on July 29, 2011
*2012 Pro and Air models are available but the designs remain the same meaning the physical aspects covered below are the same as well.
The primary features of the 2012 13" MacBook Air are:
- Ivy Bridge processor + HD 4000 graphics (60% better performance)
- USB 3.0
- 720p webcam
- 2x SSD read speeds. Write speeds didn't change.
- $100 price drop
I've owned the machine for 10 months now and have simplified the review for your convenience.
Things I like:
+ Light weight; 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg). You can easily hold it with one hand - the MBP 13" is noticeably heavier at 4.5 lbs.
+ Solid build quality like the MBPs. Chassis is rock solid, no keyboard flex, screen housing is rigid with minor flex in the middle.
+ Better ergonomics than the MBPs; the palm rest edges don't dig into your wrists like the edges on the MBPs do.
+ Same fluid multitouch trackpad and the backlit keyboard makes a return.
+ The screen is a pleasure to use with it's high resolution (1440 x 900) and semi-gloss finish.
There is no glass cover so there will be dramatically less reflections compared to the screen of the MBPs
I personally chose the Air over the Pro because of reduced glare.
+ 18 second boot ups and 3 second shut downs. Resumes from sleep within 3 seconds.
+ The two USB 2.0 ports are on opposite sides of the laptop (less clutter than MBP)
+ Speakers are surprisingly loud; they can fill up a small room.
+ Runs extremely cool and it's so quiet that you'll wonder if the fan is running at all.
I can definitely feel heat ~ 87 degrees F on the MPB 13's underside after 6 hours of use
where as the MBA 13's underside stayed relatively cooler.
+ Runs Windows 7 just as cool and quietly. (I installed Windows 7 via flash drive)
+ Performance is almost identical to the MBP 13" 2011 on everyday tasks because the Core i5
CPU can turbo boost to 2.7 GHz and the SSD allows for instant application launching.
+ Gaming: it has the same Intel HD Graphics 3000 as the MBP 13" 2011. I was able to run
Starcraft II smoothly at low settings on native resolution. Medium settings also ran nicely but
you get less FPS during large battles. League of Legends ran smoothly at medium settings
30 FPS flat) on native resolution.
Things I don't like:
- *IMPORTANT* Wifi drops - have been less frequent in the wake of more updates from Apple.
- The keyboard is shallower and has less travel than the MBP keyboards (you'll get used to it
within a few days)
- The screen has less color gamut than the MBP 13's screen. This screen covers only 46% of
sRGB color spectrum where as the MBP 13's screen covers 77%. For image editing,
I would use an external monitor.
- The vertical viewing angles aren't so great. One minute tilt of the screen causes colors to shift
dramatically (for example: a purple color can change from lavender to light blue as you tilt
the screen backward or forward). Again, I would use an external monitor for tasks in
which accurate colors are mission critical. For everyday use it's not noticeable and is
actually easier on the eyes than the glare-prone screens of the MBPs.
- Not all models come with the same SSD. There are 2 variations; a Samsung SSD and a
Toshiba SSD. The Samsung SSD significantly outperforms the Toshiba SSD in
benchmarks (check the AnandTech review)
To check what SSD you have, click on the Apple logo -> About this Mac ->
more info/system report -> then look on the left hand side and click on "Serial- ATA".
If your SSD's serial number starts with "SM" it's a Samsung and a "TS" means it's a
- I personally get 5 hours of battery life max on a single charge while surfing with 10+ tabs open on safari; I got
~7 hours doing the same tasks on the MPB 13 2011. My activities included watching
YouTube videos, viewing flash content on tech and news sites, reading/writing email,
and using AIM.
- No FaceTime HD Camera (720p) as on the MPBs. The quality difference is, unfortunately,
- The integrated microphone is located on the side of the laptop instead of on top of the keyboard
as on the MBP. During Skype calls, my buddies told me that my voice sounded muffled
when using the Air. Using a headset with a mic, I was able to improve the sound quality.
- The base of the machine developed a creaking noise within the first week of use. I suspect this to be
caused by uneven tension in the screws.
- after 5 months of, a white cluster of stuck pixels developed in the bottom left corner of the screen.
The machine has been handled with care so it's not accidental damage.
Conclusion: Which one should you get?
As a college student, I would recommend the Macbook Pro 13". The Air is more than capable of being a primary machine because
of it's superb performance and overall very good screen. For everyday tasks, it should be snappy and an ease to use.
However, students will get a $100 discount on the Pro while the Air only provides a $50 discount. This means that there is a price
difference of $150 for students. The storage space on the Air is imited to 128GB or 256GB while the Pro comes standard with 500GB.
Plus, you can always add a SSD to the Pro later on. The Pro will be the better choice for creative students because it's screen has more color
gamut than the Air's. Lastly, you are getting a full voltage processor which can make a differencein video encoding or other CPU intensive tasks.
If you are not a student:
If you value the extra ports (Ethernet, Firewire, optical drive), a high gamut screen (although more reflective), a 720p webcam
(it's a lot better), and the ability to upgradelater down the line - go for the Pro.
If you prioritize portability (light weight), higher screen resolution, fast boot ups/shut downs, and less reflections - go for the Air.
In everyday performance the Air feels faster when booting up and launching applications because of its SSD. In CPU intensive tasks,
the Pro will have a slight edge but not much. (the two CPUs are actually pretty neck to neck on GeekBench benchmarks). They both
have the same graphics chip but note that the Pro will get better battery life (1-2 hours more) than the Air because the Pro has a bigger
capacity battery (63.5 watt-hours vs. 50 watt-hours)
Unfortunately, my unit is affected with a wifi drop problem. I don't know if you will encounter the same issue but if you buy an Air from
an Apple Store, make sure to test the wifi out by using it on multiple networks. If you encounter any erratic wifi drops within
the first 14 days - demand a refund or an exchange.
Update - December 27th, 2011
After installing the 10.7.2 and a firmware update, the wifi connections in my dorm room became more reliable.
However, after taking it home I experienced drops as before on the home network. I DOUBT it's a problem with my
router because ALL other connected devices work fine. The 2011 MBP 13" I previously owned worked flawlessly on my network.
This is most likely a problem with the Air's drivers. 5 months after product launch, I don't believe Apple
has acknowledged the issue or either chose to IGNORE it as other users on the official forums continue to
have similar complaints even to this day.
Hardware wise, the casing held up well except for a scratch on the side. The lid is frighteningly thin and I've read
reports of the screen's fragile nature - cracking at the slightest bump by another object. I would handle with care.
Want to know something funny? With the machine off, I can see through the Apple logo on the lid if there's light
behind it - it's that thin.
Software wise, sometimes the machine would run hot with fans blazing full throttle when watching HD YouTube videos
and would remain that way even though I close everything. Very odd. A quick reboot solves the problem.
A creaking sound developed within a week of purchase. When I lift the machine up, press on the palm rest or type on it
there would be a creaking noise produced. I suspected the screws of the bottom to be loose so I decided to tighten them.
Note that you'll have to order a pentalobe screwdriver to do this - the screws aren't the typical type.
