a free repair program for these models.
The keyboard in the new MacBook Air is different. It is still flat, but has a revised mechanical structure and therefore at least a key stroke of one millimeter. That may sound puny, but it can be felt and heard. The stroke feels softer and the keys click much quieter and differently. It seems absurd to worry about the sound of a keyboard, but the new model just sounds rounder, softer, more sonorous. The technology corresponds to the keyboard of the 16-inch MacBook Pro. If you use Apple’s notebook professionally and write a lot, you will notice the difference to the earlier models immediately.
Enough performance for “Pro” apps
The other important innovation is only really noticeable if you spend a little more than the standard version. Because for the first time, Apple’s cheapest notebook can also be ordered with a quad-core processor. It is also in my test device and costs 300 euros extra, including double SSD storage. Instead of 1200 euros you have to invest 1500 euros. But if you do more than word processing, email and the Internet, the surcharge is worth it.
So I loaded a demo song by “Beck” into Apple’s audio software Logic Pro X, which brings some older MacBook with its 135 audio and synthesizer tracks to a standstill, but not even the MacBook Air chip, which is clocked at just 1.1 gigahertz Half full. For the first time I have the feeling that I can use Apple’s smallest notebook for demanding tasks – the Air is now a bit of a pro.
It is understandable that Apple also advertises the integrated Intel graphics card. It is said to offer up to 80 percent more power than the previous model. According to Apple, it can even be used to control the new Pro Display XDR. But that would be an absurd undertaking, because this screen in the cheapest variant already costs 5500 euros.
An old shortcoming remains
It is more important that Apple is finally giving the new MacBook Air a modern SSD. For years, a 128 GB SSD was installed as standard, which is really only sufficient for basic applications. From now on, 256 GB is the new Apple standard. There is also space for the music collection and a few photos and videos. For an additional charge of 750 euros, you can also order an SSD with up to two terabytes.
A shortcoming that the new MacBook Air shares with its direct predecessors: only two USB-C sockets and a headset connection are available for external devices. Experience has shown that this is not enough, at least in the home office, which is why the purchase of a multiport adapter is recommended.
In the new version, the MacBook Air now appears to be complete: the high-resolution screen, the new processors and the now larger SSDs make it a full-blown mobile computer that is anything but an entry-level device. Anyone who has used a MacBook in the past few years will be particularly pleased with the new keyboard.
That should already apply to the 1200 euro expensive variant. The model with four-core processor and 512 GB supplied for the test seems to me to be the “sweet spot” between basic equipment and luxury, but at 1500 euros it is anything but a take-away item. In my experience, these devices also last longer than many others. My MacBook Air from 2010 is still in daily use.
The new keyboard
The very good screen
The robust construction
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