Various posts on this community seem to disparage the macBook air, partly because it hasn't been refreshed and seems ready for the chopping block and partly because it's just the cheaper one. However, I still think it's a good choice for those seeking a mac laptop, especially given the recent changes in the product line. If you've been considering a mac purchase lately, you should think about these points.
Look at the competition
If you want a laptop, and you want it to be a mac, you could go with an older one from last year or you could choose a macBook retina, macBook air, or macBook pro. Of these, the retina is the slowest, the pro is the most expensive, and the air is respectable from the specifications standpoint and available at the cheapest. Consider these points:
Do you use any of these items with your computer?
- USB flash drives
- ethernet adapters
- screens (for presentations to others or for large screens for those who can see them)
- storage cards, such as those from media players, phones, cameras, etc.
- external keyboards or mice
- braille displays
- external CD or DVD drives, as there isn't an internal one
- external hard drives for backup
- Microphones other than the basic one in your laptop already
- Midi keyboards or interfaces for music composition
- Your smartphone cable (to charge from or sync with the computer)
If you use these, you will need dongles. Hopefully you only want to connect one at a time, or you'll need an expensive one or multiple smaller ones. Of course, if you choose the mid-range macBook retina, you'll need the expensive multi-port ones because there's only one port available. For a few things, you may be able to use bluetooth. For example, most braille displays available today have bluetooth. However, that means one more device to charge. For example, I like to use my braille edge with my computer and with my phone, and I use my computer's USB port to charge it while I work so that, if I ever need to bluetooth it with my phone, I have the battery available. Many of these devices, however, don't even have bluetooth available. Dongles are available, yes, but consider a few things.
First, you'll need those on you whenever you want to connect something. That might not be a problem if you connect a scanner that sits on your desk all day, but if someone hands you a flash drive, and at least in my world they're still doing that, you'll need your dongle in your pocket to read it.
Second, you will need to watch out for port blockage. If you want to use a USB device while charging, you need to watch where your dongle goes. Not all of them are very thin, and those ports can be close together. Even on the macBook pro that has four ports (the intro-level one has only two and the macBook retina has a single one), you can easily block the next port over. Not to mention that one of those ports is near your headphone port. If you wanted to, for example, back up a large amount of data to an external hard drive while you sleep, you could probably do it on the macBook pros with multiple ports, but it would require an expensive multi-port dongle for the retina to handle it.
Usually, the argument goes, "You'll use this for a long time so max out everything". There is a reason for this; the macBook line used to allow upgrades, but now it's difficult. However, it is also important to realize what you want to do with your computer. If you plan on editing a lot of raw audio, or developing and running large programs such as simulations or high-mathematics tools, or running several virtual machines all the time, you might need the higher level chips. I'm one of those people; I usually have at least one VM open, as well as XCode (a tool commonly used to write programs), and several other things. In this situation, however, you may want to consider the larger macBook pro 15-inch model, even though it's very expensive, or even a desktop in order to use the higher-speed processors. For the typical user, and even most pros, this is quite unnecessary. I do all my work on a 13-inch pro from two years ago and it handles it well.
The large majority, however, doesn't really do this much with their computer. I would assume that most people want a computer to do word processing to write their papers and documents, an internet browser, e-mail, probably listen to some music, and have room for expantion. If you have a relatively good computer from ten years ago, you can do this on it (I'm writing this article on an old laptop I found in a closet). Therefore, a macBook air is more than capable of running all these apps. You won't notice any slowness, except for those things that are slow on any mac, and operating system updates don't significantly impact the speed.
One common request is to have windows available too, as it's the most common operating system that people switch from when they get a mac. You could use a virtual machine to do that, which allows you to run them simultaneously, but in my experience (nearly eight years with macs), it is nicer to use bootcamp and run them independently. In this case, your macBook air will run windows natively, and you don't need the higher processing speed or memory to do it. If you go this route, the only spec to be aware of is how much storage you'll be using. Even for this, I think 256 gb is usually sufficient for casual usage, although if you have a lot to store go for the 512 gb disk.
To conclude this comparison, I noted that the benchmark (a real-world-ish calculation of how fast a processor is) ratings for the fastest processor for the macBook air is higher than that for the base model of the macBook pro. Even so, the air is still cheaper. The macBook retina's processors don't even come close to either of these models.
Your battery is running, and mine is empty
Another important spec is how long you can do whatever it is you're doing. In this area, the macBook air's battery tends to last longer than does the pro's. This is mostly the result of the screen, although the processor is a reason too. I'm assuming you are running your computer with a standard workload as I did earlier, and for this you don't need high-powered processors but you probably want to be able to leave home and do your work all day. The pros will last a while too, no mistake, but the airs will push that beyond secure and into assured territory.
Apple has a new keyboard and a lot of people don't like it. I don't have experience with the newest edition keyboard on the pros, but people have complained about the keys not moving much when they type, little difference tactily between keys, and a loud noise when pressing keys. I do have experience (although not a ton) with the keyboard on the macBook retina, and in my opinion it is nowhere close to what is already available on the airs and pre-2016 pros. You should definitely try these if you have the option, but the old popular keyboard is only available on the airs unless you get an older model such as the 2015 pros.
A small computer, the air can do that
If you are looking for a laptop, you probably want to carry it around. The 13-inch air and both pros are very light and can easily fit into backpacks or computer cases, but there's a smaller air around. While the 13-inch pro weighs 1.58 kg and the 13-inch air weighs 1.35 kg, the 11-inch air weighs only 1.08 kg. Of course, the macBook retina weighs even less, 0.92 kg, but it is actually quite slow and has just one port, so I don't think it's such a great option. Since most people reading this won't be looking at their screen anyway, the smaller one doesn't matter, and the 11-inch airs still have their ports, which the newer models have dropped. It also has a lower price, so that's always nice.
Money, money, money, money, money, money!
It's well-known that apple has a rather significant markup on their computers. The macBook lines cost at least $1300 and the new pros cost at least $1500. That's a lot of money to spend on computers that are relatively underpowered. The macBook air costs significantly less, and that's if you get them straight from apple and not with the periodic amazon or other online discounts (and we're talking new machines here). I typically use the philosophy that I'll be using this for a long time, so it would be best to just spring for the highest I can pay, and this has some good reasoning. Still, if you buy a computer that is pretty good, you can save some money for things you'll do with it later, such as new peripherals or your next iPhone, given that they don't last quite as long. Unlike with windows machines, macs tend to remain fast when running new versions of the operating system, as the hardware and software are designed together and retaining customers on one means they will stay on the other. When you're ready to upgrade, which I believe could wait for at least four years, your old laptop will still have resale value.
The screen--I don't think it's an issue to you guys
The major difference between the air and its more expensive brothers is its screen. The retina screens (apple's term for high resolution) offer crisper images and more pixels. The air's screen isn't bad; it's just normal while the others are quite good. Since this is a community of people who mostly don't use the screen, however, there is little need to pay for the higher-quality screens. If you are low-vision, as I understand it, the more important factor is screen size, and the air and smaller pro have exactly the same size. There isn't a 15-inch air, so if that's the important part then you don't have a choice.
You don't have to get an air. I don't have one, as I use a lot of complicated tools. All my family members with laptops have airs, however, so I have experience working with them. If you want a new computer now, don't count the air out. It allows you to save some cash while still having a nicely powerful laptop. It's true that apple seems ready to stop making airs, but that doesn't mean they'll stop working. If you want a new machine now, the latest air is essentially as modern as the latest pro, and it might serve you better.