18/06/2012 10:51 | By Cliff Joseph, contributor, MSN Tech & Gadgets

Apple MacBook Air review

Even Apple's entry-level laptop doesn't come cheap - but it still sets the standard for all its rivals.

Apple MacBook Air is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets (© Apple)

What is it?
One of the lightest, most compact laptops currently available

What's great?
Superslim design, measures just 1.7cm thick and weighs 1.08kg.

What's not?
It's Apple's cheapest laptop - yet it still costs more than £800

Bottom line
Superb design still sets the standard for all its rivals.

It may have been overshadowed by the launch of Apple's new MacBook Pro with its dazzling Retina display, but this updated version of the superslim MacBook Air is still Apple's main offering for ordinary home users and students.

That's somewhat appalling, given that prices start at a hefty £849, but it doesn't seem to have hurt Apple's sales at all.

This new model is what they call a 'speedbump' in the tech industry. There are no major changes, but they've updated the processor and memory for a decent performance boost as well as adding a couple of new features needed to keep up with Ultrabook rivals.

We tested the 11-inch model, as that's the cheapest in the range. Some people may find the compact 11-inch screen too small, but at just 1.7cm thick and a sliver over 1kg in weight it's hard to beat for sheer portability. There is a 13-inch model that was also updated this month, but that costs at least £999.

The speedbump comes from a minor increase in the speed of the machine's main processor - a dual-core Intel i5, which steps up from 1.6GHz to 1.7GHz. The original 2GB of memory has also been doubled to 4GB - although we reckon it should have had 4GB to start off with anyway.

Apple MacBook Air is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets (© Apple)

We were also disappointed to see that there's no change to the skimpy 64GB of Flash storage that is supplied with this model. Flash storage is a lot faster than an ordinary hard disk, but 64GB barely holds this reviewer's iTunes music library, let alone providing enough room for any high-definition video downloads. You can get a model with 128GB of Flash storage for £929, but we don't think you should have to pay extra for that.

The increase in processor speed might not sound like much, but Apple is also using the latest version of the i5 processor, which goes by the codename of 'Ivy Bridge' at Intel. This gives overall performance an extra nudge, as well as including an improved graphics chip to handle 3D graphics and games.

Our speed tests showed that this new model is a good 20% faster than its predecessor, and it even ran Diablo 3 at a playable 33 frames per second, making it a more capable gaming machine than the previous model.

Battery life remains the same as before, lasting for a full five hours when using the built-in wi-fi to stream video off BBC iPlayer. This model also gets a new high-def webcam with 1280x720 resolution and - about time too - a pair of USB 3 ports for connecting high-speed USB 3 disk drives.

It may be expensive, but the sleek design and improved performance of this latest model ensures the MacBook Air still sets the standard that its PC Ultrabook rivals have to match. It's just a shame that Apple doesn't bother to provide a less expensive alternative for people who don't have a banker's bonus to play with.

Apple MacBook Air is rated four stars out of five by MSN Tech & Gadgets

Essential info:
Price: £849
URL: http://www.apple.com/uk/macbookair/
Screen: 11.6-inch, 1366x768 resolution
Processor: dual-core Intel i5 at 1.7GHz
Memory: 4GB
Hard disk: 64GB Flash storage
Weight: 1.08kg

Also consider
Dell XPS 13 - one of the few PC Ultrabooks that can rival Apple's design quality.
Samsung Series 5 - a competitively priced Ultrabook that comes in just under £800.

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