New MacBook Air: The best ever

Apple's spectacularly responsive new MacBook Air is the best Air yet -- and might be the best MacBook, period

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The keyboard is no longer backlit, and the coloring of the keys is a little peculiar, seemingly more gray-on-charcoal than black-on-white. Frankly, I didn't expect that the lack of backlighting would bother me, but I've found that I miss it. The trackpad is the much larger button-free glass pad found in MacBook Pros (definitely a welcome addition), and the Air finally has stereo speakers, albeit tiny and tinny ones. Still, they're an improvement over the mono speaker in the previous model.

Then there's the screen. At 1,440 by 900 pixels, the 13.3-inch Air's screen has the same resolution as the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and it's fantastic. I've always thought that Apple wimped out on providing higher-resolution displays on its laptops (and I always bought the HD versions of the MacBook Pros), but this resolution on this screen is just right.

Atop the screen is the newly dubbed FaceTime camera, but gone are the ambient light sensor and the microphone that adorned either side of the camera on the previous version. The microphone has moved to the left-hand side of the Air, next to the headphone jack, and the light sensor has apparently been hidden elsewhere on the case, though I couldn't immediately find it.

New MacBook Air vs. old MacBook Air: SSD speed test
That's all good, but it's the quickness of this new Air that is really impressive, and it's very much related to the new flash storage subsystem. Rather than wrap flash storage into an SSD and pass it through a standard disk I/O subsystem, Apple has directly integrated the storage with the mainboard, much like the iPhone and the iPad. The result is an extremely responsive computing experience: faster boot times, faster shutdown times, and faster everything in between.

There are few things more annoying to me than waiting for a computer to do something -- it should wait for me, dammit. The new Air is easily the most responsive GUI computing experience I've ever had; most applications are up and running before their icon completes a single bounce in the dock. We aren't talking just Apple apps, but also Google Chrome, Microsoft Word and Excel, and so forth. Even notoriously chunky iTunes takes only a second or two to launch.

Perhaps most telling is when you invoke the Dashboard after a clean boot. I happen to have 10 dashboard widgets installed, and they all need to start simultaneously after a fresh boot. On the previous Air (and other MacBook Pros), this takes several seconds at the very least. On the new Air, it takes less than one second.

The new Air boots from off to a login prompt in about eight seconds, and shuts down in four to five seconds. It sleeps and wakes from what appears to be a new, deeper sleep mode instantly. It's very, very quick.

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