January 9th, 2011
A cluster of 4-5 stuck pixels developed so I went to get a screen replacement. The Apple genius confirmed it was
4-5 pixels which qualified me for a screen replacement. Service was prompt and I got the machine the next day.
However, the new screen had 2 clearly visible dead pixels in the center of the screen. I tried using it for a few days
but they were an absolute distraction.
Dissatisfied, I took it back to another genius only to be met with rude service. I stated that the dead pixels hindered
functionality as they were visual distractions. He snidely responded with, "Where? I don't even see them" and remained
adamant about not replacing it because I didn't qualify for the "minimum of 5 dead pixels for a replacement" policy.
It was an unpleasant experience to say the least and didn't help.
March 11th, 2011
I've learned to live with the two dead pixels on the screen and Apple has released an update (10.7.3) to address the
wireless card. I've noticed that with Bluetooth off, the connections are pretty stable around campus and at home.
I've not yet tested this with Bluetooth - it makes me curious because people on the official forums report wifi drops when
enabling Bluetooth. Anyway, After 7 months of ownership I would say most of the initial bugs have been remedied and
the Air is a pleasure to use. However, I speculate that the Pro and Air lineup will be updated to Ivy Bridge in the summer
(along with the rumored redesign of the Pros). Buy now if you need it but if you can - waiting might be better.
on August 15, 2011
I have been using my new 13" Macbook Air, 256GB, Core i7 for just over a week and here are my impressions...
First, the good stuff...
- The industrial design is absolutely gorgeous and rock-solid. The laptop is thin, light and pleasure to look at.
- Screen is 13" but the resolution is comparable to that of most 15"+ laptops. Perfectly usable for graphic/software development. While Macbook Air uses (supposedly) an inferior TN panel compared to Macbook Pro, I did not find a drastic difference between the two (I also own a 17" Macbook Pro). The Air has slightly smaller viewing angles and perhaps not as good colour reproduction, but the differences are subtle. Also, there's a lot less glare on Air's "glossy" display compared to glossy Macbook Pro.
- Performance is great, in some cases it bests the Quad Core i7 17" Macbook Pro, thanks to its SSD Drive. Startups/shutdowns are super fast and the applications open/close almost instantly. Having said that, do not expect to do any serious gaming on this little guy. The built-in Intel graphics chip has hard time handling even 5 year old games and is actually slower than nVidia chip on the previous generation Air.
- Expect to get about 4-5 hours of mixed use out of "7 hour" battery. That's what I average while doing some Photoshop and web dev work, browsing, listening to music and viewing a few video clips.
Now, the negatives...
Well, it's one negative really, but it is something I find extremely annoying. The laptop gets VERY hot when CPU usage approaches 50% and the fan kicks in full-blast at 6,000+ RPM.
I first noticed the excessive noise when I was transferring my data and applications from the time machine backup upon initial setup. The fan stayed on entire time, CPU temperature was approaching 90C while being only 30% utilized.
I continued to experience high heat/fan noise issues throughout the week. Sometimes it was during routine web browsing where some of the websites contained Flash elements. Starting Windows XP in Parallels would immediately set the fan in motion, again, sometimes hitting 6,000+ rpm. Playing Civilization IV, a fairly old game, had fan going full blast entire time with CPU again reaching 90C. Apple's own "Cosmos" screensaver brings the CPU temperature up to 80-85C and the fan up to 4500-5000rpm. The most annoying thing -- none of these tasks were taxing the CPU at more than 50%!
I did a fair bit of research on this issue. There are multiple discussions on Apple, MacRumours and other forums about excessive heat and fan noise. Also, many report increased heat on their older Apple laptops after upgrading to Lion, so perhaps (fingers crossed), there's a patch on the way that will improve thermal management somewhat.
The thought about returning the Air for refund did cross my mind, but I decided to keep it in the end. I am not a gamer and doing my work (web/mobile development) is not very taxing on the CPU, however, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect relatively quiet operation on such premium laptop with only 50% CPU usage. I can only hope that Apple is listening and looking to remedy the problem.
***Update: March 28, 2012***
It has been several months since I purchased the Air, so I thought I'd write a quick update.
There were no software updates from Apple that would fix the overheating issue. Some claim in the comments that the thermal problems are limited to Macbook Air Core i7 version, however, I got to play with friend's Core i5/120Gb Air and got the fan hitting 6,000+ rpm simply by opening two browser tabs with YouTube videos in them. The playback has become choppy pretty quickly as well. The fan was also audible on pages with a few Flash elements in it (like newspaper sites). It seemed slightly (very slightly) less prone to heat issue, but it's definitely there.
I also played around with an 11" Macbook Air Core i5 at the Apple Store and, interestingly enough, it handled Flash far better than (supposedly) more powerful 13"... I opened 5! 1080p YouTube videos and still wouldn't hear the fan... Quite amazing actually. The difference seems to be the i5/i7 processors in the 13" Air that can hit higher clock speeds but nearly frying the internals in the process.
If you find your Macbook Air fan going off like a jet engine every time you visit YouTube or any page with Flash content, here are a couple of browser plugins that I found helpful (they block movies until you specifically click on them):
- FlashBlock for Firefox
- ClickToFlash for Safari
There's a model refresh coming sometime this summer, apparently, and I hope Apple will figure out the way to solve this problem. Of course, much depends on Intel chips that they're going to use in new models.
on August 16, 2011
For the past two years or so I've gone through numerous brands/models in an incessant search to find a laptop that was easily portable and had enough horsepower to match or exceed the performance of a solid $500 desktop with enough battery life to last over four hours of real world use. In this time span I've gone through over a dozen laptops or netbooks that were eventually returned, sold, donated to family or friends, modded and repurposed, or are currently sitting collecting dust awaiting a similar fate. A short list of the more memorable laptops/netbooks that I've previously owned/used that I can remember off hand include: HP TM2T(Core 2 Duo); HP TM2T(Core i3), Asus T101MT, MacBook Air (2009), Acer 4820TG, HP Envy 14, HP dv7t Quad Edition, ASUS U36JC, MacBook Pro 13, and two lower cost laptop models made by Gateway and Acer that I won't mention because they really didn't fit the criteria I was looking for when I acquired them.
I can truly say the 2011 MacBook Air 13" is the most satisfied I've been with any laptop I've used. Although I do find some quirks with the 2011 MBA lineup they are passable and this product still deserves a full five stars. I will probably echo some of the same pros and cons that others have stated, but let's move on with my review so I can tell you my impressions of this.
- Weight/Form Factor: I've always considered portability to be important in a laptop but I can't emphasize this enough. If you've never held and used a MacBook Air before you should be impressed by its weight and form factor alone. Mostly anyone could easily hold the 13" MacBook with one hand. It means I can be watching a video and if I need to move to another room in the house and can easily walk with the laptop in one hand. However, I don't think it is light/comfortable enough to hold while standing for prolonged periods of time. I've demonstrated how light it is to several people under 5 feet tall by stand and watch a YouTube video holding the MBA with one. So, if you're concerned about the 13" size because you're short you shouldn't let that deter you until you actually try it.
