Everything you need to know about the new MacBook Air, iPad Pro and Mac Mini

by Peter Griffin / 09 November, 2018
The new MacBook Air. Photo/Apple.com

The new MacBook Air. Photo/Apple.com

A much-anticipated revamp for three Apple favourites: The MacBook Air, iPad Pro and Mac Mini.

It’s been three years since Apple’s best laptop, the MacBook Air, received a design makeover and tech upgrade.

That’s a long time in the world of computing, too long for me. Looking to upgrade my ageing Air bought in 2013, I ran out of patience last year and opted for a MacBook Pro. But if the new Air had been on the market, it would have been my first choice.

The Air delivers the best mix of computing power and design in a lightweight package in the Apple world but also in its class of portable notebooks overall, though with the usual Apple price premium that always causes you, for a few moments anyway, to ponder reverting to a Windows machine.

Apple tells me it listens to its customers. Chief executive, Tim Cook, apparently rises at 3am each morning and spends the first two hours of his days reading customers’ emails. If that’s true, he clearly missed all the impatient emails over the last 18 months demanding a new Air.

Watch Apple Vice President of Hardware Engineering Laura Legros talk about the new Macbook Air: 

Airs and graces

What Apple debuted this week, however, answers most of the demands that were commonly lobbed at it: a high-resolution screen, the addition of Touch ID to unlock the Air, better solid-state storage options, and some of the keyboard and layout tweaks that have made the other MacBooks easier to use.

The same aluminium body and wedge-shape build that made the Air famous remains and it’s largely the same size overall. Its 13-inch screen is the most noticeable change and it has the Retina display (2560 x 1600 pixels) that more recently updated MacBooks and iPhones feature.

This means clarity and resolution that makes text, images and video ‘pop’ on the screen in a way we’ve greedily come to expect with major advancements in smartphone screens. Almost as significant is the slimming down of the screen’s bezel, which is probably reduced a full centimetre on the trim around my five-year-old Air.

It doesn’t have a touchscreen, despite Apple offering the feature on some of its other MacBooks. Nor does it feature a touch bar for quick keyboard shortcuts and app commands. That’s fine by me as I’ve always seen the touch bar as a gimmick.

What it does have, however, is one small square button alongside the top rows of keys which houses the Touch ID sensor allowing you to use your fingerprint to quickly unlock the Air for added security.

Boosting security overall is the addition of Apple’s T2 Security Chip, a piece of hardware in the laptop that stores secure, encrypted log-in details and governs the boot sequence of the computer, so it can’t be hijacked by malware. It also encrypts the contents of the Air’s SSD (solid state drive).

The Macbook Air's case is made of 100% recycled aluminium. Photo/Apple.com

The Macbook Air's case is made of 100% recycled aluminium. Photo/Apple.com

Nice touch

That Touch-ID button can, as with other newish Apple devices, even extend to authenticating your online shopping transactions. Apple showed me how you can use Apple Pay to simply make a purchase without entering credit card details. All of those are held in the T2 chip, which in conjunction with your fingerprint, authorises the transaction. It makes shopping online safe and remarkably easy, though I’ve seen few New Zealand retailers offer the Apple Pay-Touch ID compatibility on their websites yet.

The 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor powers the new Air, bring computing performance up to the current industry standard. A 60 per cent faster solid state drive is also available in configurations up to 1.5TB (terabytes), answering a demand for higher capacity Airs.

The Air’s keyboard is of the “Butterfly” variety Apple has introduced across its MacBooks, with flat keys that don’t depress much, back-lit to make it easy to type in poor light. The force touch trackpad has also made it into the Air. Overall, the keyboard changes are most noticeable if you are moving from an old Air.

The crowning design feature of the Air – the aluminium case – doesn’t change here, available in three colours: grey, space grey and rose gold. It’s made with 100 per cent recycled aluminium so has green credentials and as usual, keeps ports to a minimum. You get a headphone jack and two USB-C ports for the charger and other devices.

Battery life is a claimed 12 hours for wireless web browsing which will give you computing power through the day. The Air runs macOS Mojave, the latest iteration of Apple’s computer operating system, with a few subtle tweaks, such as dark mode, which lets you switch the interface to expose yourself to less screen glare.

