The last month was quite a busy one for all Apple followers. First they launched the refreshed set of MacBook Pro models which left most of the tech world drooling (as the tradition is). It was followed by the announcement of the iPad 2 earlier this month. It was also a busy week for us, thanks to the hugely successful Gizmomeet 3 at Bandra, Mumbai. One of the good things about gadget meets like these are the people you meet and by the end of the event, I was handed over the all-new 11-inch MacBook Air for a review! This was certainly something I had not expected – but then, the humble man I am, I gracefully accepted the temporary gift from Apple. Too bad it goes back in a few days!
First things first. I have never been a Mac user. I did play around with them in the past but haven’t had the opportunity to “live” with them for days like in this case. This for the same reason, this would not be your conventional review that talks about the MacBook Air in the conventional all praising manner. That said, I would be ranting about the difficulties (and the surprises involved!) in transitioning from a Windows/Ubuntu guy to a Mac user in a subsequent post but I have been told to complete the review first! So here goes.
Windows user or Ubuntu user or BSD user, one thing everyone would agree on is the fact that the MacBook Air is probably the sexiest thing to be ever carved out of a single block of aluminum. In fact, if aluminum were alive, it would look at the MacBook Air like a proud parent would at his offspring on his graduation day. The Macbook Pro’s come close but not this close. Everything about the Air is sexy. It’s like this svelte bombshell that is liked by everyone. In fact, the only reason you might not like the MacBook Air would be if you were blind and got hurt by its sharp edges. The Air comes in the same color as that of the MacBook Pro lineup – so much so that it looks more like a member of the MacBook Pro family and not a separate entity. I had seen the Air before, but by the time I get to it, it would be surrounded by hordes of salivating Apple fans who wouldn’t let go off it. This time though, or the first time, the Air was completely mine – for over an entire week. This was going to be interesting!..
Continuing with its design, the new MacBook Air is REALLY thin… and when I say thin, we’re talking about paper thin. Okay. I exaggerated that bit. But then papers do not come with displays, batteries and processors inside! So yeah, we were close. I loved the way the design tapers towards the end of the opening lid. The indents at the centre is perfect for opening the notebook easily using a single hand, without having to be fearful of the entire laptop lifting off. The fit and finish – as expected from Apple, is top notch. In fact, it wouldn’t be an understatement if I said that this was probably the best built notebook I had ever had the opportunity to work on. It is undoubtedly the unibody construction that makes the laptop feel rock solid. It looks far more durable and shock resistant than most other laptops and can easily withstand tough working environs. Hell, if it can survive being squeezed in my bag on crowded Mumbai locals, it can survive almost anywhere. Of course, don’t go scuba diving with it.
The MacBook Air comes with a decent array of connectivity options for a notebook its size. On the right are the mini display port and a USB port while the left side is adorned by a single 3.5mm audio jack (which also doubles up as a headphone jack), a magSafe power port and another USB port. There is no Ethernet port on this one so make sure you have a wireless network up and running before you get one. Apple wants you to upgrade your lifestyle first before purchasing one of their devices it seems! Of course, you can opt for the Apple USB Ethernet Adapter if you cannot live without one. The best part is that it now has two USB ports unlike the older version – which came with just one. We currently have the 11 inch MacBook Air for review. This one skips the SD card slot available on the 13 inch variant – which I guess an excusable tradeoff for the slimness.
Once you open the lid, you are greeted by the brilliant display (for a laptop its size!) There is a camera right at the centre of the lid. The green LED next to the camera lights up when you use it. There is quite a bit of real estate wasted as far as the lid is concerned. Personally, I thought even the 11 inch MacBook Air could have easily squeezed in a larger display. But then, I am not complaining much anyway because there is a 13 inch variant as well for those who are in need of a larger display. The 11 inch version actually has a display that measures 11.6 inches across. It has a standard netbook resolution of 1366*768 which for some reason, looks better on the Air than on other laptops. The display can get really bright at full brightness and offers excellent viewing and browsing experience for a notebook of this size.
If you happen to be a MacBook Pro user, you would certainly feel at home with the MacBook Air keyboard which is the same size as the ones on its larger cousins. What you might miss is the lack of backlighting on the keyboard. In fact, this is more of a downgrade in terms of features as the original MacBook Air did come with a backlit keyboard. The Air also has a large, glass touchpad – similar to the one on the Macbook Pro models. I had absolutely no problems getting used to the keypad. It was a dream to type using it as everything felt just perfect. Get no doubt about it, the MacBook Air is one hell of a travel device. It’s a great device to work on, whilst on the move.
