Apple MacBook Air (2018) initial review: Retina display tops new list of changes

Alongside new iPad Pros, Apple has also announced a new MacBook Air laptop at its “creativity” event in Brooklyn, New York. It’s been 3 years since the last update to the MacBook Air, a line that many thought had been forgotten. The new model delivers what many people were asking for back in the day – a Retina display – but is it any good?

Retina display shines

  • 13.3-inch, 2650 x 1600 pixels
  • Edge-to-edge glass

While the design of the new MacBook Air has changed, the apple hasn’t fallen to far from the tree.

The result is a device that draws on both the MacBook and the MacBook Pro in terms for design language – it still looks like a MacBook Air. But lift the lid and gone are the large silver physical bezels of before and there’s a new 13.3-inch LCD Retina display instead. It steps up the resolution considerably over the old MacBook Air, giving you 2560 x 1600 pixels.

That’s not to say there aren’t changes with how it looks. The screen size is the same, but there is now 17 per cent less Mac in terms of volume and it’s 10 per cent thinner too. It’s also lighter, but not by much, but overall it is more compact which will appeal to those working on the move who want something more substantial than the iPad Pro.

It will come in three colours: space grey, gold, and silver.

A new keyboard and trackpad

  • Full backlit keyboard
  • Force Touch trackpad

With a change to the screen, there’s also a change to the keyboard and trackpad. It’s been so long since the MacBook Air has had an update that pretty much everything has been refreshed in one way or another. The new model now gets the same keyboard as the MacBook Pro – 3rd generation – and the trackpad is both larger and doesn’t move, again the same as the MacBook Pro offering a haptic experience to give you the impression that something is moving.


Typing isn’t the spongy experience it has been on the MacBook Air previously and only you’ll know whether you like that or not.

The MacBook Pro keyboard has come in for plenty of criticism over the last 2 years, so it will be interesting to see how people react to it here. We suspect many will find it off-putting at first before coming around to the new stiffer typing approach. The trackpad is lovely though, being big enough and responsive to move around the screen easily.

It would have been nice to have included Pencil support however for signing things, but there is another smart addition in the MacBook Air.

Touch ID for security and payments

  • Touch ID for Apple Pay and unlocking

While Apple’s phones and tablets are quickly moving to Face ID, Apple is still investing in Touch ID for its laptop models. Here the power button is replaced with a Touch ID sensor for unlocking your computer and paying for things with Apple Pay.

Pocket-lintApple MacBook Air (2018) initial review: Retina display tops new list of changes

That’s all possible thank to the Apple T2 chip, which as well as enabling Touch ID also promises to work in a number of ways to protect your Mac including being able to turn off your microphone when the lid is shut to stop would-be hackers listening into your conversations without you realising and allowing you to say “Hey, Siri” when you need to ask Siri a question. We’re surprised Apple hasn’t jumped in with Face ID on the MacBook’s yet, but the MacBook Air probably isn’t the device to start that movement.

MacBook Air performance

  • 8-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD
  • 12 hours battery
  • 2x Thunderbolt 3, 3.5mm headphone

We weren’t able to test the performance of Apple’s newest MacBook at our session at the Apple Event, however we plan to give the unit a vigorous testing when we get it in the office for review.

Apple has ditched the previous USB slots and the SD card slot and replaced it with two Thunderbolt 3 ports instead. That mirrors the entry-level MacBook Pro model – the one without the Touch Bar. It’s a change that Apple’s been pushing over the past few years, moving forward with Thunderbolt 3.

Thunderbolt 3 is the same shape as USB-C and includes the complete USB-C spec, so it can connect to all manner of devices – including the charger. But Thunderbolt also enables Ethernet and can connect to displays, so it pretty much does everything. You might just have to update your cables.

Pocket-lintApple MacBook Air (2018) initial review: Retina display tops new list of changes

The MacBook Air will come in two configurations, both with a 1.6GHz dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz.

The only real difference being the memory and storage options you go for. You can start with 8GB of RAM, upgradable to 16GB and 128GB of storage upgradable to 1.5TB of SSD storage. Battery life is promised at the same 12 hours of the previous MacBook.

We’ve not been able to test this but will look forward to doing so when we get one in the office.

First Impressions

The Apple MacBook Air has always been our favourite Apple laptop. It’s a work horse that has been long overdue an update. This update seemingly brings that experience up to speed with the MacBook and the MacBook Pro range, which was much needed, but it doesn’t push any boundaries or bring any sparkle to the party.

From what we’ve seen it will no doubt be a solid performer for Apple and those that buy it, especially if they are after something bigger than the standard MacBook, and something cheaper than the MacBook Pro range.

But while it will no doubt “just work” you can’t help feeling that it only serves to make the new iPad Pro models even more appealing, especially if all you’re planning on doing with it is writing essays or surfing the web.

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