At first sight
Computer manufacturers have responded positively to our demands for laptops that are as functional as possible. Too often, however, the results are machines that are space savers on desks but are not as convenient to carry around or prop on your knees as their name suggests. Apple has therefore gone back to the basic purpose of a laptop – portability – and introduced its light and thin MacBook Air.
When describing Mac Computers, there’s always a possibility that words such as “stylish” and “elegant” will appear too frequently; but when you first come across a MacBook Air, no one can blame you if these words spring to mind. “I want people to see me with this,” is the sort of comment that may run through your head. The MacBook Air is sleek: it’s just 4mm (1/6 inch) at the front, tapering out to a mere 19mm (3/4 inch) at its deepest point. It’s also robust: the aluminium casing ensures that thinness doesn’t mean fragility.
Pick up the Macbook Air and you further appreciate what Apple has achieved. At 1.36kg (3 pounds), the MacBook Air easily beats Apple’s previous lightweight, the 2.26kg (5 pounds) MacBook.
With such a drop in weight, you cannot help but wonder if you’re going to open up the MacBook Air to find a tiny screen that causes you to squint and a keyboard that bunches up your fingers. The reality is a 13.3 inch widescreen display and a full size keyboard. What’s more, a large trackpad complements these to give an overall impression that this is a laptop that’s both practical and a pleasure to use.
The technology of the MacBook Air
It stands to reason that Apple has had to surrender some technological capability to make a laptop that’s so thin and that has shed so much weight. Or has it? You still get an Intel Core 2 Duo processor of either 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz with 2GB of memory for both. You also have an 80GB 4,200 rpm hard drive for the 1.6GHz model, a 64GB solid-state drive for the 1.8GHz, and built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR. These specs are easily good enough for most everyday laptop uses.
The hardware of the MacBook Air includes
- an iSight camera and microphone
- a mono speaker
- an infrared receiver
- a built-in battery
- an ambient light sensor that adjusts the brightness of the backlit LED screen and brightens the keyboard as necessary
Tucked neatly away in a hatch on the right-hand side of the MacBook Air are also three ports:
- a headphone/speaker jack
- a USB 2.0 port
- a micro DVI port
A possible hardware concern is the one USB port. By itself such a port is rarely enough, so if you plan to connect a series of peripheral devices at the same time, you’ll need a USB hub. As for the micro DVI port, the MacBook Air comes with useful VGA and DVI adaptors to improve your connectivity options.
You may have noticed by now a hardware omission: the MacBook Air doesn’t have an optical drive. Instead, Apple offers an external 8x SuperDrive. Whether you need this depends on your use of CDs and DVDs. Another choice is to employ Apple’s Remote Disc application so that your MacBook Air connects to a network and links with the optical drive of another Mac or PC.
Remote Disc is very handy because it installs software and gives you access to files. Unfortunately, though, it doesn’t allow you to play or burn CDs and DVDs remotely. When you want to listen to music, or watch a film or TV programme, you must turn to iTunes. If you already own an iPod, this isn’t exactly a hardship.
Apple includes Remote Disc with the usual bundle of MacBook Air software. This software comes with the excellent Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard operating system and offers you everything you’d expect from all other Macs. What’s more, you can swiftly navigate and manage the software with the responsive features of the MacBook Air trackpad.
The MacBook Air’s battery can give you up to five hours continuous service. Once it dies, however, you may have a problem. The MacBook Air has the battery built in, so you can’t replace it with one that’s fully charged. Your only alternative is to find an electric socket for the MagSafe Power Adaptor, an option that’s not always available if you’re on the move.
MacBook Air performance
For standard tasks such as keeping up with your email, writing, and browsing the Internet, you won’t find a significant speed difference between a MacBook Air and the more powerful MacBook. Some people may still worry about the smaller processor sizes and the relatively slower speeds of the hard drives on both MacBook Air models compared to other Apple laptops. What you have to do, however, is ask yourself why you want the MacBook Air. Complex graphics applications, for example, will certainly strain the processor’s capacity, but then again, if you have this sort of use in mind, you probably need a MacBook Pro anyway.
The fact remains that the MacBook Air is a truly portable all-purpose laptop that performs daily computing jobs extremely well. For most of us, this is precisely what we want.
- The MacBook Air is light, thin and unquestionably stylish
- The casing is robust
- The 13.3 inch screen automatically adjusts its brightness, thanks to a light sensor
- The keyboard is full size and lights up in dim conditions
- There are technology compromises, but most users will notice little difference in speed and responsiveness to a MacBook
- The lower processor and hard drive specs (compared to the MacBook and MacBook Pro) may disappoint some people
- Inability to swap a dead battery for a fresh one may cause difficulties in some circumstances