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Mac mini or MacBook Air: the best low-cost Mac for your money

Karen Haslam | July 15, 2015
If you are looking for a low cost Mac the £399 Mac mini and the £749 MacBook Air are likely to be your top choices, but which one offers the best deal?

MacBook Air verses Mac mini: Display options

The MacBook Air comes with an integrated display, with 11-inch or 13-inch options. Screen resolution is 1440-by-900 for the 13-inch and 1366-by-768 for the 11-inch model.

The 13-inch version of the MacBook Air has a display with the usual Apple MacBook aspect ratio of 16:10, a good balance between 16:9 widescreen for watching full-screen video, and a taller display that aids productivity. The 11-inch version of the 2014 MacBook Air features a 16:9 display. Unfortunately the display on both models stands out as the poorest performing display on any current Apple product. We measured only 63 percent of the sRGB colour gamut with our Datacolor Spyder4Elite display calibrator, for example, and viewing angles for the twisted-nematic (TN) glossy panel are limited. You can always plug in an external display and use your MacBook Air with that when you are at your desk.

The Mac mini doesn't come with a display so you will need to either use one you've already got, or purchase one separately. You can pick up a separate monitor for around £100. Or you could spend more than twice as much as the cost of the Mac mini and purchase an Apple Thunderbolt Display for £899.

As we mention above, you can also plug your Mac mini straight into your widescreen TV, making it ideally suited as a media centre in your living room. We wouldn't recommend working on a Mac that had a television screen as a monitor, though.

Buying advice

The key difference when choosing between the MacBook Air and a Mac mini is the presence of the integrated display on the MacBook Air, but given the fact that this display is small and not as good as other Apple displays, you may find yourself factoring in the cost of a display anyway. If you add the cost of a decent display to the price of the lower-cost Mac mini it doesn't look like such a cheap option, but you may want to factor in the cost of a decent display into the price of the MacBook Air too.

MacBook Air verses Mac mini: Portability

The 11-inch MacBook Air used to be the lightest Mac you can get, at just 1.08kg, but now the new MacBook is the lightest Mac at 0.92 kg.

The 13-inch model isn't much heavier at 1.35kg. As a point of comparison, the iPad Air 2 weighs 444g - so the 11in MacBook Air is approximately the same weight as two iPad Airs.

The 11-inch model measures 30cm by 19.2cm and is 1.7cm thin, tapering to 0.3cm at its edge. The 13-inch model measures by 22.7cm and like the 11-inch model is 1.7cm thin, tapering to 0.3cm at its edge.


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