Once I reached home and unpacked the Air, it was welcomed with the customary oohs and aaahs from the family members who hadn’t seen anything like this before. My mom even asked if the Apple logo at the rear lights up – she was happy when I powered the notebook on and her guess turned out to be right! The shameless exhibitionist that I am, I never lost an opportunity to show off my latest acquisition whilst travelling on Mumbai’s locals. Everywhere I went, people went bonkers on seeing the MacBook Air. There were typical questions as well “Kitne ka hai” (How much is it?), wajan kitna hai (how much does it weigh). Probably the most ignorant one was from a dude who asked me if this was Chinese. I was like, Dude, if the Chinese wanted to make something like the MacBook Air, it would run at the speed of a pocket calculator.
The MacBook Air we reviewed come with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor that ran at 1.4Ghz. There is another variant that comes with a higher clocked processor running it 1.86 Ghz as well. The 2GB of RAM that this machine came with felt sufficient although I would be happier with version that comes with 4GB of DDR 3 RAM. Internal storage was in the form of a 128 GB SSD which is the highest capacity available on the 11 inch version. There is also a 64GB SSD option which we think is quite less. The MacBook Air has no user replaceable parts. In fact, the only thing replaceable with the MacBook Air is the user himself! The battery too is replaceable only at an Apple Store and this would mean visits to the Apple resellers for upgrade and service issues. But then, since not many people upgrade even their easily upgradeable laptops, I do not think the lack of upgradability options would be a huge deterrent. On the graphics front, the 11 inch MacBook Air gets an Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU. It supports Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth c2.1+EDR.
Looking at the size of this thing, if you expect “netbook like” performance, you would be in for a rude shock. Unlike the Atom Processors that most other netbooks use, the MacBook Air uses the full-fledged, Core 2 Duo processor. This means it is way faster than a notebook when it comes to sheer performance. This is evident from the moment you start using the notebook. Multitasking, multiple tabs, HD video (720p) is handled by the MacBook Air in an “all in a days life” manner. Thanks to the SSD based storage, startup and boot times too are way faster than conventional hard drive based machines.
Now, one major grouse people might have about the Air is its non user-replaceable battery. But again, think of it. How many times do you actually remove the battery on your standard laptop? I don’t think that happens many times. The only time the lack of a user replaceable battery would be missed is when the battery starts to underperform and you decide to change it. On other laptops, it’s just a case of buying a new battery. For the Macbook Air, (and other members of the MacBook family), this means a trip to the nearest Apple store. Slight inconvenience – but I guess this is tolerable for an activity that won’t happen for at least two years after purchase.
To test the battery life in normal usage, we used a fully charged MacBook Pro running a few tabs of Chrome, iChat and Tweetdeck along with a document file I was working on. The brightness was kept at the medium level. We managed to eke out a decent 4.5 hours of battery life, which mind you, is a very decent performance for a laptop this size running a Core 2 Duo processor. Sure, Apple could have put in a more netbook optimized processor in there – but that would seriously hamper the performance. In all, this is a good balance between optimum battery life and decent power. Of course, the battery life would be much lesser if you watched a movie in full brightness.
The 11 inch MacBook Air starts at Rs. 60,900. This is the same price as that of the 13-inch MacBook. The MacBook seems to offer a lot more for the same price – starting from a larger display, faster processor, an optical drive a 10 hour battery life. It would make sense for people on the lookout for a powerful Mac to opt for the MacBook. On the other hand, for a person who does not mind a slight drop in performance, is a traveller and prefers his notebook to look uber cool, think of nothing else but the MacBook Air. It’s drop dead gorgeous looks more than makes up for the performance difference and to tell the truth, it aint a sluggish laptop at all. The only thing we would have liked is to reduce the price of the 128 GB SSD version of the Air. It is quite expensive when compared to the base model. In fact, the price of Rs. 72,900 for the 128 GB version puts it near the 13 inch variant which also gets 128GB of storage plus a faster processor and costs Rs. 79,900. Why then go for the 11 inch version? The top end variant will set you back by Rs. 98,900.
So, do we recommend the MacBook Air? Of course we do! It’s an emphatic Yes. Is it value for money? In the conventional sense, no. As in, you would be spending a lot of money on a netbook sized laptop. That’s the typical Indian way of thinking. I mean, you can own a fully equipped, all powerful Core i7 based full fledged laptop for that price. However, none of those would even come close to the sleekness, and the experience offered by the MacBook Air. So, if you are on the look out for an ultra compact notebook with almost no compromise on performance and looks, the MacBook Air is your best bet! And no laptop you buy would make you drool everytime you look at it. Only the MacBook Air can claim to do that… oh there she goes again! *powers on the MacBook Air*