The good: New Intel fourth-gen CPUs help the updated MacBook Air achieve amazing battery life. The multitouch trackpad is still the industry’s best, and even better, the 13-inch MacBook Air now starts at $100 less than the previous model.
The bad: Newer features such as touch screens and higher-resolution displays are still missing. The ultrabook competition is catching up, in terms of design.
The bottom line: Apple keeps the latest MacBook Air updates on the inside, but greatly improved battery life and a lower starting price make up for a lack of flashy design changes.
Having a Haswell-generation CPU also gives you Intel’s improved HD5000 graphics, which promises improved game performance over last year’s HD4000 graphics (itself an improvement over the preceding HD3000, and so on). It’s still not anything like having a discrete GPU, as in the 15-inch Retina Pro, but with game services such as Steam and EA’s Origin now being Mac-compatible, it may make some small inroads for OS X gaming.
Also new is 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a new standard that will eventually be found in wireless routers, as well as Apple’s new AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule hardware. If you have an 802.11n router, which is a much more likely scenario, this may not help you, but it’s a nice piece of future-proofing. Apple also says the solid-state-drive storage included in the Air laptops is now faster, although I think bumping the base $999 11-inch model up to a full 128GB of SSD storage (from the paltry 64GB previously sold at that same price) is a much more important development.
Connections, performance, and battery
The ports and connections remain unchanged on this version of the MacBook Air. That gives you two USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port to play with, with the latter used for both external accessory and video connectivity. The faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi will play nice with Apple’s own upcoming new AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule hardware, but I suspect you’re still working off an 802.11n router.