My sister-in-law asked me what Apple laptop to buy and I was a bit surprised by my recommendation. “Get the MacBook Pro,” I said. As a new mom who would be editing lots of photos, I didn’t think she wanted the 12-inch MacBook’s relatively small display, or to deal with its flat keyboard. And, besides, the 13-inch MacBook Pro would give her more power and more ports for the same $1,299 price.
With its low-res screen and outdated processor, the MacBook Air barely entered the conversation, so it doesn’t shock me to hear the rumors that a new Air may never come. Still, that would be pretty big news, especially for those who would prefer to spend less than a grand on their next notebook. But it’s also easy to see why the Air’s time has come.
When the MacBook Air launched in 2008 for $1,799, it was a revelation, cramming a 13-inch display into what was then a remarkably light 3-pound aluminum design. But, as the years passed, Apple didn’t do much to update its iconic system other than update the internal components. The screen jumped from 1280 x 800 pixels to 1400 x 900 pixels, but it never got upgraded to full HD. Meanwhile, the Dell XPS 13 comes in full HD or quad HD with touch.
The good news is that the price for the 13-inch Air came down to $999 and the 11-inch to $899, making them excellent choices for students or anyone who wanted extra-long battery life. This is the one area where the Air has outshined the competition. For instance, the lastest version of the 13-inch Air lasted an epic 14-plus hours on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, while some Windows Ultrabooks don’t surpass 8 hours.
Apple’s ultimate answer for the Windows competition is the 12-inch MacBook. It’s a 2-pound stunner with a sharp Retina Display, more than 9 hours of battery life and a decent amount of pep, thanks to the combination of a Core M processor and fast flash storage. But it’s held back by a single USB-C port, which requires that you schlepp dongles around if you want to charge your laptop and plug in another device as the same time.
Now, I’ve personally learned to live with the MacBook’s trade-offs because of how cramped my long bus commute is and how often I travel. And once I appreciated the more colorful and higher-res panel on the MacBook, it was very hard to go back to the Air’s low-res and washed out screen.
But that’s just me. For those that have the means, I would recommend the 13-inch Retina Pro over the MacBook and the Air because it just gives you more for your money. So where does the Air go from here?
As Mashable’s Christina Warren writes, it’s highly likely that Apple won’t kill off the Air right away. It just won’t be refreshed, and the prices will likely come down further for this back-to-school season. I’m holding out hope that Apple at least offers the latest 6th generation Intel Core processors, but it’s possible you’ll just be getting last year’s models for less dough. A $899 price tag for the 13-inch Air and $799 for the 11-inch sounds about right.
Some have suggested that the iPad Pro could take the place of the Air for many people, and I couldn’t disagree more. While it is a fast and versatile tablet, it’s keyboard pales in comparison to the MacBook Air–nevermind the Surface Pro 4 — and it’s a $169 option. Plus, the 12-inch iPad Pro is too big as a slate, and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is too small as a laptop replacement. It just doesn’t feel that comfortable or natural as a clamshell, but I expect it to improve over time.
Just as important, iOS is not as desktop-friendly as macOS Sierra is when it comes to multitasking. Sure, iOS has multitasking features, but there’s no dock to easily see what programs are open, and there’s also no touchpad support for controlling the cursor.
For those who want a bona fide laptop, I would wait to see what Apple does with both the MacBook Pro line and the MacBook line. According to various rumors, the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros will be updated with faster processors and graphics but also a Touch ID button, and OLED display touch bar that replaces the function keys and USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 (The regular MacBook lacks Thunderbolt support, which means slower transfer speeds and the inability to support multiple 4K monitors at once.)
If Apple were smart, it would also release a superthin MacBook with a larger screen, maybe 14 inches, for those who want the ultimate in portability but want something big enough to be their primary PC.
I, personally, wouldn’t recommend the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, so if you’re in the market for a Mac, either wait for the Air’s price to plummet or a more powerful MacBook Pro to emerge. The 12-inch MacBook is a very good option for travelers willing to live with less ports, but for now it remains a satisfying niche device.