- Core i5 2nd Generation Sandy Bridge Processor/ 4GB RAM Standard: When I first got the 2009 MBA I was extremely impressed by its form factor and weight as stated above, but after trying to use the 2009 MBA for productivity and multitasking you realize that something is amiss in the hardware and this eventually leads to frustration. The 2009 and 2010 MacBook Air base models only included 2GB of RAM and missed an entire generation of Core i-series processors, and despite having a solid state hard drive and a dedicated graphics card their of value in price to performance was very underwhelming compared to what was available for much less at the time. I currently have 16 tabs opened across four windows in Firefox, 5 tabs in Chrome, two applications(Silverlight and Java) streaming live financial quotes, DropBox, iTunes and a P2P application running while I am typing this review. I haven't noticed any noticeable hitches in performance. I have read about others complaining about issues with various Adobe software (especially Flash) with the latest version of OS X Lion. I have only experienced some sluggishness once when resuming from deep sleep. For testing I used a downloaded Flash game. It took a little more than 10 seconds to re-render. However, this may have more to do with the integrated graphics and could possibly be corrected in the future with an update.
- Solid State Drive: There's not much to say here. If you've never experienced the performance leap from using a SSD then you will probably be more than a little impressed by the much faster load/boot times. I've installed SSDs on a few computers after talking up the performance boosts. I guess they were expecting everything to be instantaneous. Anyway, it's very noticeable in Bootcamp running Windows over the MBP 13 I've been using or when transfering/copying larger files. You can read more about the much faster load/boot times from other reviews online.
- Trackpad: Quite often, previous MacBook owners don't mention this as a Pro. However, the trackpad is the biggest reason why I prefer a MacBook as my laptop of choice. I grew tired of the jumping cursors, crappy drivers, and erratic touchpad gestures. For some reason Synaptic and most PC vendors overlook or can't seem to get it right. How do you neglect its importance as the primary functioning hardware you use to actually interact with your computer. The trackpad on the MBA just works. It works so well and is far more than accurate enough that I actually prefer not using a mouse with my laptop because of it.
- Backlit Keyboard: The keyboard itself may take some getting used to if you've never used a MacBook before. However, once you grow accustomed to the layout you will enjoy the amount of travel and "clickiness" to it. Thankfully, the backlight was brought back for the 2011 lineup. I don't understand why this feature was removed to begin with since it doesn't impact battery life that much. It's clutch and greatly appreciated in low lit environments.
- Build: It's the same aluminum casing material used in all the MacBook models and the same chassis design that was used in the 2010 model. Solid construction
- No USB 3.0: Although USB 3.0 is not as ubiquitous USB 2.0 it is quickly growing and peripherals are far more abundant and less expensive than Thunderbolt peripherals. USB 3.0 will likely remain far more popular than Thunderbolt after Apple's exclusivity expires next year because USB 3.0 is more cost-effective to produce and is backwards compatible with the millions of USB 2.0 devices already available. I agree with other reviewers in that this reduces the future proofing of this model, and it seems like Apple's Firewire vs USB 2.0 situation repeated. (I digress that at least there are two USB 2.0 ports on opposite ends. My original 2009 MBA had one.)
- Facetime Camera not High Definition: I try not to show my mug on camera but sometimes I have to use it to speak to clients via remote connections and occasional video conferencing. Again, considering the profit margins on each MBA sold I don't understand the reason to exclude this feature other than Apple being Apple and including this as an improved feature for next year.
- Power Button: The power button is placed in the keyboard layout right above the delete key!!! It's where the eject button is on my MBP right above the Delete key. Yes, I just praised the keyboard in the Pros. Until you grow accustomed to this your chances of accidentally hitting the power button by mistake in the beginning is likely. It won't shut your computer down or put the computer to sleep. It simply brings up the power down dialog, but it's still a questionable button placement.
- Memory is not upgradeable: Not much more to add here. 4GB is enough for me and the SSD is definitely a huge boost to hard drive caching.
- Need adapters for HDMI, VGA, DVI. At this price and considering the profit margins on each unit sold the adapters at least an adapter for HDMI or VGA should be included. Meh...
OS X LION PROS: (because it deserves its own section)
- Mission Control and Spaces: I really like it. I used spaces on Snow Leopard with full screen apple(via third party apps) and this makes using it that much easier. You can drag windows from Space to Space to re-arrange your groups. It's a great improvement that can be improved.
- Cloud/App Store Operating System Installation: No 50 character CD Keys, scratched backup disks, or corrupt files on your thumb drive. Cheaper prices.
- Automatic Resume: It seamlessly automatically saves the last state of your applications. Some users don't like that applies universally to every open app, but it's very simple to prevent from occurring. If you are done with an and want to prevent said app from automatically restoring simply right click its icon in the dock press option and select force quit. Another app I've used is Flexiglass which adds the functionality of right clicking the red X to completely close an app and all its windows.
OSX LION CONS: (because it deserves its own section)
- Launchpad: This was a poor, not well executed integration into OS X. Out the box the Launchpad replaces the App Folder in the dock that used to be next to documents and the trash bin. I actually stared at the screen for a few moments until I dug through the search results. I've tried to use it. It keeps the desktop icon less cluttered for me and I moved many of the icons I typically place there in the Launchpad. However, customizing the Launchpad has its quirks. For instance, adding and renaming folders/icons in the Launchpad isn't just easily done on the Launchpad by right clicking the icon. You have to open it in Finder to rename it. There are no options to change the gesture in System Preference to view the Launchpad. I truly feel like the default gesture was tested using the midgets or elementary school kids. My hands are too big to consistently do the gesture. You'd think I could palm two basketballs with one hand.
Right now, the launchpad is quirky and somewhat redundant. I understand the direction Apple is heading and are thus slowly blending touch-based iOS and traditional Mac OS X, but the way Apps for OS X are distributed and the complete integration is definitely not with us today in any of Apple's lineup. Hopefully, things will improve with future updates. My hopes is that the launchpad serves as a replacement for Show Desktop in the future.
- Natural Scrolling: By default scrolling is inverted. Some like it, some don't, most people will find it awkward at first and I'd bet the majority no matter how slim will change this back. I'd prefer an opt-in integration method for this if Apple wanted to change several decades of computing.
- Three Finger Back/Forward and Scroll to Top/Bottom: I don't know why this configuration was changed from 10.6 to 10.7 but out the box you may notice when you run a third party browser such as Firefox or Chrome that you are unable to page back/forward using the old gesture three finger swipe left/right. Well, you have to change "Swipe between pages" to "Scroll Left/Right with Two or Three Fingers" under Systems Preferences->Trackpad->More Gestures. A gesture that is now missing entirely is three swipe up/down to scroll to top/bottom but I found a solution with an app called BetterTouchTool By Andreas Hegenberg. It's a very good tool to customize the trackpad gestures to your liking.
Expose: No minimized apps unless you are using another window of said minimized app. I don't understand the logic as to why this was removed. It was still featured to be working during the beta but has been removed. The last time I can remember having to click more than twice to view a minimized window was Windows 3.1. Again, I would prefer if this option was carried over from the Beta and preferred an opt-in integration method for this if Apple wanted to change a decade plus of computing.
