Product review: MacBook Air is light as, well, air
Apple's new ultraportable may not be for everyone, but if you want thin, sexy, easy mobility, and decent performance -- and can live without a swappable battery and built-in optical drive -- the Air is the answerFollow @pvenezia
The keyboard is more in line with the new external keyboards Apple is shipping with iMacs and Mac Pros, with each key a separate entity against the brushed-metal underlayer. At first glance, I wasn't so thrilled with this layout, but I've found it to be perfectly usable, with solid positive key travel. All considered, it's possibly even better than the current MacBook Pro keyboards, which seem to collect detritus at an alarming rate, a trait they share with almost every other laptop on Earth. Apple has reorganized the Exposé keys at the top, moving certain functions around and adding Play/Pause, Forward, and Back buttons. It's a minor quibble, but the changes can be a bit annoying. The F12 key no longer shows the Dashboard, for instance.
The lack of an optical disk could be a major problem for some users. Apple offers an external DVD drive ($99) that plugs into the USB port. I didn't bother ordering one because the MacBook Air also ships with software that allows the Air to use the optical drive on either a Mac or Windows system as a native device. I've found that I rarely use the optical drive on my laptops anyway, so this wasn't an issue for me.
Although I opted for the 80GB PATA drive and the 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, application launching and overall speed of the MacBook Air is perfectly reasonable. It's not a powerhouse, to be sure, but that's the trade-off for the size and portability. I wouldn't use it as a primary video or audio editing platform, but for normal use with my stable of apps, including Microsoft Word, iChat, Apple Mail, CoRD for Windows Remote Desktop sessions, X11, and Firefox, it's more than adequate.
Interestingly, there’s only one onboard speaker, and it’s located right under the right-hand Shift and Return keys. It’s perfectly adequate for system sounds, but it gets tinny with tunes. The stereo headphone jack is the best bet there. On the subject of noise, the Air is very quiet, even with the single exhaust fan running at over 6,000rpm. My MacBook Pro can get loud occasionally when it’s running hard and hot, but the Air doesn’t get above a whisper.
Into the wild
I figured the best place to work with the Air would be a coffee shop, which is essentially its native environment. Within five minutes of sitting down and joining the free Wi-Fi network, one of the three people that had been eyeing me came over and said, simply, "Wow." The other two then came over and after five minutes of the Air being passed around, hefted, and turned over and over, the general consensus was still "Wow." One woman brandished a Dell Latitude like a dirty diaper and announced that it was time for a change.
So I sat, writing this review while enjoying a moment of celebrity among the coffee beans and blueberry muffins, watching the battery meter telling me that five hours of battery life might be possible if I kept the screen brightness low. (Four to four-and-a-half hours is a more reasonable estimate.)
The Air's battery is not user-replaceable. This is a definite negative, considering long-distance travel is made easier with the ability to carry multiple batteries to swap out. However, the battery can be replaced relatively easily by certified Apple techs at a computer store (it’s plugged, not soldered to the mainboard). I predict that several third-party batteries for the Air will be on the market in a few months.
The MacBook Air is not perfect, but it sure is attractive and functional. If you're looking for a desktop replacement system, get a MacBook Pro. If you're looking for a basic laptop, get a MacBook. If you're looking for supreme portability and more than reasonable performance, definitely get a MacBook Air.