Customer Review

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Laptop I've Ever Owned! (Updated 09.16.12), February 8, 2012
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This review is from: Apple MacBook Air MC969LL/A 11.6-Inch Laptop (OLD VERSION) (Personal Computers)
I was in the market for a new laptop with the following requirements: small size, lightweight, has enough horsepower to run Adobe CS5 and Microsoft Office, had a lighted keyboard, and excellent battery life. My last 3 laptops have all been Windows laptops, but were in the 15-17" size range and a bit too large to be convenient.

When I read about people running Windows 7 on the latest MacBook Air's I took a long look at the product. At first I was a little taken back by the specs of the smallest 11" MacBook Air, which was about $100 more than my previous 15.6" Windows laptop - but my Windows laptop had an HD screen, Blu-ray/DVD-R drive, 16GB of RAM, and a 650GB hard drive - the works. I was asking myself if I was seriously thinking of replacing my high-spec 15.6" Windows laptop with an 11" Apple laptop that costs more and has less features? After all that was said and done, I decided on the 11" MacBook Air with the Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD hard drive, and here's why:

1. PERFECT SIZE
You can read the measurements of the MacBook Air on Apple's website, you can even go into an Apple store and see one for yourself, but let me tell you - you will never really get a feel for just how small the MacBook Air is until you have your own, on your lap on the couch, or at the foot of your bed while watching TV... when you actually use items as part of your daily routine you tend to notice more of the details. I chose the 11" over the 13" because I wanted something small and light - and the 11" MacBook Air is both.

Size-wise the MacBook Air with its lid closed is barely an inch longer than an iPad 2 - and can easily be mistake for one if it's left sitting on the table. Though the weight is about twice that of an iPad 2 (a shade under 3 lbs. according to my scale) you don't really notice it. Yet it's small enough to be able to cradle with one hand or hold up like a tablet. If I went with the 13" I would basically have a slightly smaller laptop than my previous one, and that wasn't what I was looking for. The 11" MacBook Air is truly portable, it's small enough to fit inside my car glove box.

2. SYSTEM PERFORMANCE (Updated 0916/12)
I had read about how OSX handles memory differently compared to Windows machines, and I'm not sure how much of this is actually true but for a machine with "only" 4GB of RAM, the MacBook Air sure does feel faster than my previous Windows laptop (same Core i5 processor but with 4x RAM!). I'm sure part of the speed bump has to do with the MacBook Air having an SSD instead of a magnetic hard drive, but there's just something else that makes this machine zoom. Start-up from a power-off state is measured in a matter of seconds, not minutes like on a Windows machine.

Programs launch fast, and I have yet to experience any system lag or slow-down; I did a test by running the following programs simultaneously: Adobe Photoshop CS5, Adobe Dreamweaver CS5, Microsoft Excel, iTunes, Google Earth, Google Chrome and VLC Player. I had documents open in each Adobe/Microsoft program, music playing in iTunes, a sample movie playing on VLC, and streaming video in Chrome while I used Google Earth - and the MacBook Air didn't even flinch. I could switch from program to program and there was no slow-down whatsoever. Being a primarily Windows guy for the better part of 15 years, this was refreshing.

UPDATE: I wanted to add some notes about gaming and multimedia performance. With low-medium level games (App Store games mostly) the Macbook Air handles them fine. When I play more graphics-intensive games (i.e. Portal 2, Need For Speed) the internal cooling fan will come on after about 10 minutes. This is expected though, as the Air wasn't designed to be a full-spec gaming machine - that said it can still do it if needs be. As for multimedia, I have yet to see a stutter when watching movies. I often run Netflix with a Thunderbolt-to-HDMI cable through to my 34" HDTV, and video playback is smooth. Finally, when I use real-time DJing software (Serato Itch and Virtual DJ in both audio and video mixing mode) I can set latency to minimum - The fan does come on when using Serato for extended lengths - which is understandable, since my Macbook Air's current configuration is slightly short of the "minimum recommended" system specs for Serato - but even if it's running a little hot, there is no visual, audible, or program response lag at all.

3. USER INTERFACE
I remember trying to use a Windows netbook once and absolutely hated it - the keys felt cheap, the layout felt cramped, and response was sporadic. I was initially concerned that the 11" MacBook Air keyboard would feel the same, but when they say "full-sized keyboard" they mean it. I can type just as fast on the MacBook Air as I can on a regular desktop keyboard. The spacing of the keys, and more importantly the feel of the keys, is excellent. The latest MacBook Air's (mid-2011+) have a lighted keyboard (which mine does) and they implemented it perfectly. I like the fact that you can set the keyboard lighting to a comfortable brightness, and then OSX will automatically adjust the brightness compared to ambient light automatically.

