MacBook Air Review: A Tiny Computer with Big Battery Life

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Writing this review in Pages while simultaneously streaming music, running Tweetdeck and Safari with more than 10 tabs open didn't make the 1.3GHz Core i5 processor, 128 GB solid state drive and 4 GB of RAM break a sweat. Adding a 1080p video into the mix didn't slow down performance either.

However, while the machine is fine for those tasks, it's still not the one you'd want to have around when doing heavy video or photo editing. You'd be best suited by Apple's MacBook Pro or iMac desktop lines, or one of the many new Intel Haswell laptops coming out during the back-to-school season. The new Airs run Apple's Mountain Lion operating system, but will be capable of running the forthcoming OS X Mavericks, which will add and fix a number of new usablity features when it is out later this fall.

But the promise of the new Air is not that you can do those things faster -- it's that you can do them for longer without interruption. Apple claims that the 11-inch Air lasts nine hours on a charge, up from the previous versions five hours. In my regular usage I got closer to eight hours of non-stop usage on a single charge. However, on my video playback test, which loops an HD clip at 65 percent brightness until the battery is dead, the machine lasted nine hours and eight minutes. That will allow you to watch about four full-length movies on the machine before having to find an outlet. Even better is getting off a flight from San Francisco to New York City and having three hours left.

Compare that with similarly-sized netbooks from three years ago, which required giant battery humps to achieve half that battery life with half the power, and you can appreciate just how far we've come in the last few years. And, if you're hoping for even more battery life, the 13-inch Air lasts just about 12 hours on a single charge, according to reviews from The Verge and Laptop Magazine. It just costs more, with the entry level model starting at $1,099.

Bottom Line
For the last two years, whenever a friend or family member has asked me what laptop to buy, I have recommended the MacBook Air. It's not that there aren't great Windows ultrabooks and laptops out there, but the Air has consistently provided the best blend of performance and ergonomics in a truly mobile package. With the new version, there is just another reason to recommend the laptop.

While most people don't care to know about what processor is inside their laptop, the one inside the new Air enables battery life that's on par with a tablet or a smartphone. If you require more power, it's best to wait for the new series of laptops based on the same new Intel processor family that will be coming out soon from various PC makers. But there's no doubt about it: the Air is the laptop to buy if you want the chargers to stop following you around.

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