Apple’s new MacBook Air addresses most of our complaints (but not all)

When we reviewed the 2018 MacBook Air—a newly renovated version of what had been an aging laptop—we found it to be good, but not great. It brought the venerable ultraportable up to modern times with a Retina display and Thunderbolt 3, but it also ratcheted up the price, switched to a disappointing CPU, made the keyboard a lot worse, and tossed aside USB-A and MagSafe.

With the just-announced revision of the MacBook Air, it seems that Apple is listening…at least a little. It addresses several of our biggest gripes with the previous model, though not all of them.

An important CPU leap

In reviewing Apple’s 2018 MacBook Air, I lamented that the company went from a CPU with a 15-watt TDP (thermal design power) to one with a 7-watt TDP. There were no configuration options, either: everyone got a Core i5-8210Y. The CPU I was expecting, the Core i5-8250U, would have given us twice the cores and threads and more cache.

This year, Apple is sticking with super-low-power processors from Intel. But at least they’re significantly better, and you have some options. The entry-level model has a Core i3-1000G4. That’s still a dual-core, four-thread CPU, and it carries a lower base and boost clock speed. But it’s Intel’s new tenth generation “Ice Lake” architecture, which, clock-for-clock, is a lot faster. It’s also got much newer, faster integrated graphics.

That model probably won’t feel a lot different than MacBook Air it replaces, but you now have the option to upgrade to a 4-core, 8-thread Core i5-1030G4 for only $100 more or a Core i7-1060G7 for $250 more. Those should finally give the Air the performance boost we always wanted. In particular, the latter model should deliver a nice increase in graphics power.

More storage, better price

The 2018 MacBook Air was, honestly, overpriced. It was $1,199 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. In 2019, Apple slightly improved the model and dropped the starting price to $1,099 (still too much). 128GB of storage just isn’t enough, and upgrading to 256GB made the price jump to $1,299.

The new MacBook Air starts at $999, and that’s with a 256GB SSD. It’s effectively a $300 lower starting price. If you’re okay paying the old price, you can upgrade the RAM from 8GB to 16GB, or boost the SSD to 512GB, or upgrade the CPU, and have a much nicer experience.

We used to say you might as well spend $200 more and get a 13-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299. But now that the Air has a lower starting price and more storage, that’s no longer the case. The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro is $300 more and still only has a 128GB SSD. Time for a storage upgrade there, too. In the meantime, the difference in price and capabilities between the Air and MacBook Pro makes a little more sense than it used to.