Notebookcheck

Apple MacBook Air 2018 (i5, 256 GB) Laptop Review

Live-Review – Better display, slow processor? Apple pretty much ignored its MacBook Air for a couple of years and there were many speculations about the end of the series. Now, we get completely redesigned the model including a modern display. Is it an alternative to the more expensive MacBook Pro 13 for many users, or is it somewhat redundant? Update: Speakers, fan noise, video runtime

Apple's MacBook Air was once the lightest and most compact MacBook on the market, but the basic design remained identical since 2012 and the manufacturer only updated some of the components. Our last review of the MacBook Air was in mid 2017, and it appeared very outdated, especially compared to Apple's own MacBook 12. Neither the comparatively large footprint, nor the low-resolution TN panel could keep up with the Windows competition anymore, either.

The new Apple MacBook Air gets a new chassis, which looks almost identical to the MacBook Pro and shares the same footprint. However, the front of the MacBook Air is once again tapered and only measures 0.41 cm at its slimmest spot. The weight was reduced by about 100 grams compared to the old model and the new Air sits between the MacBook 12 and the MacBook Pro 13.

The announcement of the new MacBook Air also shows why Apple did not refresh the less expensive MacBook Pro 13 (function keys) this year with Intel's latest quad-core chips. The new MacBook Air targets a very similar group of customers and is not that much more affordable than the "smallest" Pro model, either. We believe there is a good chance Apple will completely remove the less expensive MacBook Pro 13 from its lineup with the next major update. By the way, Apple still sells the old MacBook Air (starting from 1099 Euros), but it is hard to recommend due to the outdated hardware.

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MacBook Air 2017
(old model)
MacBook Air 2018
(new model)
MacBook Pro 13 2017
(Function keys)
MacBook Pro 13 2018
(Touch Bar)
CPU Core i5 1.8 GHz
Core i7 2.2 GHz
Core i5 1.6 GHz Core i5 2.3 GHz
Core i7 2.5 GHz
Core i5 2.3 GHz
Core i7 2.7 GHz
Broadwell 15 W
Dual-Core
Amber Lake-Y 7 W
Dual-Core
Kaby Lake 15 W
Dual-Core
Coffee Lake-U 28 W
Quad-Core
GPU HD Graphics 6000 UHD Graphics 617 Iris Plus Graphics 640 Iris Plus Graphics 655
Display 13.3-inch TN
1440 x 900 pixels
13.3-inch IPS
2560 x 1600 pixels
13.3-inch IPS
2560 x 1600 pixels
13.3-inch IPS
2560 x 1600 pixels
RAM 8 GB LPDDR3-1600 8/16 GB LPDDR3-2133 8/16 GB LPDDR3-2133 8/16 GB LPDDR3-2133
PCIe-SSD 128/256/512 GB 128/256/512 GB & 1.5 TB 128/256/512 GB & 1 TB 256/512 GB & 1/2 TB
Dimensions 32.5 x 22.7 x 0.3-1.7 cm 30.41 x 21.24 x 0.41-1.56 cm 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.49 cm 30.41 x 21.24 x 1.49 cm
Weight starting at 1.35 kg starting at 1.25 kg starting at 1.37 kg starting at 1.37 kg
Price starting at 1099 € starting at 1349 € starting at 1499 € starting at 1999 €

Apple only offers the new MacBook Air with one processor, the Intel Core i5-8210Y. The designation can be confusing since almost all the other mobile 8th generation Core-i chips are quad-cores. This CPU, however, is only a dual-core with a low TDP of 4.5 Watt (cTDP up 7 W). We will cover all the differences and details in the corresponding sections below. We review the mainstream model with 256 GB PCIe-SSD storage and 8 GB RAM for 1599 Euros.

We will obviously compare the new MacBook Air with Apple's other 13-inch offerings, and we are particularly interested in the performance difference compared to the Pro models. There are also numerous Windows alternatives, mainly the Dell XPS 13. Other comparison devices include the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2, Asus ZenBook S UX391, HP Envy 13, and the Huawei MateBook X Pro.

