By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
When the original MacBook Air came out it received mixed responses. While many loved its razor-like thinness and all aluminium form factor, there were also a lot of detractors that bemoaned it as an underpowered and impractical netbook hiding in a premium laptop's clothing. The newest iteration of the 13-inch Air brings many improvements but loses a well loved feature.
Our biggest issue with the original MacBook Air was its price. Starting at $1800 for a slower notebook using a 4200 RPM iPod hard drive and a measly one USB port seemed an excessive amount of moolah to pay for a notebook even if it was this sexy and sleek.
Fast forward to 2011 and the 13-inch MacBook Air is a different beast altogether. It is even slimmer now with a more integrated unibody shell and has two USB ports and a SDCard slot. It also comes with a faster 128GB (up to 256GB) of fast SSD storage, a better NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics card all for a relatively more reasonable starting price of $1350. We also reviewed the 11-inch MacBook Air last year and loved the new form factor and the performance from the smallest Mac notebook ever.
The new unibody enclosure starts out at a stunning 1.7 cm thick and tapers to a razor's edge 0.3 cm which somehow doesn't feel as dangerously sharp as the original MacBook Air. This bit of kit weighs no more than 2.9 pounds, just a touch heavier than the iPad.
This new version feels more solid and more robust overall even if it is thinner and as a result lighter. Apple has perfected the unibody construction process and it now stretches the boundaries of toughness and rigidity in incredibly thin enclosures. You also get a larger glass trackpad which replaces the previous version's aluminum trackpad and button. Since the whole trackpad now is essentially a button as well, users jut get more real estate to use gestures.
The extra USB 2.0 port (which can now power devices, something the previous model could not always manage) and the SDCard slot are welcome additions to the MacBook Air's spartan array of ports. What is gone and what we really found ourselves missing, was the backlit keyboard feature that was standard in the previous model. If you've never had a backlit keyboard, you won't miss it but if you've depended on the feature for some time, then it will feel a bit weird not having it.
Apple's review unit was the top of the line model with 4GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.Comparing it to the older MacBook Air you can see it is certainly slimmer, the screen can be tilted back a bit further and it feels overall more densely packed and solid even if it isn't heavier than the older model.
In terms of performance, we were simply stunned at the MacBook Air's speed and responsiveness. Credit this to the integrates SSD drive that's soldered on to the motherboard which speed things up considerably. The NVDIA GeForce 320M graphics also add to the performance end of things.
The resolution of the screen is similar to what one would find on a 15-inch MacBook Pro but squeezed into the 13-inch screen and while it would have been nice to offer users a matte option, the MacBook Air's glossy screen is superb despite its penchant for glare.
The MacBook Air is definitely the future to which all notebooks are headed. As an example of Apple's fine design and applied engineering, nothing really comes close (except maybe the iPad) to exemplifying mastery over materials and technologies elegantly put together into one slim enclosure.
The question is, can the MacBook Air be your main notebook or even your main computer? In our case, we would love to trade in our 13-inch MacBook Pro for a thinner and lighter 13-inch MacBook Air but since our day to day usage involves video editing, photo editing and long hours of typing articles and reviews on-the-go, it seems that the Air's processing power and battery life may not be where we need it to be. Yet.
If all we did was surf, type, watch videos, check social media streams and maybe run an occasional PowerPoint or KeyNote presentation then the MacBook Air (both the 11-inch and the 13-inch) are positively the right tools for that type of work.
The 13-inch MBA's speed and power is more than ample for most modern uses of computers today. The fact it can run iMovie 11 "like butter" as well as iPhoto in full-screen mode is nothing to sneeze at, neither it its ability to power a 27-inch HD monitor. For users who need even more capacity and have more money to spend, Other World Computing offers a stunning SSD upgrade that's 22% faster than Apple's stock drive. While not cheap, its good to know that an upgrade path that pays huge dividends in performance is available.
The MBA is a MacBook with way fewer ports and no optical drive in a much slimmer and lighter body. You simply can't compare the performance of an Atom processor or an AMD Neo processor with a Core 2 Duo, specially with a dedicated NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM.
Would we trade our 13-inch office MacBook Pro for one of these, we would definitely consider it. Sure, we would miss the ports and the large capacity drive but these are things we can learn to live without. It is the Macbook Pro's stellar battery life and upgradeability that makes it a better day to day workhorse Mac. You can upgrade the MacBook Pro with up to 8GB of RAM, you can pop in a 500GB hard drive without much of a problem.
All new MacBook Airs are non-user serviceable. Apple even added a new type of secure TORX (Pentabular) screw to them that are unique and hard to open without the right tool. The message is pretty clear, once your MacBook Air has shipped, you can't or shouldn't upgrade anything on it. The sealed battery can be replaced by your neighbourhood Mac Genius for around $100 should you need a new battery down the line.
The MacBook Air is closer to the premium thin and light notebooks that Sony and Toshiba like to sell for upwards of $1600. These notebooks aren't in the power class but they allow you to get work done and they travel exceptionally well. With the new system on a chip approach, fast SSD, a thinner and meaner profile plus a way better price point and the Intel Mac's inherent ability to run OS X and Windows (but why?), the 13-inch MacBook Air has truly become the ultimate thin and light notebook in the market today.
Rating 4.5 out of 5