OSX LION NEURAL OR MEH: (because it deserves its own section)
Many other changes in Lion were under the hood; complete migration to 64-bit and complete Trim support. A lot of the bundled apps have been improved particularly Mail, Lion Recovery, FileVault, AirDrop, Versions, overlay scroll bars. Some improvements are bigger/more noticeable than others. Also, you can now re-size windows from any corner/edge: Nothing innovative; better late than never; nice for those who are coming from Windows and haven't/won't use other third party accessibility apps.
- Screen: I've seen others mention the difference in screen quality between the MacBook Air and Pro models. I have noticed a slight difference. Two things that immediately affect your PERCEPTION of the screen are the resolution and the fact that the area surrounding the display on the MBA is metallic gray vs glossy black on the MBP. When you're comparing the two you might not think that matters. The screen on the MBA does use TN panels but they are far better than your typical run of the mill 1024 x 768 that continues to flood the laptop industry that I typically see. Because of its screen resolution I can dock windows side by side easier on the 13" MBA than I could with a 17" HP dv7 quad core edition that I used. No lie.
- Battery Life: Don't believe the advertised 7 hours of battery life unless you're using a third party utility or disabling all wireless connections and dimming the screen down. However, I easily get about 5 hours surfing the web indoors. I've gotten a little under four hours streaming financial quotes and actively surfing indoors, but I'd typically have it plugged in if I need it for more intensive productivity tasks. Definitely not as good as the MacBook Pro 13".
- No Restore Drive: I understand this was a concern for some. Apple released the free Lion Recovery Disk Assistant from Apple's support page. You can make your own recovery thumb drive on a low cost thumb drive of your choice or you can order an OS X Lion Thumb Drive for Apple's Mac App Store for $69 which was released today.
- Graphics: Will it max Crysis? No... I have a desktop rig for that when I want. This is an ultraportable laptop and IMO it's the best available.
Screen Keeps Dimming and Brightening: At first, I thought it was because i was using the charger from my MBP and I was ruining a brand new expensive --- computer, but I was 98% certain that couldn't be the case. I went to Systems Preferences -> Energy Saver and unchecked Slightly dim the display when using this power source but that wasn't the case because it wasn't on battery. Anyway, I unchecked Automatically Adjust Screen Brightness under Display and felt as if 7 million brain cells must've died beforehand because it took a while to figure it out, but that solved it.
Security: Please change your broadcasting discoverable wireless settings and enable your firewall under System Preferences. This is especially true if you are going to use this extremely portable laptop in public areas. Although, Macs aren't targeted nearly as much as Windows or the most popular Linux Distros you are not secure if leave the door wide open.
I avoided the expensive adapters and bought two aftermarket adapters to suit my needs that have worked well thus far. Kensington USB Mini Dock with Ethernet for Mac/PC which provides 3 USB 2.0 ports and an ethernet port. You can find a HDMI adapter for very cheap. Though, they may only last several months you could order a dozen of them. Again, I strongly recommend BetterTouchTool if you are looking to gain back the same gestures from Snow Leopard.
SO, THE QUESTION IS SHOULD YOU CONSIDER BUYING AND WHAT MODEL?
Obviously, this depends on your needs and budget. I feel the MBA is the best ultraportable available and if you can go without a DVD drive an a few extra ports my recommendations are the high end 11" MacBook Air or the base model 13" MacBook Air as others have stated. The 4GB vs 2GB makes a difference. The deciding factor would be $100, portability, and how much screen real estate you feel you is adequate for you.
I considered buying one of the best alternatives, the Samsung Series 9. The included warranty was enticing but I've had to deal with servicing a laptop through the mail four times and it's never pleasant. Resale value was another factor, and though it has one of the best touch pads I've used on Windows until Synaptics releases their next generation touch pads and trackpads it still felt subpar. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to get back into cross-platform development for OS X. However, another decent alternative to consider is the Toshiba Portege R835 if you are looking for an ultraportable with very strong battery life.
I want to raise a point not many people write about in their reviews and that is SSD performance over time. Although, OS X Lion includes TRIM support the performance of all solid state drives degrades as you store more data to the drive. I've experienced this with a couple of desktop builds I've done. With some SSD's the performance degradation begins after filling up just half the disk drive, and affects nearly all drives to some extent once the drive is 70% full. This is something to consider when storing data. An external storage solution of some kind is strongly recommended.
Currently, there are two different solid state drives that ship with the MacBook Airs. One is made by Samsung and is the higher performing drive and the other is made by Toshiba. You can check which version you have by going to About this Mac->System Report->More Info click Serial-ATA and check the the first two letters of the model after APPLE SSD. Credit goes to Amazon user Wayne N for pointing this out in his review. I haven't read any benchmarks on the performance over time with the new MBA.
I personally purchased the 256GB model because I need to store financial data and I need a large Bootcamp partition for Windows to compose and sample music, coding that involves very large libraries and enough storage for music and the occasional movie if I'm not on my home network. So, everyone's needs are different. Still, SSD size and degradation is something to consider for your intended use. The MBA is not a true desktop replacement especially if you're into playing games (of any kind if you want decent graphics) but I feel that the MBA can serve as a your primary computer depending on your needs.
Thanks for reading this lengthy review. Hope it helps in your decision.
on September 12, 2011
I've been using a Macbook Air for a week now. I have the 2011 13" ultimate: i7 1.8GHz, 4GB RAM, and 256SSD. My main uses are Office for Mac 2011, Skype, internet video, ArcGIS/Windows 7, Mathmatica, Matlab, C/C++, objective-C, and Java. At the moment I mainly use the Air for writing documents. I am trying to live with the Air as my primary machine and I plan to connect it to a thunderbolt monitor for additional screen real estate.
The Air looks beautiful and Lion is an absolute pleasure to use. The SSD makes it all work together. The screen is gorgeous to look at under the right lighting conditions and the resolution is fantastic. The keyboard is generally good. The track pad is awesome and the diagonal cut of the case is much easier for writing on than my previous unibody macbook.
* Build quality. The renowned Apple quality seems to be lacking in my unit. The space bar does not always respond and requires two press from time to time. The F5 key needs to be hit multiple times in order to work. The case does not seem to fit properly in the lower right corner of the unit and flexes. The screen gets darker edges near the silver bezel.
* Skype and facetime. I find that the placement of the mic on the side of the unit is a disaster for these applications. I am constantly responding to complaints about poor voice quality that only improves if I turn the machine on its side and speak directly into the mic. Depending on your use this may not be a big problem, but it is for me.
* The screen can be irritatingly reflective under fluorescent lighting, but I can usually adjust my position to compensate. However, I usually need to use a low screen illumination to get reasonable battery life, which compounds any glare problems. This is not a major issue unless you are sensitive to glare.
* The battery life on my unit is not great. The first two days I was impressed with 7+ hours. A week later and I'm lucky to get 4 hours. Disappointingly the unit does not always seem to hold a full charge. I'm not even sure I could watch a full-length movie without mains power. Part of the problem is flash, but watching any video drains the battery at an alarming rate. The battery monitor also does not seem to provide a reasonable estimate of remaining time.
* When watching video I have noticeable screen stutter. This could be a result of the streaming service I use, but I'm not sure. It is not so bad that I would return the unit for it, but it is there and if you value smooth video then be sure to check it out carefully before you buy.
