3.0 star rating

MacBook Air Review

$1,799.00
Pros: Wonderfully slim design; Full-size keyboard and touchpad; Brilliant display; Good productivity performance
Cons: Single USB port that doesnt accommodate some peripherals; Shorter-than-expected battery life; Mediocre Wi-Fi range
The Verdict: Although it makes some trade-offs to achieve its amazingly thin profile, the MacBook Air outclasses other ultraportables in terms of ergonomic comfort, display size, and performance.

REVIEW

SPECIFICATIONS

Apple’s MacBook Air holds the title of the world’s thinnest notebook, but that would be meaningless without two very important features: a full-size keyboard and a brilliant 13.3-inch display. And the multitouch trackpad isn’t just surprisingly large, it also brings some of the iPhone’s mojo along for the ride by letting you use gestures. Investing in this $1,799 machine does involve significant trade-offs, but it’s a remarkable piece of engineering that offers the productivity performance users on the go need without weighing them down.
 

Breakthrough Design

When viewed from the side, the MacBook Air is barely there. This 3-pound system measures a remarkable 0.16 inches thin, which goes up to only 0.76 inches at its thickest point. When closed, the notebook is almost laughably svelte, and the rounded corners give it an elegant look and feel. A flip-down door on the right houses the headphone jack, a USB 2.0 port, and a Micro-DVI connector (adapters that output to full-size DVI and VGA connections are included). On the left you’ll find the MagSafe power jack.
 
The MacBook Air is so compact because its motherboard, storage, and cooling system fit on a single board the length of a pencil. Helping Apple’s cause is Intel’s Core 2 Duo processor, which has a 60-percent reduction in footprint compared to other Core 2 Duo processors, and was specially designed for this notebook. A similar small form factor will be used for a version of Intel’s upcoming Montevina platform, so in a sense MacBook Air owners are getting a taste of the future now.
 
Even with all this miniaturization going on, you still get a full-size, raised keyboard that delivered feedback on par with the regular MacBook. And the 13.3-inch display puts other ultraportables to shame; viewing angles were nothing short of spectacular when watching iTunes movie rentals. It’s also fine for giving presentations to small groups. And because the keyboard is backlit, you can easily type away on a dark airplane or during a dimly lit conference.
 
We were impressed by the versatility of the multitouch trackpad. Zooming in on photos and Web pages by spreading two fingers apart was easy. And using three fingers at once and swiping them across the trackpad allowed us to scroll through items in Finder, Web pages in Safari, and images in iPhoto. Want to rotate a picture? Just move two fingers in the direction you want the image to go. We’d like to see this technology evolve by Apple encouraging third-party developers to tap into its APIs. The bottom line is that you forget you’re using an ultraportable with the MacBook Air, which is quite an achievement.
 
 

Sizing Up the Trade-offs

No optical drive. No ExpressCard or memory card slots. No Ethernet. Just a single USB port. A non–user-replaceable battery. That’s a lot of sacrifices to the god of streamlined aesthetics. But let’s take these caveats one by one. If you want to watch movies, Apple will gladly remind you of its new iTunes movie rental service (a reasonable $3.99 for new releases, and $2.99 for older library titles). And if you want to load software without an optical drive, you could try the ingenious Remote Disc feature, which leverages the MacBook Air’s 802.11n connection to tap into the optical drive of nearby PCs and Macs (though you can’t access protected content such as DVD movies).
 
After installing the included Remote Disc utility on a Dell XPS M1330, we could easily access the Dell’s optical drive. As magical as this feature is, however, most users should just opt for the $99 external SuperDrive, which connects to the USB port. And that brings us to our biggest complaint. Not only does the MacBook Air have only one USB port, it doesn’t accommodate all peripherals. Our tiny Kingston USB drive and Fujifilm camera cable fit without a problem, but a Sprint mobile broadband modem was too wide and tall because of the surrounding flip-down panel. We had to find a more compact modem from Verizon Wireless, but even that became dislodged with the MacBook Air sitting on a desk. Picking up a mini USB hub is a must.
 
