Apple MacBook Air (2019) review

How does 2019’s model fare?

MacBook Air 2019

Our Verdict

While a solid entry with an excellent new screen, the 2019 MacBook Air's dual-core processor is starting to feel underpowered. Even with a lower entry price, it’s still very expensive considering its light starting specification and pricey upgrades.

For

  • Lovely design
  • Screen is great
  • Fantastic battery life
  • New lower price

Against

  • Underpowered
  • Lack of storage space
  • Pricey to upgrade
  • Only two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Expensive

The new MacBook Air (2019) is here after a tumultuous few years for Apple’s thin and light MacBook. The MacBook Air used to be the most affordable way to get a MacBook, but then it appeared to fall out of favor when Apple repositioned the 12-inch MacBook as both the thinnest and cheapest of its laptops.

However, in a rather surprising move, Apple ditched the 12-inch MacBook line, releasing a refreshed MacBook Air for 2019 at the same time.

So, with the MacBook Air back in what many people consider its rightful place as the most affordable Apple laptop, will this year’s model manage to bring Apple’s vaunted design and build quality to a new audience who are put off by the MacBook Pro’s high price?

MacBook Air 2019

Apple surprised us all with a new MacBook Air for 2019.

(Image credit: Future)
Spec sheet

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Here is the MacBook Air (2019) configuration sent to TechRadar for review:

CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-8210Y (dual-core, 4 threads, 4MB cache, up to 3.6GHz)
Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 617
RAM: 8GB (2,133MHz LPDDR3)
Screen: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 Retina True Tone display (backlit LED, IPS)
Storage: 256GB PCIe SSD
Ports: 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), 3.5mm headphone jack
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-F, Bluetooth 4.2
Camera: 720p FaceTime HD webcam
Weight: 2.75 pounds (1.25kg)
Size: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56cm; W x D x H)

Price and availability

Apple’s announcement of a new MacBook Air (2019) was pleasant for a number of reasons. First of all, we weren’t really been expecting a refresh. And second, Apple also announced that the entry-level MacBook Air (2019) was getting a price cut to $1,099 (£1,099, AU$1,699).

While that’s still far from budget territory, this move makes the MacBook Air more affordable than ever, and seeing prices going down with updates – rather than up – is always a nice welcome.

For comparison’s sake, the MacBook Air (2018) started at $1,199 (£1,199, AU$1,849) when it rolled out.

The base model of the MacBook Air (2019) comes with a 1.6GHz dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz, 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM, 128GB storage and Intel UHD Graphics 617.

There’s also a model with the same specs, but with twice the storage at 256GB, which costs $1,299 (£1,299, AU$1,999).

That basically means you’re getting 128GB more for $200/£200/AU$300, a pretty costly upgrade. It’s a bit frustrating that Apple has kept that big leap in price for a relatively small amount of extra storage space. Meanwhile, you can double your iPhone XR storage for another $50/£50.

It makes much more financial sense to get the 128GB version, and then either invest in an external hard drive (check out our pick of the best external hard drives for Macs for suggestions), or utilize cloud storage like iCloud to save your files.

As is unfortunately the case with Apple’s hardware, there’s no easy way to open up the MacBook Air yourself and upgrade the SSD.

Therefore, while we’re happy to see the price drop for the MacBook Air, shipping a premium – and while the Air is the cheapest MacBook, at this price it’s still premium – laptop with just 128GB of storage seems pretty mean in 2019 – especially when Apple then charges so much for a storage upgrade.

One of the biggest threats to the MacBook Air (2019) is that Windows laptops are now even slimmer and more powerful than ever. Apple no longer has the monopoly on thin and light laptops, and there are a number of Windows-based Ultrabooks that offer similar (or better) specifications for the same price. And, you can guarantee that they all have bigger hard drives than 128GB. For example, the HP Spectre x360 (2019) is around the same price and offers 256GB storage and a much faster processor.

The lower entry price of the MacBook Air (2019) is definitely welcome if you’re set on investing in a MacBook. However, some of Apple’s less appealing habits are still evident, and with increased competition from Windows laptops, there are much better value options out there.

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Design

Like with the new MacBook Pro (2019), Apple has not revamped the outside design of the MacBook Air (2019) from last year’s model.

This is great news if you already love the design of the MacBook Air, but not so if you were hoping for a more considerable change.

