Dell XPS 13 (2016)
If you're willing to jump ship from macOS Sierra to Windows 10, the Dell XPS 13 (2016) is worthy of consideration. Like the Air, it has an attractive tapered metal build and more expansion ports than many of its competitors. It also boasts seventh-generation Intel Core CPUs (i3, i5, or i7) and a higher resolution display than the MacBook Air.
Those specs represent a improvement in speed and power over the MacBook Air's fifth-generation i5 or i7 processors. In terms of the display, the MacBook Air offers only 1,440 x 900 resolution, while the entry-level Dell XPS' 13.3-inch display is 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, with a 3,200 x 1,800 QHD touchscreen upgrade also available. The XPS is equipped with legacy USB 3.0 ports x 2, USB-C x 1, SD card slot and an audio jack.
The Dell XPS 13 starts at $800, though we recommend upgrading to at least the $1,000 Core i5 version. Keep in mind that big box stores like Best Buy often run sales on the XPS 13 and other Dell laptops, but be sure you're looking at the latest version, as previous models have the same name.
2015 13-inch MacBook Pro
If you're trying to fill the shoes of a MacBook Air, look to the generation-old MacBook Pro rather than the 2016 edition. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display from 2015 encompasses some incremental improvements over the older MacBook Air, without some of the alienating qualities of the newer MacBook Pros. You're also more likely to find it at a compelling markdown.
The MacBook Air is taller, wider and thinner than the 2015 MacBook Pro. It's also about 15-percent lighter. But if you can handle the extra weight, the MacBook Pro offers a 2,560 x 1,600 (227 ppi) display, a solid-state Force Touch trackpad instead of the older hinged version, a faster processor and better integrated graphics.
Unlike the newest models with only two USB-C ports, the 2015 MacBook Pro still packs in an array of expansion options: SD card slot, USB 3 x 2, HDMI out and Thunderbolt 2 x 2. There's also a dedicated MagSafe charging port, something Apple has since done away with. Unfortunately, those two Thunderbolt 2 ports may well be obsolete if you don't have any compatible peripherals, and you'll probably miss the USB-C.
The 2015 MacBook Pro is available new from Apple starting at $1,299, but can easily be found for less elsewhere, especially if you wait for sales or consider used or refurbished models.
- Buy MacBook Pro with Retina Display on Amazon
If you are drawn to the MacBook Air due to its former reputation as the lightest, most compact Apple laptop, that title now belongs to the 12-inch MacBook (just "MacBook", no suffixes). Switching to the MacBook means a downgrade in display size and number of ports, not to mention spending about $300 more. However, it's a newer, smaller machine with a higher-quality display.
The biggest complaint against this machine is its single USB-C port, which is also used for charging. That means you can count on using some kind of adapter (not included) for most peripherals, though if you're a heavy cloud user you may never miss it. The MacBook also uses Intel m3, m5 or m7 processors that are more efficient, but less speedy, than the Air's core i5/i7 options.
Still, the MacBook could be a good choice if you just want a newer, more portable laptop with all of Apple's characteristic good looks and operating system. It starts at $1,299 purchased new from Apple.
Asus Zenbook 3
The Asus Zenbook 3 is more analogous to the 12-inch MacBook than the MacBook Air, but it's a worthy ultra-portable machine that is eye-catching and powerful to boot. Weighing only 0.95 kgs (2.09 lbs), it fits in a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor, 512 GB of flash storage, 8 or 16 GB of RAM and surprisingly capable speakers.
Its display is visibly higher resolution (1,920 x 1,080) albeit a little smaller, than that of the MacBook Air. Unfortunately, the Zenbook 3 has only one USB-C port, but at least Asus includes an adapter that splits that port into a USB-C, HDMI out and USB3.
The entry level Zenbook with the i5 processor and 8 GB of RAM starts at $999. The more powerful i7 version with 16 GB of RAM starts at $1,599.
HP Spectre x360
The HP Spectre x360 is a highly configurable 2-in-1 tablet/laptop. 2-in-1s are increasingly popular; this is our pick for one that makes improvements on the MacBook Air in the same approximate price range. It that was originally introduced in 2015, but it was upgraded with seventh-generation Intel core processors last year.
If versatility is a priority, you'll enjoy its touchscreen and 360-degree hinge. You can even add on optional active stylus for about $50. At 1.3 kg (2.85 lbs), it's slightly lighter than the MacBook Air, it has higher display resolution, and you won't even have to say goodbye to your expansion options. The Spectre x360 is equipped with USB-C x 2 and USB3 x 1.
The base configuration starts at $1,049 directly from HP, but we've seen it go on sale. Want to explore comparable 2-in-1s? We also recommend the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, but we do expect a new version of that option in the next few months.