By Adrian Covert @CNNTechOctober 25, 2013: 7:06 AM ET
NEW YORK (CNNMoney)
The MacBook Air is attractive, durable, thin and light - all qualities you want in a laptop.
It says a lot that the 2010 revamp of Apple's ultra-thin laptop was the lynchpin that single-handedly forced Intel(INTC) to create the specifications for rival PC ultrabooks in 2011. Three years later, it's still the gold standard for laptop hardware -- and CNNMoney's Best in Tech for the Apple laptop category.
The MacBook Air's aluminum chassis is near perfect -- so much so that Apple(AAPL) has gone nearly four years without making a major change to it.
On paper, the MacBook Air's low-power, dual-core Intel Core processor may seem modest, but it has been well-optimized to handle nearly anything you could throw at it. Web browsing, HD video and light photo and video editing are tasks well within the scope of the MacBook Air.
It also easily provides users with an entire workday's worth of power before having to recharge. Coders, gamers, and creative professionals will likely need more from their machines, but for the rest of us, the MacBook Air is plenty of machine. Apple's higher end MacBook Pro laptops are objectively more powerful. But for most people, the added benefits of the MacBook Pro simply don't justify the considerable extra cost over the MacBook Air, which starts at $999.
Apple's multitouch trackpads are the best you'll find on any laptop, and the MacBook Air is no different. Spacious and responsive, you never have to think about getting the cursor where it needs to be on the screen, or having to click a specific part of the trackpad. The keyboard is also quite excellent, though a few companies, such as Lenovo, may be slightly better in that category.
The one current knock against the MacBook Air might be the display. It has always been good, but as PC competitors move to 1080p HD displays, the MacBook Air screen is starting to show signs of age. Still though, it is above average any way you look at it.
As for audio, laptop speakers are laptop speakers. They'll never replace a proper desktop system, or a good pair of headphones, or even a decent Bluetooth speaker. But for all basic personal uses, the MacBook Air speakers are fine.
There's a case to be made for the $999 11-inch MacBook Air (namely portability and value), but shelling out $100 more for the 13-inch model will give you a reasonablly sized screen and an SD card reader -- a wonderful convenience if you regularly use a stand-alone camera.
And when you compare the $1,099 MacBook Air to its competitors, you actually aren't subject to much of the alleged "Apple tax." Of course, there are cheaper 13-inch ultrabooks to be found, but they're lesser devices in many ways. When stacked up against other ultrabooks that promise the same combination of functional design and performance - as Acer, Asus, and Lenovo do - the MacBook Air is either on par or cheaper.
Apple laptops aren't for everyone. But for those who do prefer them -- or don't care one way or the other -- the 13-inch MacBook air is the best Apple laptop available.