12-inch MacBook vs. MacBook Air

Published:
Last Updated: May 20, 2019

Written by

I have been a long-time MacBook Pro user but recently had the chance to work on a MacBook Air for a couple of days. The MacBook Air impressed me, and I wanted to buy one, but then Apple released the 12″ MacBook. I ended up buying the first-generation MacBook and wanted to share my impression of the MacBook vs. MacBook Air.

Product
Apple 12-inch MacBook

$1,200*

Apple 13.3-inch MacBook Air

$958*

12-inch MacBook vs. MacBook Air

I recently had the opportunity to test a 13″ MacBook Air and the 12-hour battery life amazed me. That was a huge improvement over what I got used to from my 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

So I struggled to decide between the new MacBook and the MacBook Air. I finally decided to go with the new MacBook. I wanted to buy it the day it went on sale and thought I could just pick one up from the Apple Store. Unfortunately, I had to order it online. That was a bummer because I was flying out to Europe on Sunday and I was hoping I could bring it with me.

12-inch MacBook vs. MacBook Air review and comparison
13-inch MacBook Air

My primary goal was not to replace my 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which is sitting on my desk, the goal was to find a device I could take when I’m on the road. I travel a lot, both domestically and internationally, so mobility is a major factor for me. Below is my feedback on specific features of the new MacBook that ultimately made me decide to buy one instead of the MacBook Air:

Display

The retina display is stunning – just what you would expect from a retina display. It’s a vast improvement over non-retina displays, like the one the MacBook Air sports. The display was probably the most important factor for deciding on the new MacBook over the MacBook Air.

12-inch MacBook vs. MacBook Air review and comparison

Weight & Size

With just over 2 pounds, the new MacBook is incredibly light, and it’s smaller than the 13″ MacBook Air but has almost the same screen size. The difference in weight and size may not be much on paper, but once you have held the new MacBook, you feel the difference.

Performance

The new MacBook can’t compete with the MacBook Air and certainly not with the MacBook Pro, but so far I haven’t been negatively affected by the lack of horsepower. Some tasks are a little slower, but the lightning fast Solid State Disk (powered by NVMe) makes the machine feel smooth and responsive.

Let’s be clear: The new MacBook has a very specific purpose for me – to be my travel companion. It does not replace my MacBook Pro, which I use on a daily basis when I’m in the office. But as my main travel companion, it’s perfect, and it has replaced my iPad for the most part.

The second generation MacBook got a CPU upgrade, which enables the device to even run virtual machines on it without any issues.

Design

The new MacBook is as beautiful as it is light and I very much enjoy using it. Not everyone cares about design, not even all Apple users. Just look at all the ugly covers people slap on their phones and MacBooks :)

For me, design played an important factor in the purchase decision. My wife is only half the Apple fan I am, but even she admires the beauty of that device.

Trackpad & Keyboard

I have read mixed reviews about the new keyboard and force touch trackpad.The new force touch trackpad is great, and I have noticed that going back to a non-force touch trackpad feels awkward. Mostly because you can click anywhere on the new trackpad and it feels the same. On the traditional touchpad, you have to click on the bottom of the trackpad.

13-inch MacBook Air

I have had the MacBook for over a year, and I still don’t love the new keyboard. I haven’t tried the second-generation keyboard on the new MacBook Pro’s yet, but I expect it works better than the first generation.

FaceTime camera

The FaceTime camera of the new MacBook is “ok” but not more. It sports a 480p sensor, which means it has the same resolution as the front-facing camera of an iPhone 4. That’s disappointing and almost caused me to not order it. After having placed the order, I tested the camera in my local Apple Store, and the quality was as bad as I had expected. Real life experience is however not as bad because, depending on the speed of your internet connection, quality may be degraded due to compression anyway.

I called my wife from the Westin at the San Francisco airport the other day, and she said she couldn’t tell the difference. I’m sure there was a difference, but probably, based on the slow internet connection at the hotel it was not very noticeable.