  • Update 11/10/2018: Security, Accessories, Warranty, further display measurements, Wi-Fi runtime
  • Update 11/13/2018: Speakers, fan noise, video runtime
Apple MacBook Air 2018
Graphics adapter
Intel UHD Graphics 617, Core: 1050 MHz
Memory
8192 MB 
, LPDDR3-2133, soldered
Display
13.3 inch 16:10, 2560 x 1600 pixel 227 PPI, APPA039, IPS, glossy: yes
Mainboard
Intel Kaby Lake-U iHDCP 2.2 Premium PCH
Storage
Apple SSD AP0256, 256 GB 
Soundcard
Intel Kaby Lake-U/Y PCH - High Definition Audio
Connections
2 USB 3.1 Gen2, 2 Thunderbolt, 2 DisplayPort, Audio Connections: 3.5 mm stereo jack, 1 Fingerprint Reader, Brightness Sensor
Networking
Broadcom 802.11ac (a/b/g/n/ac), Bluetooth 4.2
Size
height x width x depth (in mm): 15.6 x 304.1 x 212.4 ( = 0.61 x 11.97 x 8.36 in)
Battery
50.3 Wh Lithium-Polymer, Battery runtime (according to manufacturer): 12 h
Operating System
Apple macOS 10.14 Mojave
Camera
Webcam: 720p FaceTime HD camera
Additional features
Speakers: Stereo, Keyboard: Chiclet Butterfly v3, Keyboard Light: yes, 30 Watt USB-C-PSU, USB-C cable (2 meters), 12 Months Warranty
Weight
1.24 kg ( = 43.74 oz / 2.73 pounds), Power Supply: 178 g ( = 6.28 oz / 0.39 pounds)
Price
1349 Euro
Note: The manufacturer may use components from different suppliers including display panels, drives or memory sticks with similar specifications.

 

Case

The design of the new Apple MacBook Air is almost identical to the current MacBook Pro lineup and the only difference is the tapered front. Apple states the chassis is made from 100% recycled aluminum for the first time, but you do not notice that and the quality impression is just as good as on the Pro models. The build quality is impeccable and the stability is excellent for such a slim device. We also like the haptic impression of the metal surfaces, and it just feels like you are using a high-quality product. Based on our own experiences with Apple devices we can say that the surfaces still look great after a few years of use, and the new MacBook Air should not be an exception. Besides the two familiar color choices Silver and Space Gray, the new Air is also available in Gold, which was previously reserved for the smaller MacBook 12. Apple also reduced the bezels compared to the previous generation, but there is still room for optimizations (compare XPS 13, for example).

The central hinge is well-adjusted and can prevent bouncing of the screen. It is not easy to open the lid with one hand due to the light base unit. The maximum opening angle is 135-140 degrees. 

The bottom panel is secured by multiple Pentalobe screws. It is easy to remove when you have the corresponding tool, but pretty much all components are either glued into the chassis or soldered, so there is not much to do.

We already mentioned the identical footprint between the new MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro 13. The rear of the Air is even slightly thicker, but much slimmer at the front in return. It appears a bit more compact when you use or carry it, but the difference is not big and it would not be a decisive factor in our personal purchase decision. The 12-inch MacBook remains the most portable Apple laptop.

Both the MacBook 12 and the old MacBook Air stand out from the size comparison, but all the other laptops are very similar and the Dell XPS 13 is even a bit more compact in terms of footprint. All in all, however, all the current laptops here are very portable and it is no problem to transport them. The weight of the new MacBook Air is slightly higher compared to some of the rivals (XPS 13, ZenBook S, HP Envy 13), but sometimes only by a very small margin.

Size Comparison

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Connectivity – 2x Thunderbolt 3

The port situation is identical to the MacBook Pro 13 2017 with function keys. This means you get 2x Thunderbolt 3 ports with USB-C connectors at the left side (40 GB/s), which can also be used to charge the battery or attach external monitors. Thanks to Intel's UHD Graphics 617, the video output is identical to the more powerful Pro siblings. You can either attach one external 5K screen (5120 x 2880 pixels) at 60 Hz or two 4K screens (up to 4096 x 2304 pixels) at 60 Hz in addition to the internal display. This makes the new MacBook Air very future-proof, but one of the ports is often blocked by the power adapter. Then there is the issue with USB-C accessories, and you will probably need adapters. Apple fortunately did not get rid off the stereo jack, which is located at the right rear.

Left: 2x Thunderbolt 3 w/ USB-C
Left: 2x Thunderbolt 3 w/ USB-C
Right: 3.5 mm stereo jack
Right: 3.5 mm stereo jack

Security – Apple T2

Similary to the current MacBook Pro, Apple also equips the MacBook Air with its own T2 Security chip. It combines multiple functions, including storage encryption and secure boot features. We refer to the official release from Apple (White Paper) for more technical information. You can now login via Touch-ID fingerprint scanner. It is a hybrid solution from both MacBook Pro models. The Touch-ID sensor is combined with the power button (similar to the MBP 13 Touch Bar), but in combination with regular function keys. The sensor is very quick and reliable.

Accessories

The box of the MacBook Air only includes the laptop itself, the USB-C power adapter (30 Watts), a 2m USB-C cable, as well as some service brochures. The manufacturer does not offer any specific accessories for the MacBook Air, but there are numerous adapters, docking stations, and even external graphics cards (eGPUs) for the Thunderbolt 3 port.

Warranty

Apple still sells its laptops with a one-year manufacturer's warranty, which also includes a 90-day premium phone support. You can also extend the service with Apple CarePlus, either during the purchase or within 60 days after purchase. This additional service retails for 249 Euros and extends the warranty to three years. It also covers two accidental damages within this time, although you will have to pay a service fee depending on the damage (99 Euros for damages to the display or the outer shell of the case, or 259 Euros for all other damages).

