MacBook Air takes on MacBook Pro
Apple's latest ultraportable brings spectacular responsiveness and superior mobility to heavier workloadsFollow @pvenezia
MacBook Air: Light weight meets heavy duty
As I noted in my previous MacBook Air review, I badly missed the keyboard backlighting and ambient light sensor removed from the last model. I never quite got used to that and was constantly tapping the screen brightness keys to manually adjust the display to current lighting conditions. The lack of a backlit keyboard was less disturbing, but now that it's returned, I'm surprised I didn't miss it more. The difference in usability is marked.
The performance of the new Air is significantly improved. The move from a Core 2 Duo to a Core i7 makes a big difference, especially with threaded apps. Previous Air iterations were powerful enough to support "normal" use, as in word processing, heavy Web surfing, email, coding, and the like. The new Airs offer sufficient power to successfully run higher-end applications like digital audio and video processing with much more headroom than before.
To put it mildly, the new Air has several orders of magnitude more horsepower for these apps than the dual-core PowerMac G5 that powered my recording studio for several years. I wouldn't hesitate to run DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), Logic, ProTools, or Digital Performer on the new Air, not to mention a plethora of software audio plug-ins where the older Airs would have struggled to keep up with the load.
Couple the new juice with the Thunderbolt support, and the new Air truly does pack an awful lot into a small package -- one suitable for everything from general computing use to ably handling much heavier tasks. It does so with Lion, however, and while there's much to like about Lion, the downsides can be significant.
In many cases, it may be that those who could benefit most from the new, more powerful Air won't be able to make the leap until their apps catch up to the new OS. Those that use Apple tools exclusively will be able to get started right away, but otherwise, it will pay to keep up with compatibility and update announcements from your critical software vendors before springing for this very quick, lithe, and powerful ultraportable.
This Air scored slightly higher than the previous model, but should have tracked far better. The reduction in usability due to the incompatibilities in Lion and the significant changes in OS defaults such as the trackpad scrolling direction take that category down a notch. Performance of course goes up.
Doubtless this is the best MacBook Air yet, at least for those not requiring Rosetta. In my case, I'll be using the new Air as much as possible, but right now I'm going to fire up my older Air running Snow Leopard since I can't create invoices on this one. It's the pain of the early adopter, true, but painful nevertheless.
This article, "MacBook Air takes on MacBook Pro," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in computer hardware and mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.