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Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite

As most any parent will surely agree, no two children are alike, not even within the same family. The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite looks a great deal like the premium Ultrabook Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus, our Editors' Choice for high-end ultrabooks. The much more affordable Book 9 Lite borrows several design elements from its more expensive sibling, with a similar slim silhouette and touch screen. But despite the elegant ultrabook stylings, the Book 9 Lite falls short in several key areas, with dawdling performance and lackluster battery life.

The Book 9 Lite is designed with the same slim profile and elegant curves seen on the premium Book 9 Plus, in a clear play to offer a budget-friendly laptop with the same visual appeal. There are a few small details that have changed, such as a slightly different shape to the hinge, and the absence of the bare metal stripe around the edge of the chassis, but the biggest difference to the exterior isn't necessarily one that you see, but one that you feel, as the chassis is molded plastic instead of aluminum. The plastic Book 9 Lite measures 0.7 by 12.8 by 8.8 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.5 pounds.

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The other big difference is all visual, as the Book 9 Lite features a 13.3-inch display with 1,366-by-768 resolution, a far cry from the ultra-hi-res display of the Book 9 Plus. Despite the decidedly common display resolution, it is still a touch screen with 10-digit tracking, and the color quality isn't bad, though the viewing angles aren't great.

The Book 9 Lite features two downward firing stereo speakers, which are designed to reflect the sound off of the surface it rests on to produce a fuller, richer sound. In practice, the sound isn't bad, provided you keep the laptop on a table or desk. Pick up the laptop, and the sound quality drops off considerably; switch to your actual lap, or rest the laptop on a couch cushion or bed, and the sound will be very muffled.

While the construction and display of the Book 9 Lite may differ significantly from its premium counterpart, the keyboard and touchpad are very similar. The full-size chiclet keyboard has the same comfortable spacing and typing feel as that of the Book 9 Plus, along with the same elongated shift button and half-size arrow and function keys. Unlike the more expensive model, however, the Book 9 Lite has no backlight. The Book 9 Lite also features a broad, clickable touchpad, with multitouch gesture support. During my testing, the touchpad tracked everything smoothly and consistently, without notable issues.

The Book 9 Lite is outfitted with two full-size USB ports—one USB 2.0 on the right, and one USB 3.0 on the left—along with tiny ports for Ethernet, VGA, and HDMI, which all require adapter dongles; the only adapter included is a microLAN adapter for connecting Ethernet. There's also a regular stereo headset jack, a lock slot, and an SD card slot, which is concealed by a spring loaded cover. However, unlike most port covers used on laptops, this one doesn't pull out, but instead swings in, revealing the card slot when in use and automatically protecting it as soon as the card is removed. Most of your connectivity with the Book 9 Lite will be wireless, with 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The Book 9 Lite is also equipped with a 128GB solid-state drive, which ensures fast boot times and a peppy performance, but doesn't provide a lot of storage space when compared to other budget-friendly laptops, like the Asus VivoBook V500CA-DB71T, which sports a 500GB 5,400rpm hard drive, or the Acer Aspire V7-582P-6673, which boasts both capacity and speed thanks to a 500GB hard drive plus 20GB cache solid-state drive (SSD).

Preinstalled on the hard drive are several programs and applications to accompany Windows 8, but two unique offerings from Samsung stand out. The first is Samsung SideSync, which lets you automatically sync files between the Book 9 Plus and several current Samsung Android smartphones, like the Editors' Choice Samsung Galaxy S4 (Verizon Wireless). When docked, files sync automatically and are easily transferred back and forth from phone to PC. Samsung also includes HomeSync Lite, which lets you use the PC as the central hub of a personal cloud, syncing files between multiple devices. While it skips the fees associated with paid cloud storage, it also is limited by the fact that it's tied to the laptop's local storage, which is still fairly small.

Other apps preinstalled on the ATIV Book 9 Plus include Skype, Netflix, iHeart Radio, Plants vs. Zombies, BitCasa, and a 30-day trial of Norton Internet Security. Samsung covers the Book 9 Lite with a one-year warranty.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite The Book 9 Lite is a curious case in that the processor manufacturer and model aren't clearly mentioned in Samsung's marketing materials, and there is no tell-tale sticker on the palmrest shouting out this commonly cited specification. Dig into the details of the laptop, however, and you'll eventually find that it's simply identified as the "X4 Quad Core," with a clock speed of 1.4GHz. The X4 is actually an AMD product, designed for Samsung. But while Samsung may have requested features and offered input in the creation of the chip, the nearly anonymous AMD X4 presents purchasers with many of the same compromises offered by other budget laptops leveraging AMD's less expensive hardware.

Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite

First and foremost, the processing and productive capability is well below that of Intel-equipped competitors. In Cinebench the Book 9 Lite scored 1.06 points, a dramatically lower score than the Editors' Choice Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch (2.50 points) and even below the Core i3-equipped Dell Inspiron 14R-5437 (1.84 points). As a result of this underpowered processor, the Book 9 Lite also comes up short in productivity tests, scoring only 1,612 points in PCMark 7 and crawling through Handbrake in 3 minutes 9 seconds. By comparison, the Acer Aspire V7-582P-6673 scored 4,228 points in PCMark 7, and the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch finished Handbrake in 1:25, less than half the time. The laptop was unable to run our Photoshop tests for further comparison, but even during relatively undemanding tasks, such as browsing the web in two windows, the Book 9 Lite was noticeably slow.

And even in graphics testing, where AMD usually shines, the Book 9 Lite came up short, putting up single digit scores in gaming tests—seven frames per second in Heaven and 8 fps in Alien Vs. Predator, both at standard resolution and low detail settings—and scoring only 758 points in 3DMark 11 at Entry settings. By comparison, the closest competing score was the Asus VivoBook V500CA-DB71T with 1,268 points.

Last, but not least, the Book 9 Lite lasted 5 hours 23 minutes in our battery rundown test. Though not the lowest score of the bunch—the Asus VivoBook V500CA-DB71T was an hour shorter at 4:23—but it fell well behind most. For example, the Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch lasted 7:42, while the Dell Inspiron 14R-5437 stretched far longer at 9:46.

All told, the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Lite may have a passing resemblance to the highly rated Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus, but it's only skin deep. Even among other entry-level ultrabooks and desktop replacements, the Book 9 Lite has frustratingly slow performance and only middling battery life. For a better touch-screen laptop at a similar price, the Editors' Choice Lenovo IdeaPad U430 Touch is still the better option.

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The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 15 ($999 as tested) is a business-oriented laptop with a convertible-hybrid design. The 15-inch system is sized just right as a desktop-replacement, but is uncomfortably wed with the hybrid design of a smaller, more portable laptop, making for some quirks. And also making it difficult to compare with other systems. While there are some parallels to be drawn between the ThinkPad Yoga 15 and its smaller siblings, the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 and the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12, it's not quite in the same category. As such, the closest comparable Editors' Choice is the Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch Retina Display (2014), our top pick for both premium and business desktop-replacement laptops.

This isn't the first Yoga laptop we've seen for the office, but at 15 inches, it's definitely the largest of the group, big enough to qualify as a desktop-replacement instead of the usual ultraportable. The ThinkPad Yoga 15 expands upon the design of the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 with a larger footprint and room for a 10-key numeric pad with the keyboard. Measuring 0.8 by 15.1 by 10.1 inches (HWD), the laptop is roughly the same size as the non-convertible Asus ZenBook Pro UX501J-DS71T and at 5.1 pounds, it is a little heavier than the latter. As business desktop-replacements go, it's larger than the Dell Precision M3800 (2015) and the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch.

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What really sets the Yoga 15 apart from other desktop-replacements is the fact that it's a convertible device with a multimode hinge, letting you open it up like a laptop, and then open it up further to bend around into different modes: Stand, Tent, and Tablet. While this is an extremely useful combination of functions on the 12-inch ThinkPad Yoga, and even on the larger 14-inch model, a 15-inch system may not be the best way to showcase the Yoga concept. In Tablet mode, the ThinkPad Yoga 15 is huge. It's nice for use at a desk or table, and other modes may be useful at times, but if you're going to hold this system in one hand as a tablet and write notes with your other hand, your arms will get tired pretty fast.

The Yoga 15 features a 15.6-inch full HD (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) screen. That's the same resolution as the Toshiba Tecra Z50-A1503, but most 15-inch systems offer much higher—the Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (2014) boasts a 2,800-by-1,800 resolution, while the Dell Precision M3800 steps up further to Ultra-High-Definition or UHD (3,840 by 2,160)—but those laptops also come with significantly higher prices. As it stands, the full HD resolution of the Yoga 15 is fine for reading text and working with numbers, but maybe not as well suited to sharp graphics reproduction as the Apple and Dell laptops. The Yoga 15 also features touch support, which the others do not.

