MacBook Air (mid-2011 models)
Issue: 9.6 (September/October 2011)
Author: Dave Mancuso
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Article Length (in bytes): 6,045
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RBD Number: 9604
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IN BRIEF Product MacBook Air: mid-2011 models Manufacturer Apple Inc. Price $999 (11" entry-level model); up to $1599 (high-end 13" model) Contact Info http://www.apple.com/macbookair/ Pros Light; lit keyboard convenience; 11-inch model is truly transportable; 13-inch model has pixel density of MacBook Pro 15-inch; can be used as a main computer. Cons DVD drive is external (or shared from another computer); 256GB drive may still not be large enough for some users. Rating (1.0-5.0): 4.7
In the spring of 2011, when iPad 2 began shipping, I tried an experiment. I sold my 15-inch MacBook Pro and attempted to use the iPad as a main computer. It worked well in some cases and in most other cases I could make it do what I needed. Unfortunately the last ten percent of what I needed was difficult or impossible to do with the iPad. This usually came down to getting files on to the iPad and out of it for use on other computers. Dropbox made up for a lot of this, but apps like Pages, Numbers, QuickOffice, or others just didn't seem to work with files easily.
Apple will unveil iOS 5 before the end of 2011 and it's possible that the difficulties I hit will be rectified. However, it's just as possible that they won't. Even in the spring, I was forced to use my work Windows PC, my home Mac Mini, and at times a loaner MacBook laptop. It became clear that I needed to get another laptop. (I've had one Mac laptop or another since 1992, including the old Outbound clone. Count yourself an Apple sage if you remember that laptop.) Capability and budget were considerations, so I watched and waited to see what might work for me.
In July, Apple introduced OS X Lion (version 10.7 of OS X). Just as importantly, they introduced new models of hardware. Of particular interest to me was the MacBook Air. I felt with previous models that there were too many compromises in their design for me to use one as my main machine.
The new MacBook Airs, though, seemed to address virtually every issue I had with their predecessors. First and foremost, the size of the solid state drive increased from a maximum of 128 GB to 256 GB. My old MacBook Pro had a 320 GB hard drive but I was sure that I'd been sloppy with space. I could definitely make 256 GB work for me. The screen size had already been addressed, since the 13 inch model had a 1440 by 900 pixel display just as my 15-inch MacBook Pro had. I'd have to verify that things didn't look too small for me on the 13-inch screen (mainly for text). In addition, I'd been spoiled by the backlit keyboard on my old laptop, and this new MacBook Air featured keyboard backlighting!
Really the only drawback was the lack of an optical drive. But I'd rarely used the DVD drive on my old laptop, so I felt that it was time to bite the bullet and fly without it on the new Air. Besides, if I really missed it, I could get an external Superdrive.
My only dilemma was whether to get the 13-inch I felt I needed or to go all the way and get the tiny, really cool 11-inch unit. A few trips to the Apple Store made we lust after the 11-inch (did I mention it's really tiny and cool?), but only the 13-inch had all the features I needed. I decided to buy it as soon as the store had it in stock. A few days of obsessive calling later, I had one in my hands. I could have gone one level higher by opting for a faster processor, but I felt that 4GB of RAM was more important than a small processor upgrade.
The laptop came preinstalled with Lion. I used the Migration Assistant Tool to transfer my old account and data from a Time Machine backup. I chose what I needed and then hand copied a few more things on to the Air's 256 GB drive. I usually spend four to six hours totally migrating to a new machine, but my time was limited. I spent the next week trimming and adding things to the drive and ended up with about 55 GB free. I liked the fact that the new Air had two USB ports—the extra port was very convenient. I liked the fact that my 13-inch model had an SD card slot (although my current camera uses Compact Flash).
As far as performance, the benchmarks are much faster than my old MacBook Pro, but I really didn't notice much of a speed increase. This could be simply my perception, or it could be because of the programs I have starting up with the Air. I can say that I got used to the screen size rather quickly, and most importantly I can view the screen without using my reading glasses (important for an aging person like me).
The one other thing I noted was that the power adapter is smaller than ones used before. It surprised me for a few seconds, but certainly made sense once I thought about it. The smaller and lighter MacBook Air would use a smaller and lighter adapter if at all possible, and it does.
To conclude: the new MacBook Air is the first of its kind that I can use as a main machine. The only true drawback is the lack of an integrated optical drive and that's minor. I can use another Mac's optical drive across a network with the included drive-sharing software, but I would hate to try burning a DVD with that method. Regardless, if it became a need, I'd simply buy the external SuperDrive and be all set. The new MacBook Air is a PC with the capabilities of much larger machines. It's certainly worth the research and a trip to an Apple Store to test drive if you're considering replacing your laptop.
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