Being a Windows user I was also wondering if I would be able to use Apples "single button track pad" but you know what? It only took me an hour or two to get used to using the track pad and OSX's very useful multi-touch gestures. One thing that caught my eye about the track pad - it's very precise. In Adobe Photoshop I can control the cursor with precision that I could only match with a mouse on a Windows machine. My previous Windows laptops' track pads pale in comparison, so much that I would always factor in a wireless mouse into the budget when buying a Windows computer.

4. EXTRAORDINARY SCREEN
For being only 11" in size, the MacBook Air's screen is amazing. Initially I thought I'd have something similar to a Windows Netbook due to the size similarities, but the MacBook Air's display is more comparable to my previous 15.6" 1080 HD laptop. Type is crisp, and the only time you'll realize that you're working with a smaller screen is if you run programs that use fixed-size pallets.

5. EXCELLENT BATTERY LIFE (Updated 09/16/12)
With normal usage (web browsing, mail, some YouTube visits, etc.) I get around 5.5-6 hours in between charges. When I have to use Adobe CS heavily that drops down to around 4.5-5 hours from my experience. It's weird not having to plug the AC adaptor into the MacBook Air every night before I sleep (which is what I used to do with my Windows computer.)

UPDATE: 7 months into ownership, I decided to see how the battery has held up. I used a timer widget on the OSX dashboard, and started with 100% battery. Throughout the test I was doing normal web browsing using Google Chrome, iTunes was playing music in the background, and I also had an Excel spreadsheet and a Word document open that I was working on. For reference I had WiFi on, Bluetooth off, screen brightness was at 8 bars (50%), keyboard backlight brightness was at 4 bars (25%), and volume was at 12 bars (75%). I used the laptop as I normally would, allowing the battery to run down as far as it would; even after the Air gave me the 8% warning, I kept computing as usual until it finally shut down on it's own. After a minute I connected the Magsafe adaptor to the Air, restarted the computer, and the battery indicator was at 1% and charging. The timer widget indicated 5 hours, 53 minutes, and 33 seconds before complete shutdown when starting from 100% full charge - excellent performance I'd say. Oh by the way, this "test" was done with Mountain Lion 10.8.1 - not the original Lion OS that came with the laptop when I bought it - which contradicted the reports of Mountain Lion being a battery hog, at least compared to what I experienced during this test!

6. THE LOOK AND FEEL OF QUALITY
From its aluminum unibody to the texture of the keyboard keys to the responsiveness and precision of the track pad, you know that the MacBook Air is a high-quality product. Nothing feels cheap - from the way the screen hinge moves to the fact that every external port is machined into the aluminum body, not a plastic faceplate. Even the Magsafe power connector snaps into place with a convincing click. There is no Windows laptop this size that I've ever seen that can match the quality that the MacBook Air possesses - and believe me, I shopped around A LOT for a Windows laptop before I chose the MacBook Air. Did I forget to say that the MacBook Air looks beautiful? Well it does.

7. STUFF I MISS... SORTA
Nothing is perfect, but the MacBook Air is pretty close. I do miss having a built-in SD card reader (the 13" MacBook Air does have a built-in card reader) but I can easily plug in a $5 SD card reader into one of the USB ports and I'm set.

There is no built-in HDMI or VGA output port, but with a profile this thin it's understandable. To remedy this I bought a Mini Display port-to-HDMI adaptor (the new Thunderbolt port also doubles as a Mini Display port) in order to put Skype on my HDTV when talking to relatives overseas.

I was well aware before purchase that the MacBook Air did not have an internal optical drive, but after a few weeks of daily usage, guess what? I don't miss it at all. Thinking back to my old laptop, I probably only used the Blu-Ray drive once for movies, and only a handful of times to burn DVD or music CDs.

8. ONE MORE THING - OSX MOUNTAIN LION (Updated 09/16/12)
Remember how initially I was looking into installing Windows 7 as my primary operating system onto the MacBook Air for the ultimate portable Windows machine? Well I did try Windows 7 on the MacBook Air using OSX's Boot Camp Assistant. I had a fresh Windows 7 installation in place, and then I realized that I'd have to do Windows Update. Then I would have to install Service Pack 1. Then I'd have to install all my Windows programs and update those as well. And then I realized that I'd have to run anti-virus software and a firewall. It became such a hassle that I decided to try OSX Lion out as my primary operating system, and I set out to use OSX daily, to see if I could use OSX as comfortably as Windows 7. After 3 weeks (give or take a day or two) I was so comfortable and adept at using OSX - especially the multi-touch gestures - that I deleted the windows 7 partition completely and I ended up sticking with OSX Lion. I still run Windows 7 on my desktop, but on the MacBook Air there's nothing like Lion. This - coming from a die-hard Windows user - should tell you something. I'd suggest that if you are a Windows user, give OSX a shot - you'll probably end up liking it, and then you'll probably ask yourself why you put up with Windows all this time.

