The cheapest and most portable entry point into the macOS ecosystem obviously has enormous appeal, just by default. And, at least in terms of size and weight, the MacBook Air holds its own in the wider world of Windows ultraportable laptops. At 0.61 inch thick at its thickest point, the Air essentially hits the 0.6-inch mark that most other ultraportable makers strive for, and its slimmest point at the front edge is a vanishingly thin 0.16 inch.
The 2.75-pound weight, 12-inch width, and 8.4-inch depth also acquit themselves nicely. The Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, for instance, is 0.57 by 12.1 by 8.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 2.8 pounds, while the Razer Blade Stealth is 0.58 by 12 by 8.3 inches and weighs the same as the Microsoft machine. The current king of the ultraportable laptop category is the Dell XPS 13 ($949.99 at Dell) , and it’s significantly smaller despite having the same 13.3-inch screen size as the MacBook Air and the Blade Stealth. The XPS 13 is an impressive 0.46 by 11.9 by 7.8 inches and weighs 2.7 pounds.
Meanwhile, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, Apple’s step-up model from the Air, is on the heavy side (3.02 pounds), though its dimensions are mostly the same as the Air’s (0.59 by 12 by 8.4 inches). Overall, the similarities in sizes and weights are the best indicator of just how stiff the competition is among 13-inch ultraportables. The MacBook Air is far from alone among thin-and-light laptops.
As ever, the thinness and lightness do not come at the expense of sturdiness. The MacBook Air feels very solid, with no noticeable flex anywhere on the chassis. That’s thanks mostly to a metal alloy made entirely of recycled aluminum shavings. You can have Apple apply one of three different color finishes to the alloy: the Space Gray or Silver that are also available on the Apple iMac and MacBook Pro lineups, or the Gold color that is unique to the Air. Our review unit is clad in Gold, drawing praiseworthy comments over the several days I used it around the office. It’s bold and beautiful, but given its unmistakable reddish hue, I think Apple should have called it Rose Gold. It tends to look more pinkish or coppery, depending on the lighting.
Retina Display, Now Automatic White Balance
There’s a very small indentation on the front edge to help your fingers open the display lid. Doing so exposes the 13.3-inch LED-backlit Retina Display, which has a not-quite-4K resolution of 2,560 by 1,600 pixels arranged in a 16:10 aspect ratio. It’s a brilliant display, and it now has support for Apple’s True Tone feature, which emerged first on the company’s iPads.
True Tone automatically makes colors warmer or lighter to complement the balance of the room’s ambient light. It’s a feature that trickled down from the MacBook Pro lineup, and while I wouldn’t call it a necessary improvement, I do notice that it lends a distinctly pleasing, warmer tint to the screen under the fluorescent lights of PC Labs. If you don’t like it, you can turn True Tone off in the System Preferences app.
Though it gains True Tone, the MacBook Air’s screen is still slightly inferior to the MacBook Pro’s screen, and missing the touch option that many Windows laptops offer. The MacBook Pro has a slightly higher maximum brightness (500 nits versus 400 nits), and I found my eyes were most comfortable when turning up the MacBook Air’s brightness level to one click below its maximum. The MacBook Pro’s screen can also display a wider range of colors, though unless you’re the type of computer user who needs or prefers to perform color calibration on your screens, you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference.
You will definitely notice the lack of a touch screen, however. The MacBook Air lacks the option for full-screen touch support that is available on most of its Windows competitors, and it’s also missing the long, thin, secondary touch display known as the Touch Bar that, as of the 2019 models, now comes standard-issue on the MacBook Pro.
The MacBook Air does offer a Touch ID sensor, however, which lets you log in to your macOS account using your fingerprint. You can also use your print to authenticate Apple Pay and App Store purchases. The Touch ID sensor is located in the upper right corner of the keyboard. It doubles as a power button, which you mostly won’t need, since the MacBook Air turns on automatically as soon as you open the lid.