107 of 127 people found the following review helpful
APPEAL: Yes. VALUE: Yes. Apple understands.
, July 23, 2011
This review is from: Apple MacBook Air MC965LL/A 13.3-Inch Laptop (OLD VERSION) (Personal Computers)
Those that saw my previous review of the 2010 11" MacBook Air will fully understand that title. The 2010 MacBook Air suffered from a lack of true value, attempting instead to do the absolute minimum in an attempt to appeal to people's aesthetic tastes while sacrificing key features and not pushing the envelope. Well, with the 2011 version, they have gone back to the drawing board. Indeed, they have released what the MacBook Air should have been all along. You can read the specs above for details about what is all here. I'm only focusing on what's improved over the last gen.
After re-reading my review, I decided to reorganize things for fluidity. So I'm going to first start with the general hardware and its approach. First, let's talk about what's good.
- Base 13" is a great deal if you don't need storage on the device. The price is set just right, and there are very few compromises here. You can go to the higher storage for $300 if you want, but honestly, just buy an external for $100. My opinion.
- Apple has returned the backlight keyboard. There was huge consumer demand for this feature, and removing it was pointless. The machine is so much better with it back, and did great on the night flight back to San Diego.
- Mail is no longer a battery killer. In the older version of the MacBook Air, running the Mail app used to destroy the battery something fierce. Battery life is a little lower, but realistically it's good enough for the majority of uses. If you're a heavy user don't expect to get more than 4 hours out of it.
- Backlight keyboard alone does not seem to have very much impact on the battery. This was a worry for some, it really does not make that much of a difference on the battery at all, to my pleasant surprise.
- More, faster RAM included this time around. This is important for application multitasking. I don't like that it's soldered on again, but I give them a pass due to the 4GB being standard on the base 13" unlike last year's debacle.
So why'd I knock it down a star?
Well...in all fairness, there's absolutely no logical reason that Apple should have ignored USB 3.0 by now. Even accounting for the addition of the Thunderbolt port, the reality is that USB 3.0 being backwards compatible with 2.0 makes it the best future proofing choice for computers, and one that all competitors have made. Apple refusing to jump on board is going to hurt their chances of pushing units. They'll sell a lot of machines as always, but there will come a breaking point. Even if they wanted to push Thunderbolt harder, it would not have harmed them financially or competitively to include at least one USB 3.0 port.
Also, I wasn't really impressed with the quality of the screen. There's just something...off...about the screen. It's hard to put into words. But it just doesn't have that same visual presence as the Pro, or even the 2010 Air. My understanding is that the panel type has been changed, likely causing this phenomenon. There's pixelation in places, and the text doesn't have the same clarity as with the Pro line. There were some compromises here. For day-to-day usage it's not a deal breaker, but it's noticeable and thus I note it here. Don't expect "magical" screen quality. If the screen quality all around matters and you have a keen eye like me, go for a Pro.
Battery life is also quite finicky. I know it's rated at "up to 7 hours" but I want to stress that this is under EXTREMELY conservative use cases. I'm talking Safari only, no flash, low backlight keyboard, low screen brightness. On the plane when they dimmed the cabin lights, I was able to go to one notch on the screen and backlight, which let me see perfectly, and then it lasted quite well. But here at home, with the screen brightness at just over halfway, running Mail, Firefox and Safari (because right now Safari is the default browser for Mail links), I'm hovering around 5 hours, which isn't bad. Yet if Spotlight gets fired up and indexing, I watched in horror as that figure went down to 2 hours under the same conditions.
Lastly, I am compelled to knock them for their refusal to at least include a USB restore drive in the box. I know they're pushing downloads and streaming media, but the reality is that physical media for computer restoration is almost a necessity. The novelty of an internet-based reinstall is nice, and they can keep that, but I still say that they should have included the Lion OS on a USB drive like they did with the 2010. The additional cost is pennies for that drive, so cost isn't the reason. They're pushing an agenda, and I don't like being tethered to the internet if and when I need to reinstall my operating system. There is a hidden recovery partition for this purpose that you can also use. But I think Apple is missing the boat here. What if the drive itself, the physical drive, goes toast? You're stuck unless you pay money. Thus the value of having external media for restoration if and when that were to happen. The SSD bar in the Air is replaceable, and there are already options from OWC for those users. But it's useless unless you pay $30 to download Lion and burn it/write it yourself or pay Apple $70 for a USB stick with Lion on it. To me both are unacceptable alternatives for something that should be in the box of every computer.
-_- Mac OS X 10.7, CODE NAME LION -_-
I want to interject here and state for the record that the majority of what bothers me with this purchase really has more to do with Lion, the newest operating system from the Apple, rather than the Air hardware itself. Based on my experience, the Lion OS is a step in the wrong direction. Apple is attempting to blend what we know of Mac OS with what certain users know of iOS, and the output is a very clunky experience at times. They introduced plenty of new features, and changed some tried and true features at the same time. It's clear they are attempting to create a single OS for both tablets and the desktop OS, but it's just...wrong.