Our second biggest beef with the Air is that unlike every other notebook on the market, you can’t replace the battery yourself. You’ll have to bring your MacBook Air in to have it serviced for $129. That also means you can’t swap batteries on the fly for extra juice, nor can you purchase an extended battery. Bummer.
 
As for the MacBook Air’s storage capacity, 80GB does indeed pale in comparison to competing ultraportables’ hard drives, which range in size from 100 to 250GB--especially since Apple is pushing users to download their movies and store them on the hard drive instead of using optical discs. If you value speed and indestructibility over all else, you can splurge for the 64GB solid state drive, which costs a whopping $999. We like that the Time Machine backup feature works wirelessly with the new Apple Time Capsule network storage drives ($299 for 500GB, $499 for 1TB).
 
 

Can the Air Fly?

Performance on the MacBook Air was generally good. The system didn’t flinch during our multitasking tests, however. That’s because the processor is running at 1.6 GHz, compared to a mere 1.06-GHz for the Sony VAIO TZ150, and a 1.2-GHz CPU for the Toshiba Portege R500. And you get a full 2GB of RAM. You can’t upgrade the memory, but we found that it’s enough for a solid Mac OS X Leopard experience. The OS booted in a little more than 30 seconds, compared with well over a minute for some Vista-powered ultraportables.
 
In general, applications loaded quickly, and we had no problems importing clips from our flash-based camcorder to iMovie while music played in the background. The Spaces feature in Leopard, which allows you to assign applications to one of four corners of the display for easy access, worked smoothly. Surfing the Web was also satisfactory, both over a Wi-Fi connection and when we plugged in our USB mobile broadband modem.
 
As expected, the MacBook Air turned in lower performance scores than a MacBook (black) equipped with a 2-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and the same amount of RAM. In Xbench’s CPU test, the Air notched a score of 79.28, versus 114.85 for the MacBook (black). Overall we didn’t notice much of a difference in everyday productivity applications, but the read and write times on the Air’s 4,200-rpm hard drive were noticeably slower than those on the MacBook’s 5,400-rpm drive.
 
With our Verizon Wireless mobile broadband modem plugged in and connected, the MacBook Air lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes on a charge. During that time we primarily worked in Google Docs, while occasionally surfing to other sites for research. We got a little more than 3.5 hours of endurance with just Wi-Fi on, which is still well short of Apple’s claim of 5 hours of wireless productivity.
 
The lack of Ethernet will bother some, but the 802.11n connection is plenty fast--so long as you’re within close range of an access point. Wireless performance from the 802.11n connection was very good from 15 feet, clocking in at 21.7 Mbps, but that dropped off significantly to 5 to 7 Mbps at 50 feet. Apple backs the system with a one-year limited warranty. And, as always, we’re disappointed that you get only 90 days of free phone service on the system, compared to the standard one to three years you get with most notebooks.
 
 

MacBook Air Verdict

When you weigh the compromises against what the MacBook Air offers, there are some good reasons to think twice and to wait for some of these innovations to grace the next iteration of the MacBook Air. But that’s reason talking. Our visceral reaction to the MacBook Air is that it’s a notebook we’d want to carry around everywhere. Road warriors who demand long battery life or a better selection of ports should pass, but this work of art is worth considering for corridor warriors who attend lots of meetings, as well as for commuters who do a fair amount of work while traveling to and from the office. You get an easy-to-use, secure, and fun operating system wrapped in the sexiest, thinnest package money can buy.
 
 
 
Related Links:
 
Hands-on with the MacBook Air
Article Continued Below

Other ultraportables should be ashamed.
 
Apple MacBook Black (Santa Rosa)
Same smooth performance. Same sweet design. A few new additions.
 
Apple MacBook Pro (15-inch)
Apple gives its high-end notebook a speed and graphics boost and a stunning LED display.