This also means that you get the same thin laptop with dimensions of 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61 inches (30.41 x 21.24 x 1.56cm) and a weight of 2.75 pounds (1.25kg). It remains an impressively lightweight laptop, and while it’s not as mind-blowingly light as rivals like the Acer Swift 7, the Apple MacBook Air (2019) is a device you can easily carry around in a bag or backpack.

Despite being thin and lightweight, it does feel robust and solid, so you won’t have to worry about it getting bent or dented. This is thanks to the MacBook Air being built out of an aluminum alloy that looks great and feels sturdy. By keeping the same design as last year’s model, the new MacBook Air (2019) is once again made out of 100% recycled aluminum, which means that no new metal has been mined to create this device.

That’s a massive selling point for anyone concerned about the environment, and something we commend Apple for.

However, by keeping the same design, it means this year’s model still keeps the same elements we weren’t too fond of in the 2018 model.

MacBook Air 2019

There are two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left.

(Image credit: Future)

The fact that the MacBook Air only comes with two Thunderbolt 3 ports is frustrating but understandable, considering the svelte design of the laptop. However, Apple’s decision to put both ports on the left hand side baffled and annoyed us in 2018 – and it continues to do so in 2019.

If one port had been placed on each side, it would have given people a bit more flexibility when charging the MacBook Air. Instead, you always need to sit in a certain position with the power adapter plugged into the left of the laptop.

It also makes the MacBook Air feel a little cluttered – and slightly unbalanced – if you plug in two (or more if you have an adapter) devices into the Thunderbolt 3 ports.

One area where Apple has made a change – and a welcome one at that – is with the keyboard. The new MacBook Air (2019) now uses the improved third-generation Butterfly keyboard that came with this year’s MacBook Pros.

Previous versions of the MacBook keyboards using older Butterfly switches were prone to problems such as sticky and unresponsive keys. Apple has gotten a lot of flack for this – unsurprisingly, as when you’re spending a lot of money on a laptop, you’d expect the keyboard to actually work.

The controversy has been a stain on Apple’s typically impeccable reputation for quality control and reliability. The updated keyboard is aimed at making it less likely to have issues – though some people will inevitably think that this doesn’t go far enough. When spending this kind of money, ‘less likely to go wrong’ just won’t cut it. 

While Apple’s Keyboard Service Program, which will replace a faulty keyboard free of charge, extends to this year’s MacBook Air, it also suggests that the issue is still persistent. At this point, we hope that the next MacBook Air (and other MacBook models) ditch the clearly problematic Butterfly switch altogether.

MacBook Air 2019

Touch ID is once again included.

(Image credit: Future)

As with the previous version, Touch ID is also included, allowing you to log into the MacBook Air with your fingerprint (or pay for stuff using Apple Pay). The larger Force Touch trackpad is also present, and like with last year’s model, it feels pleasant to use and works well.

Overall, the MacBook Air (2019)’s design hasn’t changed much, which in some ways is a good thing – but it’s also disappointing as well. Hopefully, the next version of the MacBook Air will try something as revolutionary as the original MacBook Air was.

MacBook Air 2019

The True Tone feature is nice, but not essential.

(Image credit: Future)

True Tone screen

Perhaps the most noteworthy change with the MacBook Air (2019) is that the screen now supports Apple’s True Tone technology.

The True Tone feature automatically adjusts the color temperature – most noticeably whites – shown on the screen, depending on the ambient light you’re using the MacBook Air in. It can have a pleasing effect – when you first start the MacBook Air (2019), you can toggle the setting on and off to see the difference it makes. And, while this setting may not be for everyone, we have found it does a nice job of making colors look more natural.

True Tone has been included in MacBook Pros for a while now, and we’ve often thought that wasn’t always the perfect fit. MacBook Pros are often used by photographers, video editors and digital creatives who require accurate colors – something that True Tone messes with. However, with the MacBook Air, which is used as a more casual laptop where color accuracy isn’t as important, having this feature makes much more sense.

It’s a nice feature, but probably not one that would cause you to want to ditch your 2018 model for this year’s.

Elsewhere, the screen remains the same – so a 13.3-inch Retina display with 2,560 x 1,600 resolution that offers sharp and vibrant colors. Last year’s model introduced impressively thin bezels around the display, making the screen span almost the entire width of the MacBook Air. The display has long been one of the best features of the MacBook Air, so we’re pleased that – True Tone aside – Apple hasn’t messed with that winning formula.