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

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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.

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The old Air design with those huge silver display bezels feels outdated.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