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MacBook Air (late 2010) review

MacBook AirLet’s be honest, the original MacBook Air was beautifully flawed. Outwardly it was a desirable laptop, but under that pretty aluminum exterior all was not swell. Overheating, under performing and overpriced, the original MacBook Air failed to achieve mainstream success. With the new models, though, Apple has rewritten the playbook.  This 13″ 1.86GHz 2/128 model has superior specs to the previous version while putting itself on offer for hundreds of dollars less at $1,299.  Let’s see what it’s like…

First impressions of the MacBook Air

MacBook Air restore USB driveAs with all Apple products the Macbook Air comes in nicely designed packaging. There’s precious little in the box, just the Macbook Air, magsafe power adaptor with extension cable, start guide and a unique USB flash restore thumbdrive. The Macbook Air doesn’t have an optical drive so the inclusion of the USB thumbdrive is a cool idea and feels like the way forward for future laptops.

The original MacBook Air was svelte, but the new model raises the bar even further.  0.68 inches at its thickest, the new MacBook Air tapers to just 0.11 inches at the front.  It really is remarkable and made possible due to the all solid-state nature of the guts of the beast.  The hard drive of the old model has given way to an SSD on a bare circuit board, which saves precious millimeters of height.  The weight meanwhile has remained at 2.9lbs, presumably because any space and weight efficiencies have allowed for more battery cells.

MacBook Air logoIt’s difficult to describe just how stunning this new MacBook Air really is, so I suggest you feast your eyes on the photos in the gallery.  In my view this is the best looking laptop ever made, it’s definitely worth making a trip to a store just to fondle it if you have the opportunity.

Around the sides of the MacBook Air are two USB ports, an SD card slot (only on the 13″ model), a mini display port, headphone socket, microphone and charging port.  The keyboard is the standard MacBook chicklet affar, the trackpad is able to register four-fingered multi-touch gestures and the screen is LED-backlit like the previous MacBook Air.  There’s a webcam above the screen and the speakers are nowhere to be seen, but they’re in there somewhere.  The underside has four black feet and that’s it.

Using the MacBook Air

In many ways using the new MacBook Air is a similar experience to the old one, except pretty much everything that was problematic about the original has been resolved in the new model.  MacBook AirFirstly, the replacement of the unpleasantly slow 4200rpm hard drive with the new SSD has resulted in a 13.7 second boot time and 1.6 second shutdown time.  That speed bump carries over to application launch times, which are fast.  Most apps seem to launch with one or two seconds and the whole system feels extremely snappy even though the processor has remained the same.  It just goes to show how much of a bottleneck can be created by a slow hard drive.

The speediness of the new MacBook Air carries over to its graphics capabilities, as the new model has been stepped up to a GeForce 320M.  While no graphics powerhouse, the new model handles full screen video very capably, without any alarmingly heat buildup.  I was able to stream a 1080p YouTube video without any problems.  Sure the underside does become warm, but far less than other laptops I’ve used recently, and when the fan does kick-in, it’s whisper quiet.

Battery life was a big disappointment with the original MacBook Air; while the specs promised 5 hours, I never seemed to be able to get more than 2-3 in actual usage.  The new 13″ MacBook Air promises 7 hours and, although I haven’t done a full drain test, it feels pretty accurate.  Apple is definitely making strides in this department, as we saw earlier this year with the iPad which also delivered as promised on battery life.

The trackpad, keyboard and screen work just like a 13″ MacBook Pro, so I’ll hold off on going into specific detail here.  On the software side, the new MacBook Air ships with OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard and iLife ’11 as with the rest of the current MacBook range.

On the downside, there is no option to specify a backlit keyboard.  In my view this is a real omission, as using the MacBook Air in a dimly lit room or on a night flight for example becomes very problematic.  This can be partially remediated by using a USB gooseneck light, but it’s not a particularly elegant solution.

The 13″ MacBook Air’s 128GB of storage (upgradeable to 256GB) is potentially limiting if you have a large media collection.  Personally I think 128GB is enough storage for most users’ music and photo collections, plus a range of apps, on the basis that most video content is streamed from the likes of Netflix and Hulu these days.  There’s always the option to use a portable drive for the rest of your content.  I could easily cope with this amount of storage for my main computer, as long as I had a little 2.5″ 500GB USB drive in my bag for video edit footage and backups.

Is the new MacBook Air a good buy?

Many commentators have suggested that there is still a viable role for the base 13″ MacBook Pro alongside the 13″ MacBook Air.  I’m not so sure.  Even though the MacBook Pro has a faster processor and more storage space, I think this will make little difference to the average user.  The new MacBook Air boots-up faster, has great performance for everyday tasks and weighs far less than the Pro.  In my mind that leaves the MacBook Pro in the hands of niche users who really need more power and the MacBook Air in the hands of pretty much everyone else.  This is going to be a big seller.

