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Gadget of the Week

Apple’s Air delivers new MacBook magic

Apple startled the world on Monday with the surprise release of a new device range. The updated MacBook Air stood out for ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

What is it?

I vividly remember my first sight of the MacBook Air, around 14 years ago. Tech media colleague Toby Shapshak held out a copy of his new Stuff magazine, and then flipped open the pages. There, literally hidden inside the magazine, was a silver laptop computer.

To say it was a thing of beauty is an understatement. In a world of bulky laptops that were commonly referred to as “luggable” rather than “portable”, it was a miracle. Its 1.9cm height made it thinner than the magazine in which it had been hidden, and its 1.3kg weight made it only slightly heavier.

It was hardly a practical device, though. With a 128GB solid-state drive, a single USB port and no card slot or optical drive at a time when most software still came on CDs, it was great for showing off and not much else. 

But in late 2010, the second generation Air added a USB port, card slot and a 256GB storage option, and the era of the ultraportable laptop computer was fully underway.  A few months later, I moved from a Windows laptop to the Air. 

I never looked back, and still use the 2017 edition, which is almost indistinguishable from the 2010 version on the outside. It is astonishing that, in all this time, rival manufacturers have only recently started catching up. This year, the 2022 edition of the Dell XPS 15 finally overtook the MacBook Air in both design and performance – with the proviso that the most recent Air was a 2020 model.

Which brings us to the new MacBook Air, unveiled this week. Apple calls it “all-new”, which is a classic example of meaningless public relations-speak: it has the exact same RAM as the previous model, and the base version has the same miserable 256GB storage, with an option of paying more to go up to 512GB.

Once one moves past the hype, however, Apple has once again delivered magic.

Firstly, it runs on Apple’s new M2 chip, it has a larger 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display, with expanded space made possible by reducing the bezel around the screen and placing the camera lens in a notch, much like on the iPhone.

It is even thinner than the 1.61cm of its 2020 predecessor, at 1.13cm, and weighs 1.2kg, compared to 1.29kg. The camera has finally been upgraded, from 720p to 1080p high-definition, and it has brought back MagSafe charging, which frees up one of the two USB-C ports.

Apple promises up to 18 hours of battery life, but that remains to be tested in the real world, where we don’t use these machines in laboratory conditions. It now offers a number of charging options, including a 35W compact power adapter with two USB-C ports, allowing users to charge two devices at once. It also, for the first time, supports fast charging with an optional 67W USB-C power adapter. Apple says it will charge up to 50% in just 30 minutes. Given that it does not take much more than an hour to charge previous Airs, this would be a needless luxury for most users.

One of the most notable features of the new machine is that it uses 100% recycled aluminium in its enclosure, and is the first Apple product to use certified recycled steel. Good for productivity, and good for the environment.

What does it cost?

The new MacBook Air will begin shipping next month, starting at $1,199 in the USA. An education price of $1,099 will be on offer in the US. South African pricing will be announced shortly by the iStore.

Why should you care?

Since its introduction in 2008, the MacBook Air has set the standard for ultraportable laptops, and pushed other manufacturers to reduce machine size while enhancing performance and battery life. This ultimately brings greater portability and battery life down to the entry-level. The new Air will reinvigorate this race to ever-sleeker design.

What are the biggest negatives?

  • Price tag. This is the first MacBook Air to pass $999. 
  • Base model still comes with 8GB RAM + 256GB storage, which doesn’t bode well for multi-tab browsing. 
  • While many are raving about the notch camera, it is, quite frankly, ugly.

What are the biggest positives?

  • MagSafe charging returns, meaning it offers an extra USB-C port.
  • It is so light, it can be held in one hand – while in use. 
  • 1080p webcam with better low light performance. Portrait mode is available for Zoom, WebEx, and Teams.

* Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee. 

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