Still a classic

This is pretty much the Air upgrade fans were wanting, albeit a year or so overdue and without any killer new feature to add a sense of wonder. Still, it returns the Air to the top spot in the ultraportable space and the relatively conservative redesign retains everything that makes the Air so popular. But these days it will cost you more, thanks to that stunning screen and the new processor and security chip. It’s a premium product alright, but one that lasts – there’s plenty of life left in my five-year-old Air, which still looks pristine.

Price: Starting at $2,149

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple unveils a new iPad Pro with new Apple Pencil during a launch event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 30, 2018 in New York City. Apple also debuted a new MacBook Air and Mac Mini. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple unveils the new iPad Pro with new Apple Pencil during a launch event on October 30, 2018 in New York City. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Going Pro

If the Air was overdue for an upgrade, the new iPad Pro arrives on schedule, a little less than 18 months after its 2nd generation predecessor. The original iPad, released way back in 2010, did as much to revolutionise tablet computing on its debut as the iPhone did for the smartphone.

A new standard iPad, version 6, appeared earlier in the year (see Noted’s review) and is an affordable option for light web surfing and video watching. The Pro, as the name suggests, has always been geared towards the creative set – artists, architects, designers and filmmakers, who want a more personal and portable palette to work on.

The new iPad Pro comes in two sizes, 11-inch and 12.9-inch, and features a Liquid Retina display maintaining the Pro’s legacy of great screen quality. As with the Air, the new iPad Pro pushes its screen closer to the edge than ever, with a super-thin bezel.

Bionic powers

It’s very thin at 5.9mm and a redesign gives it square sides and rounded edges. The home button has gone, mirroring smartphone makers’ efforts to focus on the screen. Instead, Face ID unlocks the iPad Pro, which is powered by the A12X Bionic chip. That chip is an advancement on the one featured in the new iPhones and features 90 per cent higher CPU performance than previous iPads. The Bionic processor also gives it better performance than many laptops on the market, signalling Apple’s desire to position the iPad Pro as a viable laptop replacement.

That processor power really comes into its own when working in one of the creative applications that have been tailored to the iPad Pro, such as AutoCAD, which architects use to draw up building plans, or Procreate for artwork.

Early next year, Adobe will release a full version of Photoshop CC for the iPad Pro, suggesting it is confident that the Pro has the power to run its complex photo and graphics editing software. The iPad Pro again works with the Apple Pencil, which can now clip magnetically to its side for wireless charging.

A USB-C port replaces the Lightning connector in a welcome move, allowing all sorts of devices, from cameras to storage devices, to be plugged into the Pro. Hopefully, this spells the end for Apple’s own cable.

With 10 hours of battery life, it’s a work machine to see you through the day, particularly if you are willing to stump up for the Smart Keyboard Folio that goes with it and is one of the best yet for the iPad.

The augmented reality capabilities of the iPad Pro again impress. Apple showed me a website selling bicycles which allows you with the tap of a button to place one of their bikes on the table in front of you, using the iPad Pro’s screen to move around it to see its dimensions in detail. This sort of thing will be massive for online shopping, as well as the more training and educational related uses of AR, which as a technology is yet to see widespread use.

The new iPad Pro cements the device’s place as an incredibly powerful mobile tool for creatives and may even suit you as a laptop replacement given the availability of apps on the iPad for most productivity tools and cloud-based file storage via Box, Google Drive and Office 365.

Price: Starting at $1,399 (11-inch), $1,749 (12.9-inch)

Pint-sized computing

In the desktop computing world, Apple’s hero product is the iMac, that all-in-one device that did away with the PC white box 20 years ago to such great effect.

But Apple’s Mac Mini has been there since 2005, serving up Mac’s operating system and always credible computing power. Its real edge, however, has been the compact design, which not only allows the computer to be easily transported, but lets several of them to be used in a networked configuration to share processing power.

This is ideal for video editors and software developers who can harness the power of the Mac Mini’s processors collectively to get a job done. With this upgrade, the focus is on getting the job done faster with new 4-core and 6-core Intel Core processors literally speeding things up.

The same small footprint is maintained with the Mac Mini encased in the same space-grey aluminium you’ll see on the MacBook.

Price: Starting at $1,499 (4 core processor) and $1,999 (6 core processor)

Noted will be looking more in-depth at these new Apple devices in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out here for full reviews.

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