The MacBook Air Masterfully Makes a $1,199 Laptop Seem Like a Decent Deal

The new MacBook Air models arrived on Tuesday as an expensive surprise. While much of the event played out as expected, the rumors indicting a cheaper MacBook Air in 2018 proved to be off-the mark. Instead of sticking with or lowering the price of last year’s $999 MacBook Air, the upgrades start at $1,199.

With some rumors indicating a MacBook Air with a price point as low as $799, the price’s announcement drew groans. But while the case for a middle market laptop from Apple certainly still makes sense (we still haven’t given up hope), digging into the numbers reveals that the new MacBook Air is actually a pretty decent deal inasmuch as anything that costs $1,199 could reasonably be described as such.

Let’s take a look at the Air’s upgrades. Apple gave it a Retina display with over 4 million pixels, added Touch ID support, two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, all while making it lighter, thinner, and smaller than its predecessor. This makes it more like the MacBook Air S (to use iPhone terminology) than the budget-friendly, Chromebook-inspired laptop some were hoping for. But this doesn’t mean you should count it out altogether.

That’s because newly introduced Air improves in many ways upon even last year’s $1,599 12-inch MacBook. It has a better processor, a larger display, faster RAM, a better graphics card, and it’s $400 cheaper. The only downside is that it has 128GB of storage capacity compared to the MacBook’s 512GB.

But of course, the fact that something seems like a deal relative to other Apple products could just as easily mean that Apple was over-pricing the 12-inch MacBook, too. So which is it?

Dimensions of the 2018, 13.3-inch MacBook Air.Apple
Dimensions of the 2017, 12-inch MacBook. It's actually lighter and thinner than this new MacBook Air.Apple

Somewhat counterintuitively, the 12-inch MacBook is actually now thinner and lighter than the Air, which could justify a slightly higher price. But the new Air is a generation ahead of it in terms of internals, leaving the 12-inch MacBook in the unenviable spot being both expensive and outdated.

For its part, the 13.3-inch MacBook Air now takes the place of the cheapest, current-gen Apple laptop, edged out only by the $999, 2017 MacBook Air. To get a truly cheap Apple laptop you’ll need to settle for last-gen tech. But a combination of impressive internal upgrades — plus last year’s disappointments — have made this year’s Air seem like a bargain.

Check out more of our coverage of Apple’s final 2018 hardware announcement.

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