UDPATE: I updated the operating system to Mountain Lion when it was released, and unlike some reports of higher battery drain, I have not experienced this at all with the Macbook Air. I have Notifications active, as well as iCloud syncing of Notes, Reminders, and Contacts. I also use iTunes syncing over WiFi for my iPhone, and battery life doesn't seem to be affected (see more detailed info in the "EXCELLENT BATTERY LIFE" section, above.)

IN A NUTSHELL
So what rating do I give the MacBook Air? A solid 5 stars. If you look at the first paragraph in my review, the MacBook Air met or exceeded all of my requirements. The MacBook Air is perfect for those of you who want something portable, fast, and comfortable to use all while having a high-quality look and feel compared to the competition. If the price concerns you, it's understandable given that there are larger Windows laptops out there for the same price, or smaller Windows laptops at a lower price. In this case however, you absolutely get what you pay for - the quality, the system performance, and of course the ease of use that Apple is very well known for.

I am so glad I switched to a MacBook Air, and I'm sure you will be too!
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 13, 2012 10:49:51 AM PST
R.A. says:
First of all, thanks for the informative review.
Secondly:
I noticed that you said you plug your Windows machine in before you go to sleep,
which would mean that you were charging it longer than it takes to reach capacity.
I ruined my Windows machine's battery by a similar practice (leaving it plugged in
all the time while I used it). When I got my Macbook Pro, in 2009, I changed my habits, and
my battery is in fine shape to this day - about two and a half years later. Last time I checked
- maybe two months ago - I was still getting about six to six-and-a-half hours out of it (light use). I recommend checking at apple.com for guidelines.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2012 2:02:07 AM PST
James R. says:
Hi,

The AC Adaptor on my Windows laptop had a peak function that would auto-stop when the battery was fully charged, and I had to plug it in every night because by the time I was ready to sleep the battery would be in the 10-15% capacity range. If it didn't have an auto-shut-off feature then I definitely wouldn't have left it plugged in overnight; I am aware of battery life and have extensive experience regarding proper charging for different battery types as I worked in the RC industry - which deals a lot with rechargeable batteries, especially Lithium-Polymer and Lithium-Ion cells ;)

The fact that I had to plug the charger in at night reflects how fast the battery would drain on my Windows laptop compared to the MacBook Air. Granted it was a machine that demanded more power to begin with (larger screen, magnetic hard drive, built-in surround sound with subwoofer) but after using the MacBook Air, I don't miss the old laptop at all =)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 14, 2012 9:23:31 AM PST
R.A. says:
James R.

It's cool that you know all that stuff about batteries; I could have
used that knowledge before I ruined my old Compaq's battery.
And I would hate to think of life without my Mac, nowadays.
They are simply the best !

Posted on Mar 13, 2012 1:31:44 AM PDT
Prakash Heda says:
I am looking to upgrade my 2009 macair always running windows 7, with this macair 11 inch 4GB ram, but completely surprised with ur reasons for using lion...(installing windows is an issue? sp1 is integrated, antivirus and all that)

I am very happy with using windows 7 as I am an advance user which like to use a compouter to its full potential and mac does not have enough software to provide a complete experience. my 2009 macair was getting dust as I was bored with mac os limitation (using ipad iphone same time) and then one ay decided to bootcamp and this is my primary laptop since than....

For me macair provide best hardware and ms provide best software (it works fine with 2 GB ram yes running photoshop....4 would be too much fun)

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 13, 2012 2:51:15 AM PDT
James R. says:
I consider myself an "advanced user" as well, and you're reasons you listed ("I like to use a computer for it's full potential" and "mac does not have enough software") we're the same reasons I used to use when defending Windows operating systems. However when I made the switch to use OSX only on the MBA, the only piece of software I had to purchase to feel comfortable with the MBA on the same level as I was with my old Win7 laptop was the OSX version of Microsoft Office '11.

RE: SOFTWARE/SPACE: My Win7 wasn't SP1-integrated so I had to run through the usual Windows "run Windows Update, wait, reboot, run Windows update again until there are no more updates" process that you should be familiar with. And then there was the Office SP1 update. Then after that was installed, Windows 7 had new Office-related updates. And so on. I lost a lot of HD space after all of the Windows updates (remember the MBA has a 128mb HD) not to mention the added bulk of Office updates. So much HD space wasted on Windows... when I did a "clean" install of Win7 with my usual list of programs - Office, Adobe CS5, and the usual programs (Chrome, Thunderbird, iTunes, etc.) - I had only 35GB of HD space left, and that's BEFORE importing any personal data and files!

In comparison, as I check right now my MBA has about 61GB of free space...on OSX... including Office, and CS5, and the usual programs, AS WELL AS all of my personal data and files.