Input Devices – Butterfly v3

Keyboard

Apple equips the new MacBook Air with the familiar Butterfly keyboard. Similar to the current 2018 MBP 13 (Touch Bar), it is the third generation of Butterfly switches with silicon membranes. This is supposed to prevent dirt from entering the switches, which resulted in defective keyboards in the past. It is an advantage over the less expensive MacBook Pro 13 as well as the MacBook 12.

The typing experience is therefore identical to the current MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar) and is defined by the extremely shallow travel in combination with the very precise pressure point. The key stroke is significantly more muffled compared to the older versions, but the typing noise is still quite loud. Especially the shallow key travel is still a point of controversy and we recommend you try the keyboard before you purchase the laptop. There will definitely be a learning period.

Apple still has the edge over many competitors when it comes to the keyboard illumination. You can adjust the intensity of the white illumination very precisely and it even turns off/on automatically thanks to the ambient light sensor.

Input devices
Input devices

Touchpad

A direct comparison between the old and new MacBook Air shows how massive the new trackpad is. Similar to the keyboard, there is no perceptible difference to the more expensive MacBook Pro and even though the Windows competition closed the gap over the last couple of years, the MacBook touchpads are still the benchmark. The handling is extremely precise and multi-touch gestures are easy thanks to the large surface. It is a so called Force Touch trackpad, so the clicking feedback is identical independent of the spot you click and the touchpad recognizes different pressure levels (harder click for context menu, for example).

Display – Retina Light

The display was probably the biggest drawback of the old MacBook Air, because the 13.3-inch screen was still based on the TN technology with limited viewing angles and a low resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels. This was far away from Apple's own standards ("Retina") and is supposed to change with the redesigned model. Similar to the current MacBook Pro 13, you now get a 13.3-inch screen with 2560 x 1600 pixels (16:10, 227 ppi). A closer look at the specs, however, suggests quality differences. Apple advertises the MacBook Pro 13 with a 500 nit panel and full P3 coverage, but only "48 % more colors compared to the old generation" for the new MacBook Air. We determined about 60 % sRGB during our review of the last MacBook Air, so the new Air should target full sRGB gamut. Apple does not specify the brightness at all.

Subjectively, you will instantly notice the difference compared to the old TN panel of the last generation MacBook Air. The content is extremely crisp, but the colors are not as vivid as on the – admittedly very good – screens of the MacBook Pro. The luminance cannot eep up with the Pro models, either. We determine an average value of 315 nits for the panel with designation APPA039. Only the two 1080p competitors from Asus and HP are slightly darker, but all the other comparison devices with high-resolution panels are much brighter. The 2017 MacBook Pro in particular clearly has the edge over the new Air. The brightness is usually sufficient indoors, but the combination of bright environments and the glossy screen can be a challenge. The contrast ratio is also lower compared to many rivals, and the only good aspect so far is the very even brightness distribution (95%). The TrueTone functionality from the current MacBook Pro laptops is not supported.

