Thin and light, is this the ideal road warrior laptop?
By Greg Scoblete
June 24, 2011
When notebook shopping, there’s a pretty direct trade-off between size and functionality. The smaller the notebook, the fewer bells and whistles. Apple’s MacBook Air line of ultra-thin laptops has shattered this paradigm, delivering impossibly slender notebooks that don’t sacrifice features.
This uncompromising package does carry one contingency – you’ll pay a premium for the Mac Book Air. Is it worth it? Let's find out.
MacBook Air Features
Weighing in at 2.9 pounds, the MacBook Air is impossibly light. It owes its slim size to ditching two key components found on most other notebooks– an optical (i.e. DVD) drive and a hard disc drive. Instead, it uses 128GB of flash memory (the same stuff you use in your digital camera or camcorder). Flash memory has a number of advantages relative to hard drives. First, flash drives are lighter. Second, unlike hard drives, flash has no moving parts, so products that use flash memory can be jostled more violently without interrupting operation or (worse) losing data – not that we recommend jostling the MacBook Air!
Finally, and again because of the lack of moving parts, flash drives consume less battery power and boot up faster (much faster) than notebooks with hard drives. When you hit the power button on the MacBook Air it springs to life almost instantly (just about) – no interminable wait while your operating system loads.
All of these advantages trickle down in the MacBook Air. It’s only .68-inch thick at its thickest point. It boasts up to seven hours of battery life, which is impressive considering the similar lifespan often require larger, heavier accessory batteries. Apple also claims you can get up to 30 days of standby time on the device – leaving it in sleep only to revive it instantly when you pop open the display.
Flash does have one rather big disadvantage, though, versus hard drives: it costs more-per-gigabyte than a comparable hard drive. The MacBook Air’s 128GB flash drive is large as far as flash drives go, but pales in comparison to the 1TB (or more) hard disc drives working their way into higher-end notebooks. That's why the MacBook's price tag is a hefty $1,300.
You interact with the Air through its high-resolution 13-inch LED backlit display. With a resolution of 1440 x 900 you can enjoy HD videos or view photos in stunning detail. Despite its size, you’re not losing valuable key board real estate: the MacBook Air has a full-sized notebook keyboard with a multi-touch trackpad that supports up to 10 gestures.
Inside, the MacBook Air is driven by a dual-core 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 duo processor with 2GB of RAM. Graphics are handled via a nVIDIA GeForce 320m processor that pulls up to 256MB worth of shared RAM from the MacBook Air. While you can’t engage in serious gaming, the CPU delivers more than enough horsepower for most of the tasks you’d have to tackle in an average day.
Locked and Loaded
The MacBook Air sports 802.11n for wireless networking plus built-in Bluetooth for attaching a headset of wireless headphones when streaming your iTunes. There are built-in stereo speakers as well, though you shouldn’t expect the sound to fill a room. You’ll also find a built-in Web cam so you can conduct video chats over FaceTime or Skype and an SD card slot for transferring digital files from portable devices and cameras. There are a pair of USB ports too.
MacBook Air Bottom Line
If you need a notebook that delivers the slim dimensions of a netbook with the processing power and performance rivaling a full-sized notebook (or even a low-end desktop), than the MacBook Air 13-inch is for you. Thanks to its 128GB flash drive it’s able to deliver a blazing start-up time, long-lasting battery and incredibly thin and light body design. You’ll pay for this – the MacBook Air is $1,300 – but if you need to take your work on the road, it’s best to travel by Air.