Neil Berman

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Nov 6, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Air to become the norm?

This time around the rumor mill was on the money, predicting an 11.6 inch addition to the MacBook Air family. The price for entry has come down to $999, or $1299 for the 13.3 inch model, while almost everything else has gone in the other direction. Battery life is now up to 7 hours, startup time is quicker and portability has been improved with the 11.6 inch option.

It’s actually hard to figure out who would choose the base MacBook Pro model now unless you really, really need the faster processor and larger amount of storage.

I have a sneaky suspicion that MacBook Air sales will start to comprise a significant portion of lower cost Mac sales, and for good reason. They have the right balance of mobile portability vs performance for everyday tasks, enough battery life for typical daily usage and, most importantly in this material world, they look incredible.

That’s a rarity for a low price Mac, but I suspect it’s about to become the norm in Starbucks.

Neil Berman

Oct 20, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware | , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES: Lenovo U1 multitouch slate-notebook separates itself from the pack

Day One of CES produced an amazing product in the Lenovo U1 at CES Unveiled.  I was blown away by this device, which initially looked like a small notebook until the Lenovo rep pulled the screen out to reveal its dual function as a slate.  There’s a video below, and the details known at this stage are that the slate is powered by a Snapdragon CPU with its own storage while the main notebook body has an Intel CULV doing the driving.  When docked to the main body the whole shebang runs Windows 7.  The Snapdragon-powered slate when on its own runs a multitouch non-Windows OS.

Enjoy the video and the gallery photos, I sure enjoyed taking them :-)

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 5, 2010 Posted by | CES, Computing, Hardware, Mobile, News, Video Features | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Laptop prices falling hard

Today’s MacBook price cuts were both welcome and not unique in the current laptop market.  Ultraportables and desktop replacements alike have been suffering from netbooks and Intel CULV powered thin ‘n lights pulling down the whole sector.

It’s pretty cool that you can finally get a decently powered 3-4lb laptop with a 13 inch screen for well under $1,000; MSI’s X340 and Acer’s Timeline are good examples.  Both are HD video capable and provide enough power for day-to-day computing.

These machines pull down the premium end of the ultraportable market like the Dell Adamo and MacBook Air, which don’t really offer much more hardware than the MSI or Acer.  In fact the Dell is probably slower than both.  So now we have a $1,499-$1,799 MacBook Air, which is great news for consumers and effectively sets a glass ceiling for ultraportable prices.

At the heavier end of the market 17 inch laptops are under strain from all-in-ones like the Asus EEE Top which are semi-mobile and keenly priced.  I found a new Toshiba dual-core T3400 17 inch laptop on Amazon this evening for $529.  This thing was fully loaded, you really wouldn’t need much more for a day-to-day desktop replacement…and of course you can install Windows 7 RC and get almost a year of usage before you need to buy a license.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jun 8, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sony Vaio P hands-on

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 15, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are Windows 7 pre-Beta success stories responsible for Atom notebook rumors?

Today’s rumors that HP is discussing the possibility of using Atom CPUs for notebooks as well as existing netbooks is interesting for two reasons.  Firstly we have not seen the Atom in any laptops with >12″ screens, but secondly and more importantly I think this could be an indicator of confidence in early Windows 7 tests.

We have already seen Windows 7 running on an Asus EEE PC, and early impressions of the next-gen OS have been extremely positive for a stage so early in the pre-release phase.

So what does it mean if HP really is talking to Intel about supplying the Atom for notebooks?

  • Battery life should skyrocket, if the netbook crowd can be used as a benchmark.  My Wind gets over five hours in real-life usage and the only significant additional power drain on a notebook is a larger screen…but they also offer more real-estate for housing a larger battery.  Could full working-day battery operation from a large-screen laptop become a mainstream reality?
  • The concept is good news for organizations with a mobile/flexible-working workforce and a thin-client infrastructure.
  • Many consumers may only need low processing power as we move towards a web-based services computing model (eg. web-mail/photo/music/productivity apps).  They might trade notebook HD movie editing capabilities for longer battery life in real life usage…however this would require a sea change in marketing tecniques where high power specs aim to sell a life-changing experience.  It is probably a ‘Greener’ sell though, which could lead to Atom-based notebooks being more fashionable that more energy-hungry models.

Time will tell if anything comes of this, but when I put together the early Windows 7 success stories with rumors of HP talking to Intel about the Atom then it does all start to come together…in my hopeful mind!

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 2, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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