RE "FULL POTENTIAL": Here's a real-life example - I had over 200 gigs od raw .avi files that I was going to make into a movie. My Windows familiarity immediately made me think "Final Cut" or "Adobe Premiere" on my Windows 7 desktop. Instead, I did all editing and processing on the MBA using iMovie '11, because #1 it was already there as part of OSX, #2 has more features than Win7's built-in DVD/Movie Maker, #3 costs a lot less than having to buy Final Cut or Premiere.

RE: DOESN'T HAVE ENOUGH SOFTWARE: This is a years-old debate between Win/Mac, and it almost always hinged on game availability - especially back in the Windows XP days... but this is now, and there is this thing called the App Store. Windows users do not have anything remotely equivalent to the App Store, and all of the software it offers for all kinds of usage. There's arcade games (Angry Birds, Bejeweled, etc.); There's "gamer" games (Civilization, Call of Duty, Dirt, etc.) - not to mention non-gaming stuff available. A couple more examples:

Win7 built-in messaging? Hope you're on MSN, because that's what it does.
OSX built-in messaging? compatible with .mac and AIM, and I can send messages straight to iPhones/iPads.

Win7 built-in media player/music management? MediaMokey was the only program I've used on a Win machine that was close to good.
OSX built-in media player/music management? iTunes does it all - edit, manage - not to mention seamless music device syncing.

I agree with you 100% in that Apple seems to have the best hardware; after owning many different levels of Windows machines ever since Windows 3.1 (both desktop, laptop, even mobile phones) and only recently starting to use Apple devices on a daily basis (less than 3 years?) this statement seems very true. Fit and finish is excellent. user interface (though also OS-related) is more natural.

But I'll have to disagree with the "Windows has the BEST software" statement; I think the more accurate statement would be that "Windows has a lot more SOFTWARE CHOICES" - but not necessarily the "best" between the two.

My review of the MacBook Air was specifically targeted towards what most people with a MacBook air would want to use it for - portable computing with more functionality than a tablet, being able to do the usual "daily" stuff (mail/message/browse) as fast and as hassle-free as possible - and I was emphasizing how much happier I am with my new $1,300 MacBook Air to my old machine it was replacing - a $3,000+ Windows laptop that I had purchased a little over a year ago.

One final note: When I had Win7/bootcamp on the MBA, everything seemed to work as expected - but when using some programs, the internal fan would kick to high-speed... mainly any of the Adobe CS5 components. Using the same in OSX seemed to = less processor load, no fan speed increase.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 31, 2012 9:29:27 PM PDT
wcyd says:
Very nice review and update!
James, do you think charge the laptop battery to 100% is a good idea? When Toyota design the Prius hybrid battery, they want it to last the lifetime of the car, so they always keep it charged between 30-70% level.
Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 1, 2012 1:40:49 AM PDT
James R. says:
Quick answer: I would say that charging to 100% is fine as long as you're actively using the laptop, not "charge to 100% then turn the laptop off."

Medium-length answer: The MacBook Air uses lithium-polymer (LiPo) batteries. Without getting super technical, it was recommended to me by LiPo battery industry manufacturers to STORE LiPo batteries at around 50% charge. However, if actively being used, you can go to 90-100% charge without issue, as long as you'll use the battery (and thus drain it down from 100%) immediately after a full charge.

The advantages of LiPo batteries (compared to Nickel Metal Hydride batteries, which are also common "rechargeable" battery types) are that LiPos are lighter, have higher voltage per cell, and do not have "memory" - which is why you can charge LiPos to 40%, 75%, 82% - and not worry about the "memory effect". However, LiPo batteries are VERY sensitive to both over-charging and over-discharging.

I can see why Toyota would recommend 30-70%, as it falls within the "safe area" for LiPo charging/discharging. That said, if you charge to say, 90% you should be fine even if you decide to put the MBA to sleep (or turn it off completely) right after charging. If you go up to 100% make sure you're using the laptop, as you do not want to store it at 100% because it will shorten battery life and battery output capacity.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 1, 2012 8:26:53 AM PDT
wcyd says:
Thanks! That's what I guessed. But seems like there is no battery chargers on market which designed to maximize the battery life. I would like to have one that user can configure to let it quickly fully charge or maintain between 30% and 70% when I use the laptop as desktop for couple of days. If you know such a charger, please let me know.
BTW, Prius' system don't recommend, but actually controls the battery charge level at that range. You can never charge it to 100%. That's why many Prius used by taxi companies passed 300K miles and the original battery is still good. I knew a guy who delivers medical stuff, drives 600 mile every weekday. His Prius still use original battery at close to half million miles, before he sold the car and upgrade to Prius v, the bigger wagon.
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