316
cd/m²
308
cd/m²
312
cd/m²
323
cd/m²
320
cd/m²
322
cd/m²
317
cd/m²
309
cd/m²
312
cd/m²
Distribution of brightness
X-Rite i1Pro 2
Maximum: 323 cd/m² Average: 315.4 cd/m² Minimum: 4.6 cd/m²
Brightness Distribution: 95 %
Center on Battery: 321 cd/m²
Contrast: 1103:1 (Black: 0.29 cd/m²)
ΔE Color 1.2 | 0.4-29.43 Ø6.3, calibrated: 0.5
ΔE Greyscale 0.8 | 0.64-98 Ø6.5
96% sRGB (Argyll 3D) 62.1% AdobeRGB 1998 (Argyll 3D)
Gamma: 2.2
Apple MacBook Air 2018
APPA039, , 2560x1600, 13.3
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2017
APPA033, , 2560x1600, 13.3
Dell XPS 13 9370 i5 UHD
ID: Sharp SHP148B, Name: LQ133D1, Dell P/N: 8XDHY, , 3840x2160, 13.3
Asus ZenBook S UX391U
AUO B133HAN04.9, , 1920x1080, 13.3
HP Envy 13-ah0003ng
M133NVF3 R0, , 1920x1080, 13.3
Huawei Matebook X Pro i5
Tianma XM, , 3000x2000, 13.9
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2-LQN-00004
2256x1504, 13.5
Apple MacBook 12 2017
APPA027, , 2304x1440, 12
Response Times
-6%
-72%
-9%
-21%
4%
-2%
Response Time Grey 50% / Grey 80% *
39.6 (20.8, 18.8)
42.8 (22.4, 20.4)
-8%
67.2 (31.6, 35.6)
-70%
44.8 (22.8, 22)
-13%
31 (15, 16)
22%
40.4 (19.2, 21.2)
-2%
40.8 (19.6, 21.2)
-3%
Response Time Black / White *
28 (15.6, 12.4)
28.8 (14.8, 14)
-3%
41.6 (22.8, 18.8)
-49%
29.2 (16, 13.2)
-4%
24 (14, 10)
14%
25.6 (11.6, 14)
9%
29.2 (15.8, 13.4)
-4%
PWM Frequency
113600 (75)
2500 (20)
-98%
1000 (90)
-99%
116000
2%
Screen
-4%
-58%
-143%
-25%
-124%
-73%
Brightness middle
320
588
84%
496.4
55%
299
-7%
289
-10%
442.7
38%
392
23%
Brightness
315
561
78%
469
49%
300
-5%
310
-2%
428
36%
390
24%
Brightness Distribution
95
92
-3%
84
-12%
92
-3%
85
-11%
84
-12%
89
-6%
Black Level *
0.29
0.45
-55%
0.5
-72%
0.26
10%
0.23
21%
0.31
-7%
0.24
17%
Contrast
1103
1307
18%
993
-10%
1150
4%
1257
14%
1428
29%
1633
48%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 *
1.2
1.7
-42%
2.9
-142%
5.6
-367%
1.64
-37%
2.24
-87%
3.2
-167%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 max. *
3.2
3.5
-9%
5.26
-64%
9.1
-184%
3.31
-3%
7.19
-125%
6.3
-97%
Colorchecker DeltaE2000 calibrated *
0.5
2.6
-420%
0.99
-98%
1.11
-122%
1.4
-180%
Greyscale DeltaE2000 *
0.8
1.9
-138%
3.9
-388%
5.5
-588%
1.71
-114%
9.7
-1113%
4.5
-463%
Gamma
2.2 100%
2.33 94%
2.066 106%
2.47 89%
2.32 95%
1.42 155%
2.2 100%
CCT
6548 99%
6738 96%
7169 91%
7533 86%
6291 103%
6227 104%
7556 86%
Color Space (Percent of AdobeRGB 1998)
62.1
77.92
25%
63.9
3%
58.9
-5%
52
-16%
61.6
-1%
63.9
3%
Color Space (Percent of sRGB)
96
99.94
4%
98.2
2%
90.3
-6%
82
-15%
95
-1%
95
-1%
Total Average (Program / Settings)
-5% / -4%
-65% / -61%
-76% / -122%
-23% / -24%
-60% / -104%
-73% / -73%
-2% / -2%

* ... smaller is better

CalMAN Grayscale (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN Grayscale (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN Saturation Sweeps (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN Saturation Sweeps (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker (target color space sRGB)

There is absolutely no criticism for the colors and the grayscale performance out of the box. There is not much to improve here, because the average DeltaE-2000 deviation of the grayscale is just 0.8 (compared to sRGB) and there is no color cast. Almost all the colors are below the important mark of 3 as well, only orange just misses the mark at 3.2. A calibration by the user is therefore not really necessary and the new MacBook Air is a very good device for picture and video editing, at least if you are working in the sRGB color space.

CalMAN Grayscale calibrated (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN Grayscale calibrated (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN Saturation Sweeps calibrated (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN Saturation Sweeps calibrated (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker calibrated (target color space sRGB)
CalMAN ColorChecker calibrated (target color space sRGB)

It is still worth the effort if you can calibrate the panel. We used our X-Rite i1 Pro 2 for the profiling and the corresponding profile is linked in the display boxed above and can be downloaded for free. The grayscale performance did not really change since the default results were already good. The color performance on the other hand is improved with a maximum deviation of 1.9 (Blue), with an excellent average value of just 0.5. We already suspected the panel covers sRGB almost completely, and the wider AdobeRGB gamut by 62.1 %.

vs. sRGB: 96 %
vs. sRGB: 96 %
vs. AdobeRGB: 62.1 %
vs. AdobeRGB: 62.1 %

There is no PWM in the traditional sense, but we determine a flickering of the background illumination when the brightness drops to 75 % or lower. However, the frequency is extremely high at 113 kHz, so even very sensitive users should not have any issues with the panel of the new MacBook Air.

Screen Flickering / PWM (Pulse-Width Modulation)

To dim the screen, some notebooks will simply cycle the backlight on and off in rapid succession - a method called Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) . This cycling frequency should ideally be undetectable to the human eye. If said frequency is too low, users with sensitive eyes may experience strain or headaches or even notice the flickering altogether.
Screen flickering / PWM detected 113600 Hz ≤ 75 % brightness setting

The display backlight flickers at 113600 Hz (Likely utilizing PWM) Flickering detected at a brightness setting of 75 % and below. There should be no flickering or PWM above this brightness setting.

The frequency of 113600 Hz is quite high, so most users sensitive to PWM should not notice any flickering.

In comparison: 52 % of all tested devices do not use PWM to dim the display. If PWM was detected, an average of 8773 (minimum: 43 - maximum: 142900) Hz was measured.

