Comparing the 2018 MacBook Air with the less-expensive 2017 model

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited February 9
The 2018 MacBook Air refresh is packed with potential, but is it worth buying it versus the prior generation? AppleInsider talks about which version is the better option for your money.

2017 MacBook Air (left), 2018 MacBook Air (right)
2017 MacBook Air (left), 2018 MacBook Air (right)


Three months ago, Apple released the new 2018 MacBook Air, complete with the first full redesign to the line in 10 years. The new model incorporates a bunch of new features and technology that brings it up to date with Apple's other MacBook offerings at a relatively low price of $1200.





However, Apple is still selling the old MacBook Air for $1000, that's $200 cheaper.

This raises the question of whether the new MacBook Air is really worth that extra $200, or if the old MacBook Air may be a better option.

Obvious Outside Refinements

Right off the bat, you'll notice that the new Air has a modern look and feel to it, using an all-aluminum design. One thing the new model lacks is the glowing Apple logo, but that doesn't matter at all from a usability standpoint.

Even the hinge has changed between models
Even the hinge has changed between models


Even though they both boast 13-inch displays, the new Air is quite a bit smaller and more portable at 11.97 inches wide and 8.36 inches deep, instead of 12.8 inches wide and 8.94 inches deep, and it's a little bit thinner as well. With the old model, you get two USB-A ports, a headphone jack, a Thunderbolt 2 port, an SD card slot, and MagSafe.

The 2017 model uses Magsafe to recharge
The 2017 model uses Magsafe to recharge


With the new Air, you simply get a headphone jack and two high-bandwidth Thunderbolt 3 ports, which can be used for charging or connecting external devices like a 5K display. Having only two parts can be limiting, but you can easily find a USB 3.1 type C or Thunderbolt hub for extension.

The old Air design with those huge silver display bezels feels outdated. The new Air has slim glossy black bezels surrounding the new Retina display, that look much more pleasing.

The off-angle color shift is more obvious in the older version
The off-angle color shift is more obvious in the older version


The Retina Display itself is worlds better on the new model, as it can display 96 percent of the sRGB spectrum compared to only 71 percent on the old Air.

With the old Air, there's a noticeable gap between the glass and the display which can be distracting for some. The old display had horrific viewing angles as compared to the new display, with off-angle oddities like color shifts apparent -- an issue that is minimized in the newer model.

Tactile Parts

There's no doubt there's a lot less key travel on the new Air's keyboard, and it does take some time to get used to, though some still prefer the old keys. The nice thing about the new Air is that it features Apple's third-generation butterfly key mechanism, which incorporates a silicone barrier to protect from dust and debris.

The third-generation butterfly key mechanism means there's less key travel in the 2018 MacBook Air
The third-generation butterfly key mechanism means there's less key travel in the 2018 MacBook Air


The new Air also gains Touch ID for logging in and using Apple Pay online, which is a nice little bonus.

The new Trackpad is not only larger than the previous design, but it has also incorporated force touch and doesn't physically move. A motor beneath the trackpad vibrates to simulate clicks, and you can easily customize pressure-sensitivity in the settings.

There's a bigger trackpad in the newer model
There's a bigger trackpad in the newer model


You also get an even clicking feel across the whole trackpad, whereas the old model used a cantilevered design that makes it difficult to click near the top edge.

Sound and Internals

The speakers are also much better on the new Air, with a more full sound, and clearer vocals than the previous model.

Comparing the FaceTime cameras of the two models
Comparing the FaceTime cameras of the two models


The new MacBook Air also gets the T2 security chip, which off-loads some functionality, like the flash storage controller, and device security. Even though both models have the same quality 720P FaceTime camera, the T2 chip helps the new Air record much better video, allowing for a brighter image than the older model.

To go with the speakers, the microphone quality is also improved in the latest model.



For performance, the new model is faster despite both old and new versions having a dual-core processor. The 2018 edition is roughly 30 percent faster than its predecessor. Above and beyond that, the new processorsupports hardware encoding of the HEVC video codec, which helps with video rendering.

We also saw a 25 percent increase in graphics performance on the new Air as well, which is nice since it still maintains the same 12 hours of battery life.

Decision Time

Is the new Air better? Oh yes, much better, and it is definitely worth the extra $200. To make it even better, there are multiple sales going on right now, so you can buy the 2018 MacBook Air for as little as $1079.

The new Air is basically better in every way, unless you need a lot of ports.

Comparing connectors on the two MacBook Air generations
Comparing connectors on the two MacBook Air generations


If you currently own the old MacBook Air, should you upgrade to the new one? If you're happy with your current MacBook and it does everything you need it to do, then don't upgrade. You'll notice a difference, with it being wider the further back you go in model years, but given that this machine was never designed to be a speed-demon, there probably aren't enough reasons to spend the cash. Use your old MacBook until it breaks down or starts impeding on your ability to get work done.

