Now that we’ve had a couple in the office for a few days, it’s time to give our judgement on Apple’s manila-loving MacBook Air. On first glance the MacBook Air is a beautiful thing. But it’s fatally flawed in several ways.
Plugging anything into it is a pain because of the under-flap USB port arrangement, while the headphone socket and monitor adapter plug is also stored there. Those after uber-practicality need not apply – go and get a more powerful MacBook for less cash.
However, Apple isn’t aiming the thing at those of us who like to plug in oodles of devices and work our laptops to death with complex video editing or gaming. So pretend for a moment you’re the MacBook Air’s target audience.
You like style. You like your friends to go ‘wow’ at your computer. You like digital photos. You like the internet. You don’t want to plug lots of stuff in. And on all those counts the MacBook Air is a brilliant machine – it should be everybody’s favourite second computer.
Apple’s wireless connections have always been good in the last couple of generations of OS X and that doesn’t change here. But, fact is, wireless connections are still dodgy for mass data transfer. Using Apple’s Time Machine won’t be so bad, because it’s well versed in dripping incremental information across to a backup drive whenever there is spare bandwidth.
Talking of storage, 80GB isn’t brilliant, but it’s more than enough for the type of machine this is designed to be. The 4,200rpm speed of the drive can grate, though.
The 13.3-inch glossy screen is wonderfully bright and is backlit. By the way, graphics are catered for by an Intel integrated X3100 chip. On the keyboard, the keys light up when the ambient light is too low – a lovely touch. The keys themselves aren’t too gentle on the fingers.
This isn’t a problem limited to the MacBook Air, it's something that’s also a problem we have with the MacBook. We yearn for Apple’s notebook keyboards of old, though there would have been too much downward travel on those keys to have a place in the MacBook Air.
The multi-touch trackpad gestures are an unexpected boon and surprisingly useful when pootling around in the OS or looking at pictures, especially if you’re used to the pinch-to-zoom on the iPhone.
How Apple has managed to pack in its other standard notebook facets such as the iSight cam and FrontRow IR receiver is quite amazing (although there’s no FrontRow remote in the box). It’s also pretty amazing they managed to get Intel to pack in a special Core 2 Duo. Nice guys.
The dual-core chip isn’t terribly powerful at 1.6GHz (or 1.8GHz as the other option), but it does the job. The outer skin of the notebook does, however, get relatively toasty to the touch. And that leads us onto the battery life. Our esteemed colleagues at MacFormat have also been looking at an Air for some days now and concur that you can almost watch the battery life seep away. Five hours Apple? Really? Three more like.
Having pointed out its numerous compromises, we’d also like to say that we’d still love to own one. The build is supreme and actually seems rather robust, belying its thickness. And then, of course, there’s the weight.
Having used numerous notebooks on the move including a PowerBook G4 and lately a Samsung Q45, the MacBook Air is, quite simply, light as a feather at 1.4kg. If you need to carry around a laptop for relatively light work or simply need something for your living room, can you think of anything you want more?