Display Response Times

Display response times show how fast the screen is able to change from one color to the next. Slow response times can lead to afterimages and can cause moving objects to appear blurry (ghosting). Gamers of fast-paced 3D titles should pay special attention to fast response times.
       Response Time Black to White
28 ms ... rise ↗ and fall ↘ combined↗ 15.6 ms rise
↘ 12.4 ms fall
The screen shows relatively slow response rates in our tests and may be too slow for gamers.
In comparison, all tested devices range from 0.8 (minimum) to 240 (maximum) ms. » 60 % of all devices are better.
This means that the measured response time is similar to the average of all tested devices (25.6 ms).
       Response Time 50% Grey to 80% Grey
39.6 ms ... rise ↗ and fall ↘ combined↗ 20.8 ms rise
↘ 18.8 ms fall
The screen shows slow response rates in our tests and will be unsatisfactory for gamers.
In comparison, all tested devices range from 0.9 (minimum) to 636 (maximum) ms. » 43 % of all devices are better.
This means that the measured response time is similar to the average of all tested devices (41 ms).

Performance

The performance is an interesting topic for the new MacBook Air, because the designation of the processor suggests a higher performance level for many customers. Contrary to almost all other Core i5-8xxx CPUs with four native CPU cores, Apple only implements a dual-core processor. Thanks to fast PCIe-storage, the subjective performance impression with everyday tasks is still very good. Most users who do not know if they need a dual-core or a quad-core should be fine with the less powerful model. The memory (either 8 or 16 GB LPDDR3-2133) is soldered onto the motherboard and cannot be upgraded.

Processor – Amber Lake-Y

Intel's current nomenclature can make it very tricky to assess the level processor performance. Apple uses an 8th generation Core processor with the designation Core i5-8210Y. The "Y" at the end indicates a very efficient processor, which can usually be cooled passively. The architecture is called Amber Lake-Y, which is based on Kaby Lake-Y used in the small MacBook 12. In short, it is a slightly beefed up version of the MacBook 12 processor and one of the slowest chip based on Intel's current 14nm++ manufacturing process. The big difference to the MacBook 12, however, is the additional fan. This is unusual for this type of processor and should improve the performance, especially during sustained workloads. We will have another look at the cooling solution, but it looks like there is no heatpipe, so the fan is not directly connected to the heat sink.

Intel specifies the TDP for the Core i5-8210Y with just 4.5W, which can be increased up to 7W by the manufacturer. Apple usually removes all the TDP limitations though, at least as the CPU temperature and the cooling solution, respectively, allows it. The base frequency of the Core i5 is just 1.6 GHz with a maximum Turbo Boost of up to 3.6 GHz for one core and 3.0 GHz for two cores. Hyper Threading is supported as well, so the chip can execute four threads simultaneously. More technical information about the Core i5-8210Y is available here.

Cinebench R15 Single
Cinebench R15 Single
Cinebench R15 Multi
Cinebench R15 Multi

The CPU runs at up to 3.0 GHz in the Cinebench Single test, which corresponds with a power consumption of around 10 Watts. The maximum value of 3.6 GHz is clearly misses, but the CPU temperature still reaches about 100 °C. The CB score is 131 points, which is just 10% slower than the 2017 MacBook Pro 13, but also just 9% faster than the MacBook 12 and 12 % faster than the old generation MacBook Air.

We see the maximum Turbo of 2x 3.0 GHz during the Cinebench Multi test for the first ~10 seconds at a consumption of almost 15 Watts. However, this drops to just 2x 2.5 GHz (10W) after another 20 seconds. The results can fluctuate a bit depending on whether the fan is already running or not. We got scores between 267 and 285 points. Both the old MacBook Air with the 5th generation Core i5 as well as the MacBook 12 with the Core m3 are not or just slower in one Cinebench run. This basically means the new MacBook Air only has a performance advantage for about 10 seconds compared to these two laptops, because the fan control is very slow. This improves the noise levels, but not the performance. The old 2017 MacBook Pro with the Core i5 is almost 30 % faster, and all other competitors with modern quad-core chips are between 80 - 140% faster. The CPU performance of the MacBook Air is not reduced on battery power.

Cinebench R15
CPU Single 64Bit
Asus ZenBook S UX391U
Intel Core i7-8550U (Quiet Mode off)
165 Points ∼100% +25%
Asus ZenBook S UX391U
Intel Core i7-8550U (Quiet Mode on)
108 Points ∼65% -18%
HP Envy 13-ah0003ng
Intel Core i7-8550U
160 Points ∼97% +21%
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2018 Touchbar i5
Intel Core i5-8259U (macOS)
154 Points ∼93% +17%
Huawei Matebook X Pro i5
Intel Core i5-8250U
146 Points ∼88% +11%
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2017
Intel Core i5-7360U (macOS)
145 Points ∼88% +10%
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2017
Intel Core i5-7360U (Win10)
140 Points ∼85% +6%
Dell XPS 13 9370 i5 UHD
Intel Core i5-8250U
142 Points ∼86% +8%
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2-LQN-00004
Intel Core i5-8250U
141 Points ∼85% +7%
Apple MacBook Air 2018
Intel Core i5-8210Y (macOS)
132 Points ∼80%
Average Intel Core i5-8210Y
 