* The Air gets blisteringly hot near the charger connection when running heavy applications. The fan comes on and battery life evaporates. Some complain the fan is noisy, but my main problem is the impact on battery life.
* The ram can only be maxed out at 4GB. This is really annoying when you need to dual boot and is compounded by the graphics chip using main memory.
* There are also two SSDs (Samsung and Toshiba) that the machine ships with. I ended up with the slower Toshiba drive. I do get the beach ball from time to time, but I could not say that this is related to my unit shipping with the slower Toshiba drive. Generally things are snappy. However, instant on is not always instant. I don't know if this is related to the slower Toshiba drive or just the applications I have open.
All in all this is a good machine, but not outstanding. I would say the Macbook Air has been seriously overhyped. It has some strong points. I enjoy using it and the portability and weight are outstanding. However, I am genuinely frustrated by the mic placement and poor build quality. There are solutions, but when you spend $1700 plus tax on a machine I think you have the right to expect it to work. The Toshiba drive is annoying, but may not be significant and the battery life is a worry. I'm not sure how the machine will standup to the day-to-day grind.
This unit is going back to the store and Apple deserves full credit for its return/refund policies. The 14 day, no restocking fee, window offered to return or exchange a unit is outstanding.
**** Update September 30:
Apple's customer service is fantastic. Apple provided a new unit which seems to have fewer build quality problems: all the keys work, the unit shipped with the Samsung SSD, and the microphone is much better. However, I still have problems with the microphone position and sensitivity and while battery life is better on this unit it is still not great for watching video. Instant on is still not instant on, but I can support other reviewers who have not noticed any performance difference between the Samsung and Toshiba SSDs, although I'm glad I have the samsung drive. All-in-all my new Air deserves at least another 1/2 star, may be even a whole star because of Apple's customer service.
on November 20, 2011
Well, i have had the Macbook Air 13.3", 4GB RAM, 256 GB SSD, 1.8 Ghz Core i7 for about 2 days now.
Not a PC Hater....nor an Apple Fanboy. Just need something that is a BEST FIT at the time i am buying the laptop.
>> Well, this happens to be thanksgiving now, so hoping Apple will price match my laptop as its still within the 14 days before it hits Thanksgiving.
This review would like to address questions you have over:
1) Macbook Air (or) Macbook Pro
2) How well Macbook Air will Fit your daily usage & stacks up as a Casual Laptop
3) How well the Macbook Air stacks up as a Travel Laptop
4) How well the Macbook Air stacks up as a Work/Business Laptop
1) PC & IT Techie
2) Looking to Buy the Macbook Air as my personal Laptop when i am in between IT Consulting Jobs.
(Had a work Laptop since the past 5 years and had to hand it over once i changed jobs)
3) Previous Macbook Air owner
(2010 Macbook Air; 1.8ghz core2duo, 4GB, 128 GB;); (My FIRST Mac; Bought it for my Dad..used it for a bit..and loved it.)
4) Travel a lot (Work & Pleasure);
5) Budget of $1500-$1600
B. My Buying considerations/requirements for a new Laptop:
1) Need a Laptop that MUST/MAY have the Latest & greatest in CPU/Memory/HDD/USB specs
2) Need a Laptop that MUST/MAY definitely have a gorgeous screen & High Resolution (1920xwhatever; 1080p)
3) Need a Laptop that MUST be Vibrant, easy on eyes; For a 7-8 hr workday on the laptop, i need a Display that is vibrant and less strenuous on eyes;
4) Need a Laptop that MUST run Windows 7 also to provide for Corporate VPN connectivity.
5) Need a Laptop that MUST be very Light. Preferably 13" screen(with HiRes)....but 15" is OK, provided it has the higher resolution.
6) Need a Laptop that MUST/MAY have good build Quality and Decent in Looking.
7) Need a Laptop that MUST be good to use for Color Editing/Accuracy of colors for Light Home use Photography.
8) Need a Laptop that MUST have about 250 GB of space.
>> My Documents excluding PICTURES amount to ~100GB.; A 256 GB SSD is the perfect size for me the next 3 yrs.
9) Need a Laptop that MUST have about 5 hrs of battery at least (I usually am on 3-3.5 hrs flights in travel)
10)Need a Laptop that MUST have a HDMI port to connect and watch movies in TV.
C. The competition (read Non-Mac and My choices of Laptops)
1) Not really much into Dell, Toshiba, HP, Lenovo
>> Had a Thinkpad before last year and that went just shy of over a year
>> The Dell XPS Laptop in my interest was too bulky and looked horrible. Size of screen; 15" for the desired 1920 resolution.
>> The HP Laptop (dv6t - Quad/Select) edition laptop was good on Technical Specs, but again, build was too bulky and Plasticky. Size of screen; 15" for the desired 1920 resolution
2) The Samsung Series 9 Laptop
>> When configuring the Samsung Series 9 to have 1.8Ghz Core i7, 8 GB RAM 256 GB SSD, it was coming upto $2100 all incl(give or take another $100); This was too expensive for me..even though the laptop looked good. Besides, i wanted to use MacOS also occassionally as i liked the Interface.
3) All the laptops here were about 6 lbs atleast...excluding the Samsung series 9.
D. Why i bought the Air
1) ** MacOS
2) ** 256 GB SSD was perfect storage vs Speed Size for me.
>> I did not need the slower and extra space in the 700 GB 7200 rpm.
>> Besides, i wanted to take a laptop and buy an SSD later. I did not want to pay premium for 700 GB drive.
3) ** Battery Life (Minimum 5 hrs met my requirement)
>> My earlier 2010 Macbook Air core2Duo used to last me >6 hrs between charges
4) ** Processor Speed
>> I wanted an i7 processor and the updated Macbook Air specs allowed for it.
5) ** Screen/Resolution:
>> Higher resolution on the 13" Macbook Air which i believe was greater than the 15" regular MBP definitely looked good
>> A visit to the apple store showed how excellent the screen is
>> A Bootcamp installation of Win 7 and the screen really compares with the 15" 1920x resolution models
>> The screen on the macbook air 13" is phenomenal!...and very easy on the eyes.
6) ** RAM:
>> While it was tempting to opt for the HP dv6t, which could take upto 16GB RAM, i decided that 4 GB should be enough for my usage in the Macbook Air.
7) USB 2.0:
>> Would have liked USB 3.0, but decided i would wait the additional time out during data transfers.
8) Minidisplay Port to HDMI:
>> I used to connect my older 2010 Macbook Air to my HDTV with Video/Audio out. No issues. This was definitely not an issue here.
9) Dual Booting into Windows 7 using Bootcamp:
>> I actually tried this out last night and it was quite painless.
>> Currently typing this review from Win7 on my 13" Macbook Air.
>> Split my 256 GB SSD drive into 85 GB for MacOS and 150 GB for Win7.
>> The Windows 7 partition stores my work outlook and regular windows files.
To summate my reasoning:
Though the Processor in the Macbook Air was not the full quad core i7, my reasoning was the SSD should more than make up for routine tasks.
>> For the additional, occassional, slightly heavier processing like editing RAW DSLR images,i hope that the i7 processor i selected as upgrade should more than provide the additional punch.
>> Yes. There is a drawback of slightly higher Fan Noise...but this is temporary.