Apple introduced a new feature, Mission Control, which is designed to act as the evolution of Exposé and Spaces. The problem is that Mission Control is finicky. It wants each app to be run in Full Screen to be able to separate them correctly within a single desktop. However...running apps full screen is a bit of a pain because it disables the Dock. Thus if you're running Firefox, let's say, in full screen you can't then see the unread count on Mail in the Dock. This basically forces you to run a Desktop that is just a Desktop and then run other apps in their own Desktop space. If you don't run apps in full screen, Mission Control then just "Paper stacks" them in a very unorganized fashion within the same Desktop. If an app is minimized into the Dock, it does not show in Mission Control. This seems bass-ackwards...if it is minimized into the Dock it should be one of the icons on top in Mission Control automatically. The only way to force this is to manually create the Desktop and assign the app to it, or full screen the app and then switch out of it.
I know that's hard to understand, but the bottom line is that the approach isn't very well implemented.
Apple has introduced another feature, Launchpad, which is essentially an iPad view of all of the local applications. It supports the grouping concept also found on iOS. Anyone who owns an iPod Touch or an iPad/iPhone will instantly recognize this. The idea is obvious; the concept of it just does not work on a full computer. It translates on a simple touch interface, but not a computer where you're not really touching. It should be obvious that the intent is to have one operating system for both desktops and tablets in an attempt to extend iOS beyond its limitations and dumb down the desktop experience. I get it. But beyond the obvious issues, there are more functional problems. Launchpad shows queued up downloads or updates to existing apps rather than the app itself. So for example, I saw there was an upgrade for iPhoto and started it from the App Store when I was on the plane. But when I saw it was over 600MB I stopped it. Problem is that made iPhoto unavailable from Launchpad because it changed to a download prompt instead of the app. It's not a deal breaker, as one could go to the Applications folder by exiting Launchpad or not using it, but it's something to note...Apple's got some work to do.
"Natural scrolling" is a joke. It turns over 20 years of computing on its head and not in a good way. I turned that stuff off the moment I saw it. For those that don't know what this is, Apple has set the default scroll behavior to where the window will scroll in the same direction as where you scroll your fingers/mouse. So for example, right now if you scroll a window down, the the page will go up so you read down the page. That's logical. In the default scroll of Lion, if you do the same downward scroll, the page will move down. So if you want to read towards the bottom like normal people, you would scroll up, because you're "pulling the page up" in order to read downwards. If it sounds confusing, it is. I disabled this immediately.
Those who are on the fence about this, think of this way. If I asked you to get to the bottom of the stairs, what direction are you moving? DOWN. Down = Bottom. That's logical, right? So when looking at a piece of paper, if I wanted to go to the bottom of the page, I am reading DOWN the page. The analogy I stated before of "move the paper up to read downwards" works if my hands are directly on the paper. But when I am not touching the paper, my eyes go down; the paper itself, say if laying on table, goes up. That's why computer-based scrolling has worked for over two decades. It's designed to work for your eyes, not for your hands.
"Natural scrolling" makes perfect sense on an iPad, because you're "touching the paper" directly, thus you would move the paper so that you can get to the next parts of what you're reading. I didn't find it to translate well on a disconnected input medium like the trackpad at all. Your Mileage May Vary, but in my opinion it's more clunky than it's worth, and I would rather it had been disabled by default, with options for users who want to try that input type that are converts from the iPad.
Lion wants to remember open tabs by default in Safari. So let's say you have 3 tabs open and you shut the browser down because you're finished. In my mind if I close all three tabs it's because I'm done using them and the next time I open the browser I expect a clean slate; otherwise I would just use bookmarks. In Lion, by default, when you open the browser multiple times, it will reopen whatever tabs you had open the last time you ran it. Even Reset Safari does not stop this behavior. You have to disable it in System Preferences if you don't want it.
Lion has taken a questionable direction with regards to design strategy. It feels very much like Apple's strategy was to create an OS that could be used on both a computer and a tablet, and I'd be shocked if we didn't see a Lion version of the iPad down the road. The problem is a lot of the features just don't translate well to a computer environment at all, yet would feel right at home on a tablet. Things like rotating and the new Mail interface. I know some people have reported things as bugs with Lion...I don't think they are. I think a lot of what we are experiencing are intentional changes...and anyone who thinks it's a bug, is really feeling the negative impacts of the changes. Call a spade a spade.
In summary...do I recommend it? That's a big YES. The 2011 Air is a solid machine that IMO is hindered somewhat by a questionable OS design. The hardware is spot on and what the Air really should have been in the 2010 revision. The backlight keyboard adds significant value to the Air, and the 2011 just feels right. The base 13" is a great value and well worth the money you spend on it. It's not going to replace a Pro for many reasons. But it's strong enough to be someone's primary if they really want it to be. The review may sound like it's lower than a 4, but the more critical negatives are with Lion, not with the Air itself. The Air itself is rock solid. It's a strong VALUE and well worth the dollars you spend on it. The higher end 13" is pushing it in terms of true value, as is the low end 11", but the high end 11" and the base 13" both are the best values in the Apple lineup right now. The 13" Pro has a stronger processor but not by much, and you must add a SSD to make it slightly superior to the base Air. That's the way it should have been from the get-go. VALUE, people. Value.
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