132 Points ∼80% 0%
Apple MacBook 12 2017
Intel Core m3-7Y32
120 Points ∼73% -9%
Apple MacBook Air 13.3" 1.8 GHz (2017)
Intel Core i5-5350U
116 Points ∼70% -12%
Average of class Subnotebook
  (20 - 169, n=230)
111 Points ∼67% -16%
CPU Multi 64Bit
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2018 Touchbar i5
Intel Core i5-8259U (macOS Software Update)
687 Points ∼100% +141%
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2018 Touchbar i5
Intel Core i5-8259U (macOS)
608 Points ∼89% +113%
Dell XPS 13 9370 i5 UHD
Intel Core i5-8250U
636 Points ∼93% +123%
Asus ZenBook S UX391U
Intel Core i7-8550U (Quiet Mode off)
602 Points ∼88% +111%
Asus ZenBook S UX391U
Intel Core i7-8550U (Quiet Mode on)
301 Points ∼44% +6%
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2-LQN-00004
Intel Core i5-8250U
590 Points ∼86% +107%
HP Envy 13-ah0003ng
Intel Core i7-8550U
531 Points ∼77% +86%
Huawei Matebook X Pro i5
Intel Core i5-8250U
516 Points ∼75% +81%
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2017
Intel Core i5-7360U (macOS)
362 Points ∼53% +27%
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2017
Intel Core i5-7360U (Win10)
346 Points ∼50% +21%
Average of class Subnotebook
  (32 - 721, n=237)
303 Points ∼44% +6%
Apple MacBook Air 2018
Intel Core i5-8210Y (macOS)
285 Points ∼41%
Average Intel Core i5-8210Y
 
285 Points ∼41% 0%
Apple MacBook Air 13.3" 1.8 GHz (2017)
Intel Core i5-5350U
277 Points ∼40% -3%
Apple MacBook 12 2017
Intel Core m3-7Y32
265 Points ∼39% -7%
Cinebench R15 Multi loop
Cinebench R15 Multi loop

Our Cinebench Multi loop shows an interesting behavior. The first run benefits from the higher initial performance, but the score drops a bit in the second and third run. The fan slowly increases its speed during this time and reaches its full speed after 4-5 minutes. The result then stabilizes and improves again. The power consumption of the CPU levels off at 10.3 up to 10.4 Watts with a core clock of 2.6 GHz. Apple once again accepts high CPU core temperatures, and the chip always hovers at 98-99 °C.

What does this mean? Well, the new MacBook Air can handle short peak load scenarios (which are common in practice) very well, or it needs a few minutes under sustained workloads to reach the maximum fan speed to ensure a steady performance. The latter will suffer a bit until this time. However, one thing is absolutely certain: The fan is just way too loud for this performance class or the cooling solution is just not very effective, respectively. We will add the exact numbers in one of the next updates.

The passively cooled MacBook 12 suffers from performance drops with time, while the old 2017 MacBook Pro 13 (function keys) is about 25% faster. The current MacBook Pro 13 with the quad-core ULV-chip is not listed in this diagram, because it is in a completely different performance class at around 700 points.

0102030405060708090100110120130140150160170180190200210220230240250260270280290300310320330340350360370Tooltip
Apple MacBook Air 2018 Intel Core i5-8210Y, Intel Core i5-8210Y; macOS: Ø277 (266.55-285.88)
Apple MacBook 12 2017 Intel Core m3-7Y32, Intel Core m3-7Y32: Ø223 (81.65-262.2)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2017 Intel Core i5-7360U, Intel Core i5-7360U; macOS: Ø352 (345-363)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2017 Intel Core i5-7360U, Intel Core i5-7360U; Win10: Ø326 (321.54-345.92)
Cinebench R15 CPU Single 64Bit
132 Points
Cinebench R15 CPU Multi 64Bit
285 Points
Cinebench R15 OpenGL 64Bit
34.7 fps
Cinebench R15 Ref. Match 64Bit
99.3 %
Help

Emissions

System Noise

Heat sink and fan of the MBA 2018 (Source: iFixit)
Heat sink and fan of the MBA 2018 (Source: iFixit)

The MacBook Air 2018 is a passively cooled device in the first place, just like the small MacBook 12. There is a heat sink on top of the processor with small cooling fins. However, Apple still integrates a small fan at the right rear to ensure performance sustainability, which we saw in the CPU section. There is no heat pipe from the processor to the fan, so it is only supposed to improve air circulation inside the chassis.