>> There was nothing in the market to beat the Value/Lightweight offering of the Macbook Air, when you factor in the SSD.
>> The resolution and Screen and battery were all fabulous!
E. Buying the Macbook Air
Finally Bought the 13" Macbook Air 1.8Ghz Core i7, 256 GB SSD, 4 GB RAM
>> Total cost with Sales Tax: $1739.00
F. Usage/Experience with MacOS
>> MacOS Lion is quite nice actually.
>> The interface and the Macbook Air screen really pop out for a 13" screen.
>> The OS does not feel heavy/bog down on the available resources
>> So far, i have just done general browsing and causal fiddling with the specs.
** Will update once i work more.
To summate: Love the MacOS Experience!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
G. Bootcamp Installation and Dual Booting into Windows 7 x64 Edition
>> Used MacOS Lion Bootcamp Assistant 4.0.
>> End-End time to Partition/download/install Windows 7: (< 2.0 hrs) - (depending on your Internet connection)
*** Some of the Links/Installation Guides for the Bootcamp Process:
>> Installation Manual# [...]
>> Main note#
[...] - FAQ Note
[...] - Win 7 Display Drivers Note prior to installation Start - READ...IMP
>> Supporting Notes:
*** Process to Partition/dual Boot:
AS ALWAYS, TAKE A BACKUP OF YOUR CURRENT IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS.
1) Download an ISO of Windows 7 edition you want to install from Microsoft Website (or) google it.
>> Even if you do have an ISO ripped from your Windows 7 DVD, please download it from Microsoft website.
>> I had issues with Bootcamp not recognizing my ISO from Win 7 DVD
2) Keep your Windows 7 Product key ready separately
3) Keep ready before starting, a USB drive of size > 4 GB.
4) Copy the ISO of Windows 7 to any location in MacOS.
5) Plug in the Power Adapter
5a) Ensure you have a working internet connection.
6) Plug in the USB Device > 4 GB
(Note: use an empty USB device as the data will be overwritten)
7) Start Bootcamp Assistant
Dock > LaunchPad > Utilities > BootcampAssistant
8) Click on the following options:
a) Create win 7 installation disc
b) Download win 7 drivers
c) Partition & install win 7
9) Click next
10) Provide location of the Win 7 ISO to Bootcamp
11) Provide/Select the USB Drive > 4 GB for Bootcamp to copy the ISO over.
12) Bootcamp now, Formats the USB drive and then copies all Windows 7 ISO files there.
13) Bootcamp next, downloads the Windows 7 Support Files.
14) Once downloaded, you Proceed into selecting the size of MacOS and Win7Partitions
15) Drag the slider left/right depending on what size u want your Mac and Windows partitions
16) Click Next
17) BootCamp begins installing Windows 7
18) System Restarts
19) windows 7 screen appears for installation
20) Select the custom option
21) In the screen where Windows asks you where to install Windows 7, select the partition named "BOOTCAMP"
22) Next, FORMAT the partition to NTFS
23) Click Next and Proceed with installing Windows in the BOOTCAMP NTFS partition.
24) Windows Installation Completes
25) Once logged into windows, open the USB drive from "My Computer:
26) In the folder, "WindowsSupport", double click on Setup
27) Now, this basically starts the installation of all the drivers for Macbook Air for Windows (Chipset/display/Graphics/wifi e.t.c)
28) Restart computer
29) Do a Clean/Final logon into Windows
30) Right click is to keep two fingers on touchpad and Press; Ctrl+C and the usual options apply; Fn+Del is to delete a file.
31) Windows installs the Updates
32) Sometimes after the Updates installs, the Light/Sound/Keyboard Function Keys do not work. To fix this, reinstall all the drivers from the USB drive used during bootcamp.
33) To dual Boot into MacOS again, at next startup, hold the Alt/option key and keep it pressed while system reboots.
>> You can now choose which OS to boot into.
>> Lets say you want to boot into Windows 7 most of the time, there is an option in Windows 7 Control Panel > Select "BootCamp control Panel" and select the Windows 7 as default bootup.
H. Experience with Windows 7 x64
1) Very sharp display
2) Win7 bootup, regular tasks are very fast due to the SSD
3) The Macbook Air fan kicks into a higher gear during the installation of Heavy windows updates; Heavy Antivirus scanning; Pretty much when the usage of the CPU grosses above 50%
4) Normal usage for browsing e.t.c, the CPU usage is @ 10%, Memory usage is @ 30%
5) Very responsive for regular application Startup/Shutdown.
6) Outlook and working with big data files >5 GB is quite good.
7) I haven't tested the HDMI/MiniDisplay Port, but i believe that works.
** will update on how this works.
8) Am able to watch Youtube videos without kicking the Fan into high gear
9) Am able to watch bluray movies from external Bluray Drive connected via USB without kicking the Fan into high gear.
>> The Screen resolution and DVD experience is fantastic!!!
10) Battery Life with Youtube, Disk Defragmentation, Videos, USB Drives connected, Iphone connected for Charging was about 5 hrs this morning.
>> I did reduce the screen intensity to a more normal..and rather easy view level, ...but hey!..this is perfect for flights and other low light scenarios.
To Sum it: All drivers work good; Display is gorgeous and i am one happy Windows 7 user on a Mac!!
********************** NOW FOR THE BIG QUESTIONS ******************************************
13" MACBOOK AIR (or) 13" MACBOOK PRO (or) 15" MACBOOK PRO
>> well, my Choice:
13" MACBOOK AIR
>> The reason:
*** Between the 13" MACBOOK PRO and 13" MACBOOK AIR:
>> Macbook Air is Faster due to SSD
>> Macbook Air is lighter and more portable
>> Macbook Air has better screen resolution
>> For about 95% of your Tasks, Macbook air would more than suffice.
>> Though the Air does not have USB ports, DVD drive, you can purchase them externally
>> For all data transfer, i do not use DVD. I rather used SD Card readers, or USB Flash drives, so DVD is not essential
>> Buying a USB Hub should solve your Port Shortage in Macbook Air.
What would make u think twice over taking 13" Macbook Air vs 13" Macbook pro:
Really. If you're buying a mac..i think thats not the main concern here!
*** Between the 15" MACBOOK PRO and 13" MACBOOK AIR:
>> 15" MACBOOK PRO for those who are looking for a more powerful laptop
>> 15" MACBOOK PRO for those who dont mind lugging around a slightly heavier laptop
>> 15" MACBOOK PRO for those who dont mind spending an additional $400-$500 to get the 15" MACBOOK PRO for the HiRes and AntiGlare Display
>> 13" MACBOOK AIR for the rest of us...who understand the compromise that comes with portability and actual usage.
NEXT QUESTION:2)How well Macbook Air will Fit your daily usage & stacks up as a Casual Laptop
>> Its fantastic; Will more than suffice
NEXT QUESTION: 3) How well the Macbook Air stacks up as a Travel Laptop
>> The Power Adapter is very small and portable
>> The Battery Life is good (>5 hrs on 13" and i7)
>> The screen i believe has less glare and very bright. This should make up if its extremely sunny out.
>> Very Lightweight implies you can carry it around in your backpack during those longer DSLR in-the-field trips
>> Very Lightweight and Portable implies its awesome to carry around
>> Great looks!