The keyboard features Lenovo's Lift n' Lock design, which pairs a very good chiclet-style keyboard with a frame that raises up to lie flush with the tops of the keys when folded into Tablet mode. The result is a comfortable keyboard and peace of mind that it won't get damaged by setting the keyboard keys-side-down on a surface that could damage it. The system also has dual pointing devices, with both a touchpad and the red TrackPoint that so many Lenovo users will recognize.

Because it's designed to fold in and out of Tablet mode, the Yoga 15 has its buttons along the sides instead of on the keyboard deck. On the right, you'll find the buttons for Power, Volume Up/Down, and screen lock. Also on the right are two USB ports, (one USB 2.0, one USB 3.0), and a full-size HDMI-out port. On the left are a Power connector (which also acts as a OneLink docking port), one USB 3.0 port, and an SD-card reader. Internally, the Yoga 15 has dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and WiDi 5.0.

The 180GB solid-state drive (SSD) comes with Opal certification for full-disk encryption. The latter is a huge feature for businesses, but the storage capacity itself is quite small in comparison with other systems, like the 512GB SSD in the Asus UX501J-DS71T and the 256GB SSDs found in the Toshiba Tecra Z50-A1503 and the Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch (2014). Preinstalled on the drive are a few apps and programs, like McAfee LiveSafe security and Microsoft Office 365 (both 30-day trials), along with Lenovo's own SHAREit cloud sharing app. Lenovo covers the Yoga 15 with a one-year warranty.

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 15 Our review unit came equipped with a 2.2GHz Intel Core i5-5200U processor and 8GB of RAM. Given the CPU selection, you might not expect the system to be competitive with high-end desktop replacements and workstations sporting high-end, quad-core chips, but it does quite well in most respects. In PCMark 8 Work Conventional, for example, the ThinkPad Yoga 15 scored 2,508 points, which isn't far behind the Asus UX501J-DS71T (2,775 points) or the Dell Precision M3800 (2,664 points), even though both boast Intel Core i7 processors, albeit fourth-generation versions. It also puts the Yoga 15 ahead of the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14 (2,410 points).

In Photoshop CS6, we saw performance lag a bit, with the ThinkPad Yoga 15 completing the test in 4 minutes 58 seconds. Most competitors finished the test in the 3:00 to 3:30 range, like the Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch (2014) (3:25), the Asus UX501J-DS71T (3:18), and the Dell Precision M3800 (3:30). It did, however, beat out the ThinkPad Yoga 14 (5:51) by a significant margin. The end result is a laptop that may not stack up well against expensive workstations and premium systems, but still has the chops to carry most office workers through their daily work in spreadsheets, databases, or large Word documents without a hiccup.

Graphics performance falls into a similar range. With a discrete Nvidia GeForce 840M card, the ThinkPad Yoga 15 is equipped to tackle most graphics-heavy tasks, though it won't offer 3D gaming capability or workstation-level rendering. It scored 5,786 points in 3DMark Cloud Gate and 726 points in Fire Strike Extreme. While those scores are quite low when compared with the Asus UX501J-DS71T (13,978 points in Cloud Gate; 1,766 points in Fire Strike Extreme) and the Dell Precision M3800 (7,791 points in Cloud Gate; 618 points in Fire Strike Extreme), it's worth noting that those systems are outfitted with more potent graphics hardware—a gaming-grade GPU and workstation-class Quadro graphics, respectively. The ThinkPad Yoga 15 isn't the right tool for those who need to render architectural models or map geological data, but for most everything else—graphic design, some video editing—it's more than competent.

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Finally, on battery life, the ThinkPad Yoga 15 falls right in the middle of the pack, lasting 5 hours 48 minutes in our rundown test. It outlasted both the Dell Precision M3800 (4:53) and the Asus UX501J-DS71T (4:56), but it falls behind the Toshiba Z50-A1503 (7:00) and the long-lasting Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch Retina Display (8:55).

The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 15 may be difficult to categorize, with its combination of desktop-replacement design and convertible functionality, but the end result is a competent business laptop. Unfortunately, the convertible design feels like something of a waste in this 15-inch, 5.1-pound system, as it's far too large for tablet use, though you may get some use out of Tent and Stand modes. In the end, it's best viewed as a solid business system with touch capability. The most comparable Editors' Choice, the Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch Retina Display, bests it in both performance and battery life, while other alternatives, like the workstation Dell Precision M3800 (2015) offer more processing muscle.