So what does all this mean for your everyday work? The fan is usually deactivated and does not spin up in most everyday situations. The fan will start spinning under load after about 15-20 seconds, but is still hardly audible. The fan speed is seamlessly increased after this and it takes a couple of minutes before you can hear the full fan noise. Our Cinebench R15 Multi loop (macOS) is a good example. The fan starts spinning after about 15 seconds at 29 dB(A), but is only audible when you hold your ears against the fan exhaust. We measure 30 dB(A) after 2 minutes, 32 dB(A) after 4 minutes, 35 dB(A) after 6 minutes, 39 dB(A) after 8 minutes, and finally 41.8 dB(A) after 10 minutes. This behavior applies for mains, battery power, and for Windows via BootCamp, even though the fan speed ramps up slightly faster on the latter. The fan speed also fluctuates a bit (~0.3 dB(A)) on its highest setting, which is a bit annoying. The noise characteristic itself is a rather deep murmur and not very disturbing, but we can also hear a slight high-frequent sound at 37 dB(A) and higher. The fan will stop within 1.2 minutes after the load period.

Benchmarks are one thing, but you might also be confronted with the loud fan in more common situations. We experienced it during the installation of Fortnite, for example. The fan reached its maximum noise (41.8 dB(A)) after a few minuted during the download/installation of the game and stayed like this for the remaining 30 minutes or so. This will not happen every day, but we still think this is just too loud when you consider the low performance level of the laptop. You will also reach this noise levels when you play games.

We cannot hear electronic sounds or coil whine.

Noise Level

Idle
28.5 / 28.5 / 28.5 dB(A)
Load
30 / 41.8 dB(A)
  red to green bar
 
 
30 dB
silent
40 dB(A)
audible
50 dB(A)
loud
 
min: dark, med: mid, max: light   Audix TM1, Arta (15 cm distance)   environment noise: 28.5 dB(A)
dB(A) 0102030405060708090Deep BassMiddle BassHigh BassLower RangeMidsHigher MidsLower HighsMid HighsUpper HighsSuper Highs2030.128.62525.932.63124.923.34022.523.75022.224.86323.823.28022.122.310021.222.712520.420.916020.221.92002022.92502023.831519.324.840019.229.150018.833.963018.434.38001830.5100017.531125017.230.1160016.331.6200015.930.9250015.429.8315015.229.5400015.129.250001528.3630014.925.3800014.619.41000014.616.91250014.415.31600014.615SPL28.541.8N1.13.8median 17.2median 28.3Delta2.14.1hearing rangehide median Fan NoiseApple MacBook Air 2018

Speakers

The two speakers of the Apple MacBook Air 2018 are located next to the keyboard and direct the sound towards the user. The maximum volume is not as high as on the MacBook 12, but the subjective audio performance is still very rich and powerful. There is even some bass and it is no problem to listen to some music or watch videos. Our measurements also confirm the good results and the overall performance is even ahead of the MacBook 12.

dB(A) 0102030405060708090Deep BassMiddle BassHigh BassLower RangeMidsHigher MidsLower HighsMid HighsUpper HighsSuper Highs2030.128.22525.925.33124.925.54022.526.35022.225.36323.836.78022.135.610021.243.212520.450.616020.256.12002054.32502053.731519.356.740019.26050018.862.863018.463.98001860.6100017.564.6125017.263.3160016.364.2200015.966.9250015.465.5315015.261.7400015.160.650001561.6630014.960.6800014.657.51000014.6551250014.456.61600014.657.1SPL28.575N1.136.1median 17.2median 60.6Delta2.13.8hearing rangehide median Pink NoiseApple MacBook Air 2018
Frequency diagram (checkboxes can be checked and unchecked to compare devices)
Apple MacBook Air 2018 audio analysis

(±) | speaker loudness is average but good (75 dB)
Bass 100 - 315 Hz
(±) | reduced bass - on average 8.1% lower than median
(±) | linearity of bass is average (10% delta to prev. frequency)
Mids 400 - 2000 Hz
(+) | balanced mids - only 2.9% away from median
(+) | mids are linear (5.6% delta to prev. frequency)
Highs 2 - 16 kHz
(+) | balanced highs - only 2.2% away from median
(+) | highs are linear (4.5% delta to prev. frequency)
Overall 100 - 16.000 Hz
(+) | overall sound is linear (9.5% difference to median)
Compared to same class
» 2% of all tested devices in this class were better, 2% similar, 96% worse
» The best had a delta of 8%, average was 19%, worst was 50%
Compared to all devices tested
» 2% of all tested devices were better, 1% similar, 97% worse
» The best had a delta of 3%, average was 21%, worst was 53%

Energy Management – New MBA is enduring

Battery Runtime

Compared to the old MacBook Air and the 2017 MacBook Pro 13, Apple had to reduce the battery capacity a bit due to the slimmer front area of the base unit. Instead of 54 Wh, the new Air only gets a 50.3 Wh model.