NEXT QUESTION: 4) How well the Macbook Air stacks up as a Work/Business Laptop
>> dual boot to Windows 7 for corporate VPN e.t.c flexibility is great
>> I have not tried Parallels, VMware, but with 4 GB of RAM, i think i would better enjoy the experience with the Dual Boot.
>> Very Fast for routine Business Tasks/workings
WELL, NOW FOR THE ONLY FEW CONS/ADDITIONAL EXPENSES I HAD SO FAR:
1) External DVD drive
Still have to buy an External DVD Drive ($35-$90)
>> Apple SuperDrive is $80...and not acceptable as it does not work with PC
>> Most external DVD drives wont power up with 1 USB port.
>> The 13" 2011 Macbook air has the 2 USB ports on different sides....so its not possible to plug/use 2 ports for DVD drive
>> I would use the following DVD drive which works good with 1 USB port:
This is a Samsung and is only $35 on amazon.
2) HDMI Port:
>> Still have to buy a MiniDisplayPort to HDMI adapter ($20-$30)
3) LAN USB Accessory:
>> Still have to buy this. ($25)
>> I use wireless mostly, but i bought this to provide flexibility.
4) USB Hub:
>> 4 Port USB port is a must if you want to connect iphone, LAN port, DVD, 2 external drives e.t.c...
>> This will set you back another 10 bucks.
5) USB Ports are on Different sides
>> As stated above, this can be an issue for DVD external drives.
>> Not an issue if you buy the Samsung drive above
There you go guys! I am absolutely loving the laptop and the Keyboard is a reeeeeal pleasure to type.
Hope this helps you in your decision.
Seriously...if you have $1500 to burn....and need a stylish, lightweigh, brilliant screen laptop...this is it!
>> This will more than suffice for next 3 yrs usage.
Additionally, if you're interested in Case for the Macbook Air or any laptop, check out the following site i bought the case from:
One last thing....Samsung SSD...or Toshiba SSD....it doesn't really matter too much.
Looks like all the latest SSD are all Toshiba's. I think Apple is reducing their exposure to Samsung in Hardware supply.
I will update if anything changes here...or i find any quirks.
on January 31, 2012
I've been a life-long PC user who thought people use Mac's so they can look cool in their pony tails and Patagonia jackets at Starbucks. So when it was time to upgrade the 'ol Lenovo, the first thing I did was go to the PC store in our mall and look at the new PC's. And there are lots of really cool ones. I really liked the Sony Viao in particular. Then I went to the Apple store and looked at the Mac's...and there is no comparison in terms of the actual physical machine. The Apple is just much, much better built. I was still about 90% sure I'd go PC though, because it's the software I'm worried about. But since I was still a month or so out from the buy, I started asking people who looked more like me (you know...boring), at Starbucks and elsewhere, what they thought of their Mac. 100% of them loved them. 100%. As in every...single...person. It was universal. People who just switched, people who switched a while back, and people who have had only Apple ALL loved them. I couldn't find a single person to complain.
So I bought one. And I love it. Everything about it. The only error message I've gotten on my MAC is from, you guessed it, the ONE Microsoft program I run (Office for Mac, which actually works well). So here's the deal: the Mac just works. It does everything well, and it's very intuitive. I had a friend who switched tell me "if you can't figure out how to do something on your Mac, just sit back and think how a 10 year old would do it". And he was right. I was trying to move a bunch of pictures and getting frustrated because holding down shift and selecting images wasn't working. I sat back and thought about it, then instantly figured it out. You just slide over the pictures you want. That's it. There's no ctrl/alt/shift/f5 crap on a Mac. There are no "This program performed an illegal operation and will shut down" warnings. No "Fatal exception occurred" messages that make you freak out that your hard drive just crashed. Nothing like that. When I turn it on, it fires up in about 10 seconds, and re-loads everything that was running when I shut it down. They tell me that's because of the flash memory, but I just know it's awesome.
I set mine up with a second monitor (not the Apple one for $1,200, I bought a Samsung for cheap), and it's awesome, I can have different stuff running on both screens. Took about 30 seconds to learn.
I can honestly say the ONLY thing I like better on the PC is how you can Explore for files. On the Mac its called the "finder", and it's not as good. But that's it IMO.
I use my computer for basic office stuff, no programming, no heavy graphics, no gaming. For personal use, it's web surfing and pictures. I can't speak for the heavier uses, but for an everyday guy who travels for work and is on the computer all day, this thing rocks. If you are worried about memory, buy a USB drive, you can get one for next to nothing now.
The Mac is tiny, fast, reliable, and has great battery life. I couldn't give it higher praise for the way I use a computer. In fact, maybe I should grow a pony tail....
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.
on October 21, 2011
As a user interface enthusiast, I feel that a computer should be bought first based on the interface and second based on performance. Luckily the Macbook Air 13" beats my expectations on both fronts.
This Macbook Air was clearly made for Mac OS 10.7 Lion. Having used Lion on an older computer without one of Apple's new multi-touch trackpads, I originally thought it wasn't a very big upgrade, but this MacBook Air proved my original thoughts wrong. It still retains all of the power of Snow Leopard, and adds some new functionality too, while making everything seem much more casual and personal. Four finger swipes between spaces and full screen apps is the best way to go about a handful of tasks at once. Mission Control can quickly organize the most cluttered workspace. There are also tons of nice little features that really make the computing experience seem much more natural and refined. Over time, you'll start spotting small differences that really make a big impact in usability like being able to zoom into webpages in safari, holding down a letter on the keyboard to bring up accents, and letting Quick Look run in the background.
The immediacy and intimacy of apple's iOS operating system has been brought over, making simple tasks like checking email, browsing the web, or writing a document feel much less constricted. All of these things, of course, get the benefit of a bigger screen and a full qwerty keyboard.
My first thing that struck me about the computer physically was just how compact it was. Even now, whenever I pick it up or plug in a cable, I'm surprised about how much they could fit in such a tiny body. Of course, there are some sacrifices to make it this thin, but nothing that has really bothered me too much. No optical disk drive (more on that later), no firewire, no HD FaceTime camera, no external battery indicator... These are all things found on the MacBook Pro line, but are absent from the Air and aren't horribly missed. One concession that might bug people is in the keyboard. Although it's backlight (which is much more useful than it sounds), the travel of the keys in about half of that found in traditional MacBook keyboards. It bugged me a bit at first, but after just a few days it wasn't really an issue anymore, but if you're still on the fence, it's one thing to keep in mind.
One thing to note is that if you're looking for a day to day computer, the 11 inch macbook air will probably feel a bit claustrophobic to most. The 13 inch screen is definitely a breath of fresh air for me because feels much larger than it actually is. Having used a 13 inch white plastic macbook for the past 4 years, I expected the screen to be similar, but in use, it's vastly better. Colors look brighter and blacks look deeper, but the big difference is in the display's pixel density. The 13 inch Air ships with a 1440x900 resolution screen, matching the 15 inch macbook pro pixel for pixel, but at a smaller size. This makes texts and graphics look much crisper. I've found that the interface in general has much more room to breathe than on the 1280x800 resolution screen found on previous 13 inch MacBooks and the current line of 13 inch MacBook Pros.
