Halfway through 2014, we’re still waiting for the flood of new gadgets that Apple CEO Tim Cook promised, and senior vice president Eddy Cue called “the best product pipeline I’ve seen in 25 years.” But even though no new Apple hardware appeared at the recent annual WWDC conference, a handful of product updates have quietly slipped out the past few months.
Apple’s Mac lineup of laptop and desktop computers has seen several changes that, while small on paper, can have a potentially big impact on shoppers. In April, the 13-inch and 11-inch MacBook Air models got upgraded base model CPUs, as well as $100 price cuts. Then, in June, the 21.5-inch iMac all-in-one desktop added a new entry level model that cost $200 less than the previous starting point.
Both new MacBooks and two versions of the entry-level 21.5-inch iMac have now been benchmarked, tested, and reviewed by CNET Labs. In each case, lower starting prices are a big positive for cost-conscious buyers, particularly students. The hardware changes are not quite as significant, but we still saw differences worth keeping in mind when compared with the 2013 versions of these systems.
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, April 2014): $999, £849, AU$1,199
The new CPU resulted in a small bump to application performance, as well as a decent battery bump (although which of several possible SSD brands you get may impact that). More important is the price cut, which means the cost of the base model has come down under $1,000 (under £850, AU$1,200) in just two years.
Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, April 2014): $899, £749, AU$1,099
With the same CPU as the 13-inch version, but costing less (small-screen discount?), your choice between the two MacBook Air sizes comes down to portability versus viewability. A dozen-plus hours of battery life is great, but it’s also hard to justify paying $899 (£749, AU$1,099) for a 1,366×768 resolution screen. Still, the 11-inch Air is one of the most usable ultraportable laptops we’ve ever tested.
Apple iMac (21.5-inch, 2014): $1,099, £899, AU$1,349
How is the new entry-level iMac so much less expensive than the previous low-end model? It’s because this is essentially a MacBook Air in desktop form, with a slower CPU and smaller hard drive than other iMacs. But, if that level of laptop-like performance is enough for you (and for most mainstream tasks, it is), here’s a chance to get the exceptional iMac industrial design and build quality for less. We also tested a model with a $250 (£200 or AU$300) add-on 1TB plus 128GB Fusion Drive, but the simple step-up middle model ($1,299, ££1,049, AU$1,599) with a quad-core CPU and better graphics, seems like a better all-around upgrade.
Of course, these are just the Macs that have received updates thus far in 2014. If you go back a little further, you can find the high-end Mac Pro desktop from December 2013, or even the current MacBook Pro 15-inch and 13-inch models from the fall of 2013. And, of course, there’s the recently updated iPod Touch, now in several new colors.
Looking forward, there will very likely be additional updates, or even new Mac products, during the final half of 2014, which is something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of dropping any money on one of these updated systems. If you’re a high-end shopper, I’d consider holding off to see what comes next.
But, any new Macs are unlikely to be less expensive than these models, which can get you a MacBook or iMac for much less than 2013 prices. That’s especially important for students or other budget shoppers for whom a Mac was previously just a bit out of reach. It’s an educated guess, but any new product, such as a long-rumored 12-inch MacBook with a Retina Display, won’t debut at, or even close to, $999 (or £849, or AU$1,199).
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