Our runtime tests show very good results and the MacBook Air beats all of the comparison devices. We determine little more than 12 hours in our WLAN test with the default Safari browser. Google's Chrome is another popular browser, so we tested it as well with macOS. The result is about 50 minutes shorter, but more than 11 hours is still a very good result. The stamina benefits from the Amber Lake-Y CPU, even though the MacBook Pro 13 2017 is not far behind, either. Our video test with the short movie Big Buck Bunny (H.264, 1080p, 150 nits) runs for 12:20 hours and confirms the good stamina.

You also need some stamina when you want to recharge the MacBook Air. macOS shows an estimated charging time of 3:25 hours when the battery is completely empty (0 %), but it does not take that long. We see 20 % after 30 minutes, 43 % after 60 minutes, and 90 % after 2 hours. The last 10 % take another ~30 minutes, so the total charging time is 2.5 hours. The estimate with a 65W power adapter is 2:33 hours, but this is once again a bit too long. We see 35 % after 30 minutes, 71 % after 60 minutes, 90 % after 90 minutes and 100 % after 110 minutes.

Battery Runtime
NBC WiFi Websurfing Battery Test 1.3 (Safari)
12h 01min
NBC WiFi Websurfing Battery Test 1.3 (Chrome)
11h 08min
Big Buck Bunny H.264 1080p
12h 20min
Apple MacBook Air 2018
8210Y, UHD Graphics 617, 50.3 Wh
Apple MacBook Pro 13 2017
7360U, Iris Plus Graphics 640, 54.5 Wh
Apple MacBook Air 13.3" 1.8 GHz (2017)
5350U, HD Graphics 6000, 54 Wh
Apple MacBook 12 2017
7Y32, HD Graphics 615, 41.4 Wh
Dell XPS 13 9370 i5 UHD
8250U, UHD Graphics 620, 52 Wh
Asus ZenBook S UX391U
8550U, UHD Graphics 620, 50 Wh
Microsoft Surface Laptop 2-LQN-00004
8250U, UHD Graphics 620,  Wh
HP Envy 13-ah0003ng
8550U, GeForce MX150, 53.2 Wh
Huawei Matebook X Pro i5
8250U, GeForce MX150, 57.4 Wh
Average of class Subnotebook
 
Battery Runtime
WiFi v1.3
721
681
-6%
638
-12%
540
-25%
408
-43%
491
-32%
543
-25%
481
-33%
557
-23%
462 (206 - 805, n=171)
-36%

Preliminary Verdict – MacBook Air 2018

In review: Apple MacBook Air 2018. Test model courtesy of Cyberport.
In review: Apple MacBook Air 2018. Test model courtesy of Cyberport.

Many customers have waited years for a new MacBook Air. The highlight of the redesign is obviously the screen, which features a high resolution compared to the old Air. However, the quality is not as good as the screen on the more expensive MacBook Pro, neither in terms of luminance, nor color gamut. Apple still deserves praise for the great calibration out of the box, because basically all measurements are already in the target range. The new Air also has a glossy screen, which is not surprising, but still noticeable compared to the previous generation.

The new chassis leaves a very good impression, but there is not a huge mobility advantage over the MacBook Pro 13. The footprint is identical and the rear of the Air is even slightly thicker compared to the Pro. The weight difference is not crucial, either, at just 100 grams, and should not influence the purchase decision. The MacBook 12 is still the best choice if you want the most compact Apple laptop.

Our initial battery runtime tests determine long results between 11-12 hours in the Wi-Fi test, but it also takes quite a while before the battery is charged again.

The processor does not leave a good impression after the initial benchmarks, because the performance hardly improved over the small MacBook 12 and the old MacBook Air. The new Air can sustain the level of performance even after longer periods, but you are confronted with a loud fan in return. The latter cannot be justified at this performance level. So is the performance sufficient for many daily tasks? Yes, at least for now. The competition uses much faster CPUs, though, and is better equipped for the future.

This brings us to the initial question, whether the new MacBook Air might be redundant within Apple's current lineup. A bit of thinking quickly shows why Apple did not update the cheaper version of the MacBook Pro 13 this year. If Apple had updated this MBP 13 (function keys) with the new features (improved keyboard, Touch-ID, maybe even TrueTone and a faster processor), it would be hard to justify the new MacBook Air. Even without these improvements, the lower price (RRP) is pretty much the only advantage of the new MacBook Air, and many retailers already sell the 2017 MBP 13 for 1300 Euros (128 GB SSD) and 1500 Euros (256 GB SSD), respectively.

The next update will include the noise measurements and we check whether Apple really improved the speaker performance.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Apple MacBook Air 2018 (i5, 256 GB) Laptop Review
Andreas Osthoff, 2018-11- 9 (Update: 2018-11-13)
Andreas Osthoff
Andreas Osthoff - Senior Editor Business
I grew up with computers and modern consumer electronics. I am interested in the technology since I had my first computer, a Commodore C64, and started building my own PCs after that. My focus here at Notebookcheck is the business segment including mobile workstations, but I also like to test new mobile devices. It is always a great experience to review and compare new products. My free time is filled with a lot of sports, in the summer mainly on my bike.