Someone looking for great connectivity features might want to look at the MacBook Pro line as the MacBook Air has only two USB ports, and SD Card Reader, Thunderbolt port, and auxiliary in/out. However, I've been surprised at how little I really miss the CD Drive. If you're already seriously considering this computer, it's omission shouldn't be too much of an issue, especially if you share files mostly through SD cards, flash drives, or emails. Of course, a $79 Apple CD Drive can be purchased and plugged in if you really need it. It's definitely a good idea to get one now if this is going to be your only computer, but since the world seems to be going further away from physical media towards downloads exclusively, I could see that CD drive collecting dust a few years down the road. I'd also like to note that wifi performance has been stellar so far, being able to pick up a stronger signal in most places than my phone or previous computer.
Inside in Air is 256gb of flash memory and a Core i5 ULV processor, making the computer feel quick and zippy. After Effects and Illustrator, two extremely large and intensive applications, boot up with unbelievable speed. If you're going to use this just for light tasks and small applications, this computer packs more speed and power than you'll ever need. Even if you're into more intensive applications, you'll still be pleasantly surprised by the performance. While it's clearly no super computer, anyone who casually likes to play with the Adobe Suite, even monsters in it like After Effects or Photoshop, won't be upset. As expected, rendering takes a while, but any slowdowns you might encounter aren't enough, for me at least, to get frustrated with the computer. I've yet to experience an app crash, even Adobe After Effects, which used to force quit every time I tried to close a composition on my old MacBook.
The Air feels like an obvious extension of both the established Mac line as well as iOS. When I had an old baseline MacBook, I couldn't imagine living without an iPad for simple tasks, because the old computing experience was so restricted and confined, but after using the 13 inch air with all of its OS X Lion glory, I completely understand why people wouldn't want something between a computer and smartphone. Using the MacBook Air is the first time I've felt as engrossed into a desktop interface as I have with an iPad. Everything about it feels more fluid and comfortable than any other full computer I've ever used. When Apple announced the new MacBook Airs and killed the white plastic MacBooks, I was really confused, but now I fully understand their actions. The white plastic MacBooks were the cheapest computers they sold that could do everything the average consumer wanted. People bought them because they could do a lot for less, but with the matching price point of the MacBook Airs, they suddenly have much less appeal. The great specs and power of the MacBook Air prove Apple's commitment to quality across all levels as it takes the position as the cheapest MacBook. The MacBook Air is the first computer I've used that does everything I need it to and disappears when I'm using it so I can focus on what I'm doing. Overall, the MacBook Air is a strong choice for anyone looking for a computer to use day to day and maybe even for a bit of serious computing. Although in the future, it might be reflected upon as a transitory device in the convergence of iOS and Mac OS, right now it feels like the perfect combination of the two. It's both comfortable in use and powerful, making the entire experience feel "just right."
on February 2, 2012
As a computer scientist who spends a lot of time programming and cares about both the functional and aesthetic qualities of my electronics, the ultrabook craze as of late has excited me a lot. The fact that I have used PCs almost exclusively for the last 12 years initially lead me away from considering a MacBook Air--after all, Apple's computers are expensive; they do have a reputation for all looking the same, acting the same, and being generally uncustomizable; and they have had a reputation for being incompatible with a lot of software out there. But I found myself in a position where I want a secondary computer that is small, light, attractive, and dedicated for light use, like text editing/coding and recreation. As it turns out, Apple has done something with this laptop that I never thought I'd dream of.
The Macbook Air--*gasp*--is price competitive with its competition.
Most comprable Windows ultrabooks, like the ASUS Zenbook UX31E-DH72 13.3-Inch Thin and Light Ultrabook (Silver Aluminum), right now are often only about $100-$200 or so cheaper than the Macbook Air now. I think that there are many things that the Macbook Air brings to the table that make the premium worthwhile. This review is not going to focus much on the actual specs of the laptop, as you can glean that from any of the 90 5-star reviews this laptop has at the moment. I will focus instead on why this is great against the competition.
1) The user experience is fantastic. The trackpad alone could win me over for this one. For some reason, other laptop manufacturers can't get multitouch gesturing right, but Apple clearly put a ton of effort into something so overlooked--but so constantly used--as the trackpad. Multitouch gesturing on Lion is just the best you'll find on any computer anywhere. It feels natural and makes navigating your computer effortless. Even ignoring that, I've rarely seen any hiccups while using the laptop in terms of things freezing up or the computer becoming unresponsive. While I do love Windows 7, the benefits of Apple's closed in environment is that they can control everything about the user experience, and so slowdowns and UI problems become a rarity. You really can presume that nearly everything's going to work right. Finally, all the components seem very solidly built. The keyboard has great tactile feedback, and the port selection, while limited, all works perfectly. The hinge of the laptop even clearly was thought about, as the resistance is pretty much ideal (no wobbling, but not difficult to move around). The screen resolution (1440x900)--while not as good as the Asus Zenbook--is better than most of the rest of the competition, and that's something that's important to me as a software developer since I like to be able to read documentation and type out code at the same time, a feat difficult on a low-resolution screen.
2) The customer service is also great. AppleCare has a great reputation, and you get it for a year for free. I've used ASUS support before, and it's really, really annoying to have to wait a month without your laptop for service. There really isn't much comparison.
3) As a software developer, I find it irking that Apple forces iOS developers to code on a Mac with a subscription fee to the SDK. But that's the nature of the beast--so having this laptop gives me the ability to do just that. Sure, it seems unfair and maybe I ought not develop for iOS because of the many subversive choices Apple made, but hey--it's not up to me, and it's easier and more stable than making my laptop into a Hackintosh, so I guess I'll play the game :P
And finally, there are some complaints about heat. Using the laptop on your lap does make your legs feel pretty warm. I haven't had the laptop crash due to heat ever, though. It is to be expected, though, since the metal chassis is part of the laptop's cooling system, though I hope that in future revisions of the macbook they come up with a good way to avoid this issue.
There's one other laptop that I haven't taken into consideration that in retrospect I wish I considered more seriously. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (129126U) 13.3" LED Notebook - Core i5 i5-2520M 2.50GHz - 4G DDR3 320G HDD (Windows 7 Professional) - Black is a pretty good, and overlooked, ultrabook that seems like a great alternative, especially considering that you can get an extended battery that brings the battery life of that beast to an inhumane 22 hours or so while still being pretty small and light. If you're looking into high-end ultrabooks, I'd limit my search to the Macbook Air, the Asus Zenbook, or the Thinkpad X1 at this point (the Sony VAIO VPC-Z212GX/B 13.1-Inch Laptop (Black) is very cool too, but also too expensive for me to take seriously). Also, you may want to wait for the near future when one of two things happens: a) the new Intel "Ivy Bridge" chips come out, as this may make laptops have even better performance and battery life; and b) Windows 8 comes out--I think that Microsoft's latest revision to their OS may have the potential for changing things big time in the market, so unless you feel good about Apple as it stands, I would consider waiting for that to come along.
Hopefully this review will help some of you in the search for the latest and coolest laptops around :) Let the best manufacturer/operating system win!