When I asked my contact at the local Apple Store about the camera, this is what she had to say:

I had the exact reaction; I was very excited during the announcement. Then I read the tech specs and the reviews.
I really think that this is designed to be a “boutique” computer, and that power users like you would find it, to use your word, “disappointing.” That said, the parts of the new technology worth keeping should find its way to our other laptops when they refresh in a year or so.
Wish I could tell you it was a typo about the FaceTime camera, too!

Battery life

The new MacBook is not going to last 12 hours, but right now the battery indicator on my MacBook shows 55% and 4:49 remaining. I’m on a plane using wireless internet, and my screen is dimmed to ~50%. I’d say those are typical settings for me while I’m on the road. Bottom line, battery life is not as long as I had hoped for but good enough for what I need.

MacBook vs. MacBook Air for the traveling executive

The new MacBook is a stunningly looking and sufficiently robust travel companion. If you are a hands-off C-level executive, who only answers emails, makes Skype/FaceTime calls and browses the web or writes reports, it’s a great machine.

Especially if hooked up to an external display. The second generation MacBook is even powerful enough to handle more CPU-intensive tasks like running a virtual machine. A consulting colleague of mine only uses a MacBook for all his work. I am not sure if I would go that far. I do work in Photoshop, Illustrator and Final Cut Pro X and need every bit of power my current 27″ iMac has to offer.

When Apple released the new MacBook Pro with TouchBar, I started considering getting the 13″ model to replace my 12″ MacBook. But I haven’t pulled the trigger yet. What is your hands-on experience with the new MacBook?

4 thoughts on “12-inch MacBook vs. MacBook Air”

  1. Thanks for your article, and I enjoy reading the comments.

    I just recently decided to purchase the 2017 MacBook with the i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD. It superseded my just retired 2010 MacBook White (still working) for no other reason than I wanted something that was more travel friendly. The old MacBook White is a brick in comparison, and the battery needs to be replaced. However it was made during an age when Apple would let us keep upgrading it. I realise that is no longer the case with the newer generations for Apple products. Still, being able to run Apple’s latest OS on a product almost 9 years old is incredible in an age where people ditch their laptops after 3 or 4. My experience with it was the reason I opted to stay with Apple.

    I also initially thought about the MacBook Air. However as soon as I saw it side-by-side by the MacBook, it was an easy decision for me.

    So far the new MacBook has met all of my expectations. I don’t do anything intensive – email, web surfing and site editing, Microsoft productivity apps, etc. Maybe copy photos and videos from my camera. It fits my needs almost perfectly. I even don’t mind the new keyboard, the 2017 version apparently is a better experience than the 2015 but I’ll need to take people’s word for that. I’m not a writer that particularly cares about the (lack of?) key travel, so perhaps that’s a consideration for other folk. If I was, then perhaps I’d consider using an external keyboard, in much the same way I prefer using an external mouse over the touchpad if the former is available.

    The Retina screen is gorgeous. The whole device feels premium. The FaceTime camera is (sadly) still 480p, but who cares? It’s FaceTime. If there was one thing I would change about the MacBook, it would be to provide 2 USB-C ThunderBolt 3 ports instead of just the solitary (non-ThunderBolt) port. Primarily so I could charge the laptop and connect a peripheral at the same time without the need for a dongle. That would be it.

    With regards to battery life, it’s definitely not 10 hrs under normal usage – more like 8 hrs. However given I carry a 20,000mAh Cygnett USB power bank… I’m never worried about being without power outlets to recharge my MacBook, iPad or iPhone. I sometimes charge all three simultaneously.

    Having two USB-C ThunderBolt 3 ports, one of which could be used for recharging the laptop, and the other being able to support DisplayPort, with both supporting Data, would make this an absolutely amazing laptop.

    That’s it from me. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Awful. Keyboard is atrocious, just as much so on the second generation macbook 12” retina as it was on the first. With writing as my primary occupation, it’s hurt more than helped my word count in time I’ve spent rekeying, editing, or cleaning the keyboard (~once a month).

    Reply

Leave a Comment