So you have been eyeing the new MacBook Airs. Maybe you’re considering getting one for school this Fall. But you can’t decide whether or not to go with the 13-inch or the 11-inch model? We feel your pain. Last week we reviewed the 11-inch Core i5 1.6GHz (summer 2011) model and we’re quite taken with it. But more recently we have gotten our hands on the 13-inch Core i7 1.7GHz model too. We’ve spent some time with both and have collected benchmark comparisons, as well as some impressions that could help you make the decision for which MacBook Air model is the right one for you.
Under the hood, both models offer very similar specs, so let’s go over the biggest differences between the two models which mostly relate to form-factor. For starters, the 11-inch model weighs 2.38 lbs, while the 13-inch model weighs 2.96 lbs. So that means the 13″ has got a bit more junk under its trunk, but both models are still ultraportable lightweights. Both systems are also the same as far as thickness is concerned, but the 13-inch will take up more space in your bag because it has a bigger display. But besides for having a bigger display, the 13-inch also sports a higher resolution 1440 x 900 versus the 11-inch model’s 1366 x 768. That isn’t a ton of extra pixels with the 13-inch Air, but it’s certainly nice to have. That said, we’ve found that the 13-inch display does offer much less strain on your eyes and it’s generally more comfortable to work with. The 11-inch is still very usable, and much more so than most netbooks, but it’s amazing how an extra two inches of display real estate can make such a significant difference.But asides from pixels and inches, we have noticed yet another difference between the two models’ displays, and that is that the 13-inch Air’s display is a bit duller than the 11-inch Air’s display. The 11-inch Air’s display has colors which are bit richer with more pop, and it also has whites that are a bit whiter. Both displays are still great, but the 11-inch’s display in terms of color is a little bit better.
The next significant difference between both models is that the 13-inch model packs in a built-in SD card reader, which the 11-inch model lacks. This isn’t a deal breaker for most, but it certainly is super convenient having an SD card reader built-in. I know that like myself, many 11-inch owners have lamented the fact that they have to carry around an SD card reader. It’s not a massive inconvenience, but if only Apple could have fit in an SD card reader in this time around, it would be so much more convenient.
Finally, another significant difference between the two Airs is their battery life. According to Apple, the 11-inch sports a battery life of up-to 5 hours and the 13-inch up-to 7 hours. No matter which way you look at it, we can confirm that the 11-inch has a significantly shorter life than the previous generation 11-inch MacBook Air, and it sucks. As for the 5 hour and 7 hour respective claims, well that only applies to light usage. Power users who multitask, leave their display on the highest brightness setting, and have WiFi turned on, will find that the 11-inch model lasts just about 3 hours, and the 13-inch about 3 hours and 45 minutes. At-least that’s what we’ve found so far in our tests. That certainly is not super impressive in regards to battery life but since it is slightly better for the 13 inch model over the 11-inch, it’s something to take into consideration.
As far as performance is concerned, in terms of raw power, the 13-inch Core i5 model with a 1.7GHz processor earned a Geekbench score of 5821 which shows that it is significantly faster than the 11-inch Core i5 1.6GHz processor, but not overwhelmingly so. That said, the 11-inch Core i5 model is no slouch either. It earned a score of 4718 in Geekbench. That makes it as fast as our 27″ iMac from Late 2009 with a Core 2 Duo E7600 3.06GHz processor, and almost as fast as last year’s 15″ Core i5 MacBook Pro. In terms of everyday performance like loading apps, shutting down and booting up, both systems are pretty much equally as speedy to one another, and we’ve seen very negligible differences. So unless you’re a power user, you won’t see much of a difference with the 13-inch vs the 11-inch.. Speaking of which, if you are a power user, you’ll probably want to upgrade the 11-inch or 13-inch model to a Core i7 processor for an additional $150.
Overall, we’ve come to the following conclusions. And that is that the 13″ MacBook Air model has the potential to be a desktop replacement and someone’s primary computer since those extra 2″ of display real estate, really eases strain on your head and eyes. Plus the inclusion of an SD card slot, a slightly bigger keyboard and a bit more performance, help transform it into someone’s main Mac.
On the other hand, we’d say that the 11″ MacBook Air is more suitable for frequent travelers. If you travel a lot, the convenience of the size of the 11-inch model really makes a difference. Whether it’s in your backpack or when you’re using it on an airplane seat tray, the smaller size really is
much more convenient for traveling. It’s just a shame that its battery doesn’t last longer. But don’t get us wrong, the 13″ MacBook Air also makes a great travel companion. And the 11″ MacBook Air is powerful enough to be a desktop replacement replacement / primary computer too, especially if you hook it up to an external display. But if you’re someone who travels frequently, or constantly on the go, we recommend sticking with the 11-inch model.
No matter what, both laptops offer great value and performance for the price and you really can’t go wrong with either model. The 11-inch Core i5 model with 2GB of ram can be found at Amazon for $949, and the 4GB model with a 128GB SSD for just $1139. The basic 13-inch configuration is going for as low as $1249 online, while the high-end 13-inch model with a 256GB drive is going for $1594.