For us, the cut-off line is 2015. If you have a 2015 or newer, stick with what you have. If you have an older model, the new machine is so much better in every regard, it is absolutely worth getting.

Where to buy

Apple authorized resellers are discounting both the 2017 MacBook Air and 2018 MacBook Air with instant rebates of up to $250 off. A few of the hottest deals can be found below, but it's always wise to check out the AppleInsider Price Guide for the latest discounts and product availability.

2018 MacBook Air deals 2017 MacBook Air deals
«134

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 63
    Did you not notice that the new Air has a Retina display? You'd think that a 3x increase in pixels would be worth a mention.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 63
    The new MacBook Pro looks like a more likely destination if performance is a motivation.
  • Reply 3 of 63
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,094administrator
    bsimpsen said:
    Did you not notice that the new Air has a Retina display? You'd think that a 3x increase in pixels would be worth a mention.
    While this text isn't mine, I see two mentions of Retina in there?
    GeorgeBMacmikethemartianwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 63
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 3,608member
    No, I disagree....   Even ignoring the $200 price difference, I still prefer the 2017 because of the better keyboard and the fact that the SSD can be replaced or upgraded when needed.

    Yes, the 2018 has a better screen.   But I find the 2017 screen to be fine -- the same with the sound.

    The only significant advantage I see to the new one is the size.  But otherwise, I like the old one.
    ... Yes, the 2018 has upgraded some stuff.  But the upgrades are minor and what they took away is significant.   The trade-offs are not worth it.

    I think we would have been better off if Apple had kept the stuff we liked and upgraded the stuff that they could.  I think they should have kept the keyboard, SSD and the real I5 processor instead of the renamed M series).

    Added:   I forgot the A series ports and the MagSafe connector.  Those are nice.
    edited February 9 irelandburnsideTomEraulcristianmuthuk_vanalingamkingofsomewherehot
  • Reply 5 of 63
    Alternative headline: Comparing the 2018 MacBook Air with the old 2010 design.




    edited February 9 kiowavtbigpicschia
  • Reply 6 of 63
    irelandireland Posts: 17,528member
    I prefer the old machine by far.
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 7 of 63
    Beware.  I moved from a MacBook Pro with 16GB RAM to the 2018 Air with 16GB RAM.  I love everything but the fan running constantly and the incredible lag time now on doing certain things even if only a few applications are open.  It’s SLOW.  It gets bogged down when it should not. Not sure why, and not enough to make me go back, but shocking considering my girlfriend has an older MacBook Air and the performance seems at least equal and the fan runs less.  With more pixels comes greater power needed to deliver to them I guess, saps the system maybe?  Anyway, I love it, but am surprised by the underpowered feel.  
    mcdaveburnsidebigpicschiairelandmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 8 of 63
    Retina display alone is reason to upgrade.
    MisterKittheargo33watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 63
    ...if I read correctly both are dual core (but which specifics ?) - Geekbench browser suggests the earlier 2.2 i7 is almost as fast in multicore as the new model, irrespective of all the other improvements ?

    http://browser.geekbench.com/macs/376

    6905 vs 7403

    edited February 9 GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 10 of 63
    mcdavemcdave Posts: 1,039member
    They should have slipped an SD card reader or an extra USB-C port below the headphone port.
  • Reply 11 of 63
    bigpicsbigpics Posts: 1,353member
    bluefire1 said:
    Retina display alone is reason to upgrade.
    Keyboard alone is a reason to consider NOT upgrading.

    So there's that.

    I also just priced going to 512 SSD and 16 GB RAM: $1799!  That's a whole bunch of simoleans for 8 GB of RAM and a bigger (but not expensive today) SSD.

    If that price included a real i5 or i7 class CPU I'd be on the bubble.  But as is, hoping for further movement toward less suckage in the keyboard on the MBPs this summer.

    Meanwhile, with a new keytop surface my 2013 MBA (512/8, i7) MBA is running like new.
    GeorgeBMacmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 12 of 63
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,499member
    I would have been happy with the old keyboard, range of ports, an updated u series processor and the new display at the old price. Like all the MBA’s ultrabook competitors have.
    it is definitely worth the extra $200. To make it even better, there are multiple sales going on right now, so you can buy the 2018 MacBook Air for as little as $1079. 
    How can you say that? The MBA does not sell in a vacuum. Even though the MBA created the ultra book market, It sells in a market with a wide range of competitors, with great displays, long battery life, more powerful processors and lower priced.  Eg XPS, Spectres, etc. The fact it has Mac OS only goes so far. In truth, it is at best worth the same price. That there are multiple sales of the new MBA at this time of year kinda proves it is incorrectly priced.
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 13 of 63
    entropys said:
    I would have been happy with the old keyboard, range of ports, an updated u series processor and the new display at the old price. Like all the MBA’s ultrabook competitors have.
    it is definitely worth the extra $200. To make it even better, there are multiple sales going on right now, so you can buy the 2018 MacBook Air for as little as $1079. 
    How can you say that? The MBA does not sell in a vacuum. Even though the MBA created the ultra book market, It sells in a market with a wide range of competitors, with great displays, long battery life, more powerful processors and lower priced.  Eg XPS, Spectres, etc. The fact it has Mac OS only goes so far. In truth, it is at best worth the same price. That there are multiple sales of the new MBA at this time of year kinda proves it is incorrectly priced.
    The competition to the MacBook Air is the 13” non-Touchbar MacBook Pro or the 12” MacBook, both priced at $1,299—not a PC. The vast majority of those who want a Mac aren’t interested in a Windows/Linux machine, and if you need a Mac, PCs aren’t really an option.

    Personally, for my needs the MacBook Pro is a better option than the new MacBook Air, even though it’s priced $100 higher. 
    chiaking editor the gratewatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 63
    The fact that the old MacBook Air is the same price and hardware it had 5 years ago means this comparison is terrible. If you didn't want the old MacBook Air then, then why would you want it now? Not to say that $200 price difference isn't  having new Mac users still consider it, but those are also the people used to having more ports on there computers (assuming they previously owned windows).
  • Reply 15 of 63
    For the intended MacBook Air customer, someone who wants a lightweight, elegant, everyday on the go, capable of handling some heavier tasks, lower priced MacOS computer, I don’t see how anything other than the new model would be acceptable. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 63
    David-in-FloridaDavid-in-Florida Posts: 2unconfirmed, member
    What about all the reports on reddit and elsewhere about keyboard problems on the 2018 MacAir?  I want to replace my 2010 Macbook but I am nervous about buying something with endless keyboard problems.  One of my sons has a recent Macbook Pro - he has to use canned air on it about every week to keep the keyboard half working.  That is what the Apple Store in Minneapolis/St. Paul told him to do.

    I am am considering the 2018 Macbook Air, the 2017 Macbook Air, or the early 2015 Macbook Pro.  The later two  have the old scissors keyboard is my understanding. 

    My wife and I travel internationally for months at a time.  I don't want keyboard problems while we are traveling.
  • Reply 17 of 63
    radarthekatradarthekat Posts: 2,929moderator
    McJobs said:
    Alternative headline: Comparing the 2018 MacBook Air with the old 2010 design.




    The late-2010 model is what I had until last month.  I evaluated both the new 2018 Air and the 2017 Pro, and went with the Pro.  Very happy with that decision.  I’ll keep food and dust away from the keyboard.  
    GeorgeBMacwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 63
    No, I disagree....
    You know, at this point, I’m sure any talk is pointless.

    Feel free to believe what you believe, we’ll see who’s right in the end.
    chiaStrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 63
    ...if I read correctly both are dual core (but which specifics ?) - Geekbench browser suggests the earlier 2.2 i7 is almost as fast in multicore as the new model, irrespective of all the other improvements ?

    http://browser.geekbench.com/macs/376

    6905 vs 7403

    My understanding is that the pre-2018's used standard, low power i5's & i7's.   The 2018 uses a renamed M series processor.  The M series have gotten a bad reputation, but the new ones are improved enough to not be a step down from the older low power "i series" processors.   But one has to wonder how the MBA would do with a modern low power (true)  i5 or i7..
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 63
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,094administrator
    What about all the reports on reddit and elsewhere about keyboard problems on the 2018 MacAir?  I want to replace my 2010 Macbook but I am nervous about buying something with endless keyboard problems.  One of my sons has a recent Macbook Pro - he has to use canned air on it about every week to keep the keyboard half working.  That is what the Apple Store in Minneapolis/St. Paul told him to do.

    I am am considering the 2018 Macbook Air, the 2017 Macbook Air, or the early 2015 Macbook Pro.  The later two  have the old scissors keyboard is my understanding. 

    My wife and I travel internationally for months at a time.  I don't want keyboard problems while we are traveling.
    We've talked about the keyboard failure rates already at some length. In short, while the 2016 did have a higher rate of failure than the previous design, the 2017 returned it to about the same rate as the previous design. In both cases, it wasn't a massive increase in failures overall, and the machine in total fails less often than the 2012-2015 design over the same timeframe.

    We have the same data on the MacBook Air. There isn't a giant increase in failure rates on the keyboard versus the previous design as of yet, but we are still watching it.

    If the keyboard is "half-working," the MSP Apple Store should replace the keyboard. There is a zero-cost service program for it.

    Apocryphally, my 2016 MacBook Pro keyboard was used to generate about half the content I delivered here on AI until I got a 2018 late in the year. No failure. We've had one keyboard failure across the entire staff, spanning 15 MacBook Pros.
    edited February 10 GeorgeBMacchiawatto_cobra
Sign In or Register to comment.