25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Best Laptop I've Ever Owned! (Updated 09.16.12)
, February 8, 2012
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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