There is not much that changed with the 2019 iteration of the MacBook Air – it's a little tweak on the big changes Apple introduced last year. It still has a beautiful Retina display – just now it's True Tone, so it matches the room color temperature. There are still two USB-C / Thunderbolt ports instead of MagSafe and traditional USB-A ports. The processor is unchanged, a Y-series chip that does the job but can struggle under heavy loads. It still has Touch ID for secure logging in. And it's still – yes – has a controversial and splitting butterfly keyboard to write on.
The biggest difference for most is that Apple has cut the price down by $ 1
The real question for this new Air is whether it can live up to the classic MacBook Air that dominated the portable industry for over half a decade. It has the same wedge shape, about the same price and same name. But I'm not sure it has the same pedigree. The classic MacBook Air was The Standard Laptop for many people. It was the simple, obvious choice – what you probably could recommend to anyone.
This type is very good, but it's not quite that.
If you're not familiar with the big changes Apple made on the MacBook Air line last year, you should definitely read the review – things are different and better now, but not radically so. What has radically changed is everyone's perception of the keyboards on Apple's MacBook line. Simply put, they are difficult to fully trust, as there have been so many reliability issues.
So the main issue of this MacBook Air is just one that I can't answer after a week with the device: I just can't tell you if this keyboard will suffer from the same double-tap and lost printing issues that hit the MacBook line since 2016. But I can tell you that I still really like to write on this keyboard. I know the design has been divisive because of how shallow the journey is and how high it is, but this iteration is quieter than others and feels so soft and less clacky.
That's because Apple finally made some more serious interventions on the keyboards. No, it hasn't completely remodeled them, but it has tweaked them again to improve reliability. This so-called "Gen 3.5" keyboard has what Apple just describes as "new materials" inside the butterfly switches. Perhaps more importantly, Apple introduced an extended keyboard service program, so if something goes wrong, you have four years of coverage. This MacBook Air is covered under it.
If we could set aside this whole keyboard problem, I'd ask another question, the one I directed the review with. Is this MacBook Air good enough to become a Standard Laptop? My answer is that it depends on your needs – which is just another way of saying "no".
However, let's put together context. I like this laptop and think it is very good. The True Tone Retina screen is beautiful and makes other displays look colorful blue for comparison. Sign in with Touch ID is very convenient (and I also prefer physical function keys to the Touch Bar). The track is large, accurate, and does not suffer from fake cranes from your palms. The speakers are pretty good for a laptop of this size and class.
Most of all – the keyboard aside – the overall design and quality of the hardware is top notch. There are dozens of Windows laptops in the same price range that turn this air on any number of calculations. You can get edge-to-edge screens, log in with your face, and find faster and more powerful processors. But very few of them have the same iconic appearance of aluminum air.
That's not to say there's no problem here. The webcam is not very good, and although I have fully acclimated to life with USB-C, I know that most people do not have and will also miss MagSafe. The screen shot is still not strong, but a software update from earlier this year made it brighter than last year's model that was originally allowed on launch.
It is also the fact that Apple could not update the processor to anything more powerful. It still uses a 1.6 GHz dual-core "Y Series" Intel processor, which is not as powerful as the "U Series" processor found on the MacBook Pro and many Windows laptops.
In my daily use, there has been no problem at all – but my daily use involves a lot of browsing in Safari and Chrome, Slack, Spotify or iTunes, iMessage and Evernote. Open all these apps and pile on the browser tabs, and you will finally get to the spin wheel to wait, but if you just stay in check, it'll be fine. Photo editing can sometimes cause me to close other apps, for example.
There have been reports that this year's MacBook Air has a slower SSD than last year. I saw slightly poorer results with one benchmarking tool, but never noticed a real difference in actual use. Apple tells me that the overall performance of this year's model should be the same as last year.
A positive change is that Apple may have made some software tweaks in the Mojave that make the fans spin a little less often than before. Compared to last year's model, I have heard them much less often. I experience about the same battery life, a little over seven hours of active use that I can stretch to just over eight if I'm careful about apps and screen brightness.
If you have the classic MagSafe MacBook Air, this laptop will be an upgrade for you in every important way. It would have been better since it is going to be the standard laptop for people who want a cheap Mac laptop. Apple delivers something that is up to snuff. But I started this by German capitalizing "The Default Laptop", and Apple hasn't quite achieved it yet.
This MacBook Air is not the obvious, the default choice anymore. As Dan Seifert notes in his review of the new MacBook Pro on the MacBook Pro, you can spend just $ 200 more and get a significantly better machine that is only marginally thicker. Or, as I have mentioned above, if you are willing to go Windows, there are good machines that do not feel quite smeared in terms of performance.
All that is to say that if you want to buy an Air, there is a lot of "ifs" and "depends" to think about. There is always a better version coming next year. Perhaps Apple will reshape the keyboard, or maybe Intel will finally deliver a better processor, or maybe there are many maybes. It's the way for any technical purchase! You must always balance what you are willing to use and what you are willing to throw around in your backpack.
What made the classic MacBook Air so special is that it cuts through all these warnings for so many people and has done so consistently for so many years. The 2019 MacBook Air is good, but it has not yet been named The Default Laptop.
After all, for $ 200 more, you can get a MacBook Pro.
Vox Media has affiliated partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media can earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy .