When Apple unveiled the new MacBook Air, it seemed to signal the death of its aging predecessor. But even today, Apple sells the old MacBook Air, despite the laptop’s outdated design and ancient components.
Yes, right on Apple’s website is a MacBook Air powered by a processor first released in Q1 of 2015. To put its age of that 5th-Gen CPU into context, every other laptop maker is packing new machines with 10th-Gen CPUs. And it’s not just what’s inside the MacBook Air that makes it feel as if it were from another age. While its design is iconic, this notebook has chunky bezels and bare-bones features compared with the newest laptops.
And yet, there are some reasons shoppers would want to opt for the older Air. Here are the pros and cons.
Why does Apple still sell the old MacBook Air?
You’d think that listing a laptop with a 5th Gen CPU while others release notebooks with 10th Gen CPUs for the same price would be a bad look for Apple. So why does the Cupertino giant continue to offer the old MacBook Air?
Stephen Baker, vice president of industry analysis at NPD, told Laptop Mag that the answer is quite simple: inventory and demand. There is a familiarity with the previous MacBook Air that customers can rely on. After all, the Air was, for many years, the de-facto portable laptop for students and creative professionals, and avoided any major controversies during its long reign.
“There is demand by consumers for low-priced Macbooks that they are no longer able to satisfy with the pricing they implemented for the new MBA,” Baker wrote in an email.
Why you should by the old MacBook Air
Despite having aging components, a severely outdated design, and a lackluster feature set, the old MacBook Air is still the best laptop available for some users.
One reason is because of its selection of ports. Apple modernized the new MacBook Air by trimming down its chassis. But in doing so, it didn’t leave any room for USB Type-A ports — the input used by nearly every peripheral and accessory made in the last decade. The old MacBook Air has two USB 3.0 ports, so you don’t need a dongle to connect wired mice, keyboards or webcams.
MORE: Apple MacBook Air (13-inch,) Review: It’s Still Good
Some folks are better off buying the old MacBook Air for its keyboard: Not only does it not suffer from the same issues as the new keyboard does, but it’s widely considered to be more comfortable, thanks to its deeper 1.4-millimeter key travel (compared to the 2018 MacBook Air’s 0.6mm).
Then, of course, there’s the price. At $999, the MacBook Air remains the least expensive Mac. Even if it’s not that much cheaper than the new MacBook Air ($1,199), $1,000 is a max budget for lots of people, especially students on a budget.
Why you should buy the new MacBook Air
The new MacBook Air is objectively better than the old model in some ways.
The biggest improvement is the new Retina display, which is brighter, more vivid and much sharper than the one on the 2017 model. Flanking that panel are the narrow bezels Apple brought to the 2018 version, one of the ways that it updated the laptop’s design.
The Core i5-8210Y CPU inside the new MacBook Air clocked a 7,871 on the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance benchmark, which is only a small improvement over the 6,428 scored by the old MacBook. However, the newer MacBook Air has a much faster SSD.
Along with faster overall performance, the new MacBook Air also comes with Thunderbolt 3 ports. This future-proof input enables superfast data transfer speeds, so you can quickly juice up your peripherals. You also get some modern features not found on the predecessor, including a Touch ID fingerprint sensor and a remarkably fast SSD.
What about the keyboard?
The most obvious reason to avoid the new MacBook Air is because of the well-documented problems with Apple’s butterfly keyboard, which continues to be a thorn in the side of Mac owners.
The keys are so unreliable that it led to dual class-action lawsuits against Apple. The tech giant has made several changes to the keys, each one of which promised better reliability; however, every new version seems to come with its own set of problems. Just try reading this broken Wall Street Journal report written by Joanna Stern on a new MacBook Air.
The good news (sort of) is that if you do run into problems with your newer MacBook Air, Apple will replace it with the same improved keyboard that is shipping with the new MacBook Pros.
I wouldn’t blame you for buying the last-gen MacBook Air. In fact, my colleague and senior writer at Laptop Mag, Henry T. Casey, recommended the last-gen Air to his mom, a teacher who needed to replace her aging MacBook Air. An expert on all things Apple, Henry argues that the old MacBook Air is a better choice for less tech-savvy people who need to complete simple tasks.
So, is the new MacBook Air worth the risk of potentially having a faulty keyboard? That depends. It is if you’re a creative pro who needs the modern features offered by the MacBook Air, like the Thunderbolt 3 port and Retina display. However, if you simply need a reliable laptop that runs macOS, then you might want to stick with the faithful 2017 model.
Credit: Laptop Mag