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Getting your desk set up properly is a lot like arranging the position of the seat and mirrors in your car—it's essential to all the work you do, and having to readjust everything every time you climb into the driver's seat is just annoying. So why do it

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with your desk every time you pick up your laptop? With a desktop dock, you can arrange your workspace to your liking, and all you have to do to grab and go, is disconnect your laptop. The Lenovo OneLink Pro Dock ($179.99) helps by letting you easily connect your ThinkPad at your workspace for desktop use.

Design and Features
The OneLink Pro Dock isn't quite a box, since it has angled sides that give it a more triangular footprint. The housing is dark gray, a near-black that should match whatever Lenovo product you use it with. The sides of the dock have a matte finish, but the front panel is a glossy, mirror-like black. The unit measures 5.3 by 1.9 by 3.6 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.06 pounds. The small size makes it a good choice for crowded desks, but it's also a boon for travelers, since it's small enough to tuck into the pocket of a laptop bag.

Lenovo OneLink Pro Dock

The dock connects to compatible laptops via Lenovo's proprietary OneLink connector, which is essentially a power connector wedded to a USB 3.0 connector. OneLink connectors are found on several ThinkPad laptops, like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch (2015)and the ThinkPad Yoga 14, but be sure to check that your laptop has the proper connection. The current ThinkPad X1 Carbon supports OneLink connectivity, but the previous iteration did not, and the ThinkPad Yoga systems have the connector, but consumer-focused Yoga systems do not. A full list of supported systems can be found on Lenovo's website.

On the front, you'll find two USB 3.0 ports, one of which has always-on power for charging your mobile gadgets. The only other feature on the front of the dock is a red indicator LED that dots the "i" in the ThinkPad logo. On the left side of the unit is a security-cable lock slot.

Lenovo OneLink Pro Dock
On the back you'll find four more USB ports (two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0), an Ethernet port, and DisplayPort and DVI-I monitor outputs. A DVI-to-VGA adapter is included with the OneLink Pro dock. The two display outputs can be run simultaneously, allowing you to set up a dual-monitor workspace—the DVI-I connection will support up to 1,920-by-1,200 resolution, while the DisplayPort will do the same 1,920-by-1,200 resolution for a second monitor, and will support up to 2,560-by-1,600 resolution for a single monitor.

The remaining ports open up connectivity for a full desktop's worth of accessories. The two USB 3.0 ports are ideal for speedy storage, while the pair of USB 2.0 ports let you connect the keyboard and mouse of your choice. The Ethernet port is useful for anyone who wants a faster connection than you might get over Wi-Fi, but it's essential if you're a business user who may need to connect to a work network directly. Finally, even with multiple accessories and peripherals, the whole dock still connects with the single OneLink cable, meaning that your laptop's several ports will still be available. It may not be quite as simple as the Dell Wireless Dock D5000, which uses a cordless WiGig connection for docking, but it does make it far more convenient to connect and disconnect from than a cradle-style dock like the Microsoft Surface 3 Docking Station.

Pricing and Performance
With a list price of $179.99, the OneLink Pro Dock is more affordable than many of the docking solutions we've seen, like the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 2 or the Dell Wireless Dock D5000. While those options use more expensive technologies for connecting to your laptop—Thunderbolt and WiGig, respectively—the direct simplicity of the OneLink connector delivers pretty much the same experience, without any drawbacks.

Connecting the dock is as simple as plugging in the OneLink connector, which isn't any more difficult than plugging in your power adapter—it even shares the same port. You may, however, need to remove a rubber plug cap from the OneLink port on the laptop—OneLink-capable laptops, like the ThinkPad Yoga 15, include this cover to prevent confusion when connecting the laptop power adapter. The dock itself requires plugging into a wall outlet, but since the dock also charges your laptop, it doesn't monopolize a second outlet. Once you're plugged in, you're good to go.

Lenovo OneLink Pro Dock

The only issue is the eventual need to swap out a cable or connector. The power adapter is a standard-issue, 90-watt Lenovo Power brick, with the same slim-tip connector used on many of Lenovo's laptops. If it were to burn out, or otherwise be damaged, it should be easily replaceable. Attached directly to the dock, however, is the cable with the OneLink connector. This is arguably the most important connection on the device, since it performs all of the connective docking functions, and the box simply offers the various ports to plug into. Because the OneLink cable is attached, if it breaks or shorts out, the dock is useless. On our review unit, this cable was already showing some kinking where the cable meets the housing of the dock, and if I were to single out anything as a future problem, that would be it.