Tags: MacBook Air, Apple, Ultraportable Notebooks, notebooks, reviews, netbook, laptops

Technical Specifications
MacBook Air
www.apple.com


The central processor unit, or CPU, is the brain of your notebook.
Learn More
CPU
1.6-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
Operating SystemOS X 10.5 Leopard
The amount of memory our reviewed configuration comes with.
Learn More
RAM
2GB
The maximum amount of memory this notebook supports.
Learn More
RAM Upgradable to
2GB
Amount of data your storage drive can hold.
Learn More
Hard Drive Size
80GB
The rotation speed of a mechanical hard drive.
Learn More
Hard Drive Speed
4,200rpm
Your notebook’s storage drive (hard drive or solid state drive) holds your operating system, your programs, and your data.
Learn More
Hard Drive Type
SATA Hard Drive
Your notebook display is the primary viewing device for your laptop computer.
Learn More
Display Size
13.3
The number of pxiels (wxh) displayed on your screen at once.
Learn More
Native Resolution
1280x800
Graphics chips are responsible for processing all images sent to your computer’s display.
Learn More
Graphics Card
Intel GMA X3100
The amount of memory available for graphics processing.
Learn More
Video Memory
144MB
Wi-Fi connects you to a router or hotspot for wireless Internet access.
Learn More
Wi-Fi
802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth allows you to connect to wireless devices such as headsets, smart phones, and speakers.
Bluetooth
Bluetooth 2.0
Ports allow you to connect to external devices such as monitors, printers, MP3 players, and hard drivse.
Learn More
Ports (excluding USB)
Headphone; Micro-DVI
USB ports allow you to connect many external devices, from MP3 players to external hard drives.
Learn More
USB Ports
1
Warranty/Support1-year limited/90 days toll-free
Size12.8 x 8.9 x 0.8 inches
Weight3 pounds
AUTHOR BIO
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on
Twitter Google+
FIND A REVIEW
Laptops
All Product Types Accessories eReaders Laptops Networking Projectors Smartphones Software Storage Tablets
All Subcategories
All Subcategories All-Purpose Budget Business Desktop Replacement Gaming Multimedia Netbook Nettop Rugged Student Tablet PCs Ultraportable
Brand
Acer Alienware Apple Archos ASUS AVADirect Averatec BeagleBone BenQ CTL Corp. CyberPowerPC Dell Digital Storm eMachines Emtec Eurocom Everex Fujitsu GammaTech Gateway General Dynamics Getac Gigabyte Google Hercules HP HTC iBuyPower Intel Lenovo Maingear MSI Nokia Nvidia OCZ OLPC OQO Origin Panasonic Razer Sager Samsung Sony Sony PlayStation Sylvania Systemax TabletKiosk Toshiba Verizon Viewsonic Viliv Vizio VooDoo Workhorse PC ZT Systems
Minimum Rating
Any Rating Editor's Choice 4.5 Stars 4.0 Stars 3.5 Stars 3.0 Stars
Screen Size
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 21 4 5 6 7 8 9
Resolution
1024x576 1024x600 1024x768 1136 x 768 1200X800 1280 x 720 1280x1024 1280x768 1280x800 1366x678 1366x768 1440x1050 1440x900 1600x768 1600x900 1680x1050 1680x945 1792 x 768 1900x1080 1920x1080 1920x1200 2560 x 1440 2560 x 1600 2560 x 1700 2880 x 1620 2880 x 1880 3200 x 1800 800x400 800x480
Weight Range
10.1 - 12.0 pounds 12.1 - 14.0 pounds 14.1 - 16.0 pounds 2 lbs 2 pounds and under 2+ lbs 2.1 - 4.0 pounds 4.1 - 6.0 pounds 6.1 - 8.0 pounds 8.1 - 10.0 pounds Over 16 pounds Under 2 pounds
more options
SUBSCRIBE