MacBook Air 11: Is this the perfect portable Mac?
After a month with the new MacBook Air 11-incher I can say that I have never been quite so enthusiastic about a new model. In the Spring I sold my 15-in MacBook Pro and bought a 13-in version with 2.66GHz processor, 256GB SSD drive and 8GB of RAM. This, I was convinced, was the ultimate for my travels. It's fast, more wieldy than the larger MB Pros, and has proved absolutely right for me. Until the new Air came along, that is.
As usual, I went for the highest spec on the time-honoured basis that when you come to list it on eBay the details will look pretty old hat. So I took the faster 1.6GHz processor, 4GB of RAM and the largest disk, the 128GB SSD. The size and weight is perfect for slipping in a bag. It hardly feels bigger or heavier than the iPad, although there's a good 8oz and a couple of inches in it. It just feels so right. Whereas I always had a will-I-won't-I moment with the Pro 13 when packing my bag for the day, the Air doesn't need much thought. It just goes in and I don't notice the weight.
When it comes to performance, the difference in spec between the 13- and 11-in models suggests the Air ought to be a sluggard. It isn't: In day-to-day usage (which doesn't include much video editing or other processor-intensive stuff) it feels fast. Even though the benchmarks can't lie, this little computer appears to fly. Rumour has it that Apple kept the processor speeds relatively low to avoid overheating and (after owning the first-generation Air) I can sympathise. Fact is, though, the new mini laptop is both fast and cool (in both senses of the word).
The genius of the Air is that it has a standard no-compromise Apple keyboard as found on the larger laptops. It's a joy to use and you don't feel at all short-changed. It's the keyboard that governs the overall proportions of the machine and the 11.6in (diagonal) screen has been made to fit. As a result it has an unusual 16:9 aspect ratio that looks and feels a bit odd at first. I soon got used to it, however, and I really appreciate the 1366x768 resolution which compares favourably with the 1280x800 of the 13.2-in MacBook Pro. Again, you don't really feel short-changed on screen real estate.
Sure there are compromises: No FireWire port, no SD port and no SuperDrive, but these are hardly deal breakers - especially the lack of the soon-to-be-extinct SuperDrive. At least we now get two USB ports (conveniently, one on either side instead of both together) and there's no little flap to open to get to the ports.
It seems I'm not alone in loving the Air. Ben Brooks of The Brooks Review blog says:
"It has been over a month now that I have used the MacBook Air as my primary machine, and one thing is for sure: it is the best upgrade over the MacBook Pro that I could have made. Yes, I consider it an upgrade." [note he is referring to his 13-in Air in this context]
David Sparks of macsparky.com agrees wholeheartedly with Ben's comments (thanks, David, for providing the source for this post by the way) and it seems there are many more people out there who believe the new Air is the best MacBook they have ever owned. As Ben says, it is so light it is amazing: "If you have ever picked up the Kindle then you know the sensation I'm talking about, it just doesn't seem possible that it is that light."
Earlier this year Steve Jobs told us Apple would never make a netbook. They haven't; but they've made something just as convenient and much more desirable. The price (my specced-up model rang the till at £1,160, including VAT) is of traditional Apple proportions, but then there are just no comparisons with the average £299 netbook.
I agree with other commentators who have said that the new MacBook Airs set the stage for the next revision of the entire MacBook Pro range.