In my testing, I was able to connect a variety of peripherals to the OneLink dock without any trouble, including external hard drives, flash drives, monitors, and various keyboards and mice (both wired and wireless via USB receiver dongle). As mentioned above, the maximum resolution offered by the DisplayPort connection does vary, depending upon whether you are connected to a single monitor or two. For those using 1,920-by-1,080 full HD monitors, this won't be an issue. Any higher than that, however, and you'll need to keep the resolution limits in mind. Some online users have reported connectivity problems when using external monitors, but I was unable to replicate those issues in my testing.

If you want the portability of a thin and light laptop, but the stability of a workplace built around a desktop PC, then the Lenovo OneLink Pro Dock might be just the thing for you, providing a plethora of ports, a simple connectivity solution, and a sleek-looking design with a small footprint. Obviously, this product will be limited to those who have compatible Lenovo laptops, but if you're one of them, it's a pretty good solution at a decent price.

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Apple doesn't mess with success. While that statement could easily apply to any of the products coming out of Cupertino these days, it's especially true of the MacBook Air, which hasn't seen a significant design change in years. While the ultrabook market has become quite popular, the 13-inch MacBook Air has continued to be one of the best thin-and-light laptops around, and this year's model ($1,099, as tested) gets a hardware update that keeps it at the front of the pack, making it our Editors' Choice for mainstream ultraportable laptops.

Editors' Note: This version of the Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch has been replaced. Read the review of the current Apple MacBook Air 13-Inch.

In an industry where designs can shift radically between spring and the holidays of a single year, the MacBook Air's slim unibody design is almost exactly as it has been since 2010. In fact, the only visible difference between the new MacBook Air and the previous model is…nothing. There is no outward change to the chassis, and if you set it next to last year's MacBook Air, good luck remembering which is which.

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The aluminum unibody design is still very slim—0.68-inch at the thickest point—a once-astonishing feat that has lost some of its shine, since a few Windows competitors have gone slimmer, like the Acer Aspire S7-392-6411 (0.51 inch) and the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (0.54 inch). But the oh-so-portable MacBook Air doesn't exactly look hefty, either, weighing just 2.91 pounds. Again, a few competitors have shaved the weight down further, but the difference in millimeters and fractions of an ounce is almost imperceptible.

Open up the slim laptop, and you'll be greeted by a familiar 13.3-inch, LED-backlit screen. The display has a 1,440-by-900 resolution, with brilliant colors and a glossy finish that is a tad reflective, but offers deep blacks and colors that pop. The screen looks just as good as the last time we saw it, but there are two additional elements to consider. The first is resolution; spurred on by the Retina display on Apple's MacBook Pro, competitors have left full HD resolution behind, and have ramped up much higher. The Samsung Book 9 Plus comes with a 3,200-by-1,800, Quad HD+ display.

The second element is touch. Since Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (2014) - Open
the introduction of Windows 8, the number of touch-enabled Windows laptops has absolutely exploded, and it has become a must-have feature on most ultraportables and ultrabooks. The MacBook Air doesn't offer touch, but it also doesn't need to. While Windows 8 pushes the touch interface hard, Apple hasn't brought touch-screen capabilities over to the Mac OS yet, making it exclusive to the iPad and iPhone. If you're already a Mac user, you won't miss touch because you never had it; if you're more familiar with touch-friendly Windows, however, you'll only find it on PCs.

Even without a touch screen, the MacBook Air still supports all sorts of intuitive touch and gesture controls, by way of the large, glass-topped, multi-touch trackpad. Apple's trackpad supports all of the tapping and swiping you might want, and the clickable surface is better without right and left options than any clickpad we've seen on a Windows machine. The keyboard is also quite good, with well-spaced chiclet-style keys, backlit with an ambient light sensor that turns up the glow in darker environments. A few competitors have tried to improve upon the chiclet-style design with sculpted keycaps and different finishes, but the MacBook Air keyboard is still very, very good.

A pair of stereo speakers are stashed inside, pumping sound up through the keyboard. While listening to our test bass track, the Silent Shout, by the Knife, I heard a fair amount of low-end, which is good, given the lack of a subwoofer or true stereo separation. In a few other songs, the sound offered good quality at most volumes, though it did sound a bit shrill at max.

On the sides of the MacBook Air you'll find only a few ports, with one USB 3.0 port and a headphone jack on the left, and a second USB 3.0 port, an SDXC card slot, and a Thunderbolt port on the right. You won't find an HDMI port on the laptop—a useful port found on most competitors—but you can convert the Thunderbolt port to HDMI or other common ports, like Ethernet or VGA, through an adapter dongle (sold separately). Above the display is a 720p webcam, and inside the MacBook Air is equipped with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (2014) - Ports

Inside, our review unit boasts 128GB of PCIe-based flash storage, comparable to the 128GB solid-state drives (SSD) used in other systems, though other manufacturers may still opt to use the slower SATA connection. There's not a lot of space available, with only 120GB free out of the box, but it's par for the course among ultraportables. Apple also takes a different approach to RAM, soldering the memory right onto the motherboard, which means that there's no way to upgrade it after purchase. Our review unit came with 8GB of RAM, but the default configuration is only 4GB.

The single biggest difference between Apple's MacBook Air and the many ultraportable competitors is OS X 10.9.2 (Mavericks)—our own Edward Mendelson calls it the "best consumer-level desktop operating system." Included with Mavericks is the iLife suite (including iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand) and iWork, which includes Pages, Numbers, and Keynote; Apple's equivalents to Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It also comes with iCloud, Apple's cloud storage, which lets you back up and sync to and from any Mac or iOS device.

Apple covers the MacBook Air 13-inch with a standard one-year warranty and 90 days of phone support, but you can add additional coverage by purchasing AppleCare extended protection ($249 for three years).

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (2014) The design may remain unchanged, but the internal hardware has been upgraded, giving the MacBook Air a bump up in processing capability and speed. Our unit came with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4260U dual-core processor, paired with 8GB of RAM (up from the 4GB that comes in the standard configuration). With the new processor, the MacBook Air also has Intel HD Graphics 5000, Intel's integrated graphics solution.

In Cinebench R11.5, the new MacBook Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (2014) - Lid
Air scored 2.57 points, a significant increase over the previous iteration (2.46 points), and ahead of category leaders like the Acer S7-392-6411 (2.51 points) and the Samsung Book 9 Plus (2.50 points). The new hardware also leads the MacBook Air to faster multimedia performance, completing Handbrake in 1 minute 18 seconds, and Photoshop in 5:05 in testing. By comparison, the 2013 MacBook Air completed those same tests in 3:15 (Handbrake) and 7:07 (Photoshop).

Graphics performance is also the best of the bunch among similarly equipped systems (i.e., Core i5 with integrated graphics). The MacBook Air scored 24 frames per second (fps) in Heaven at 1,366-by-768 resolution and low detail settings, and 14fps at native resolution and higher detail. These frame rates gave it a narrow lead over the previous MacBook Air (which scored 23fps and 13fps, respectively), but put it clearly in the lead when compared with the Acer S7-392-6411 (15fps and 5fps, respectively) and the Samsung Book 9 Plus (18fps and 7fps, respectively). It's not enough for serious gaming—you might be able to get World of Warcraft running on the MacBook Air, but you'll need to pull back on the detail settings, and you'll see some stuttering whenever too many graphical elements or characters are on screen.

The MacBook Air has always offered excellent battery life, and this latest iteration is no exception. In our battery rundown test, the system lasted 15 hours 51 minutes, easily outlasting the Samsung Book 9 Plus (8:15) and the Acer S7-392-6411 (8:22) by several hours. While those other laptops may take you through your workday, the MacBook Air can also take you through your morning commute, your lunch hour, and your evening. It also boasts 30 days of standby time, meaning that you can use the MacBook Air, close the lid, and then simply open it back up to keep using it, even after days or weeks in standby mode. This not only impressive, it's actually a bit better than the previous MacBook Air, which lasted an otherwise unmatched 15:33 when we tested it last June. With the bump in overall battery life, the latest MacBook Air is still hours ahead of the competition.

This year's Apple MacBook Air benefits from an updated Intel processor, but sticks to a tried and true design that doesn't need to change. The result is improved performance while retaining all of the thin-and-light portability that has made the MacBook Air so popular. Windows fans and touch enthusiasts will need to look elsewhere for those specific features—the Ultrabook Editors' Choice Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus offers both, along with a high-res display—but the Apple MacBook Air offers better performance and dawn-to-dusk battery life that competitors still can't touch. It all makes the latest 13-inch MacBook Air our Editors' Choice for ultraportable laptops, replacing the previous model as our top pick.

Category: Review

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