When Lenovo changed the iconic ThinkPad’s keyboard from a classic layout to island-style keys in 2012, there was outrage. The internet was filled with blogs blasting not just the X230’s modern layout, but its keys’ comparatively lower travel distance.
I remember reading the anguish from diehards who went to bed hugging their machines that evening while swearing that it would be the last laptop they would ever buy. Little did I know that six years later I would be feeling their pain.
My venerable 13-inch MacBook Air, which looks strangely vulnerable this morning after Apple’s MacBook event last night, is my equivalent of the X220. There will probably never be another one again.
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“The new 13-inch MacBook Pro is thinner, more powerful and weighs exactly the same as the 13-inch MacBook Air,” we were reassured by Apple’s Phil Schiller last night. “We think it’s a great replacement.”
He may be right – I won’t know until the 13-inch Touch Bar-equipped MacBook that I ordered last night (while my wallet winced) falls into my lap in the coming weeks. What I do know is that the Air is a rare example of a tool that’s so finely tuned to what I do on a daily basis that Apple’s new machine - OLED function keys and all - has a task on its hands.
“Why is the Air so wonderful?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s all down to two things: how it feels to type on, and how it sits on my lap. Nothing more, nothing less.
Like countless other tech journalists, I’ve been running around the country with a MacBook Air for the past five years rocking up at conferences to take notes, type up keynotes (at speeds ranging from 100 - 140 words per minute) and write stories to deadlines.
The Air’s keyboard is phenomenally fast, benefiting from low (but sufficient) key travel, slight bounce (imperfection can be perfect, sometimes) and subtle curvature.
Combined with macOS's grammar and spelling autocorrect function, along with its markdown writing app with the lowest latency (that's IAWriter), it all adds up to form a formidable typing tool that really flies in the word processing department.
There’s also something extremely welcoming in the way that the Air’s tapered aluminum body sits on your lap, positioning the keyboard at a slight downward angle. Yes: these are all minor traits, all things considered, but they make a tangible difference.
The traditionally boxier shape of previous-generation MacBook Pros meant that they never quite felt the same.
Tried and tested
Since buying my first 13-inch Air in 2011, I’ve gone through just about every MacBook out there: the 13-inch MacBook Pro; the 15-inch version; their Retina-monikered successors, and, more recently both iterations of the 12-inch MacBook.
They have all proved useful in different ways, whether that’s hooking up two cinematic monitors to the 15-inch Pro for effectively a three-display setup, or tip-tip-tapping out a feature on the 12-inch MacBook’s paddling pool-depth keys while on a train. They all have one thing in common: when it comes to typing fast, none of them can hold a candle to the Air.
The situation is borderline silly. I love mechanical keyboards; in fact, I’m typing this article on an imported Japanese Topre Realforce87USW, which I consider the most comfortable keyboard in the world. But if I were to tackle an 8,000-word transcription, it would be unplugged and given a rest for the next hour.
I’m hopeful that the new 13-inch MacBook Pro will go some way to matching the Air’s typing and overall comfort levels. It’s just as light, has a solid metal body and its second-generation Butterfly Switch keyboard offers more travel than the 12-inch MacBook according to our Senior Editor Joe Osborne’s first impressions.
However, considering that I've shelled out enough money to buy a slim and attractive next-generation gaming laptop equipped with Pascal graphics (like, say, the new Razer Blade), I'm little nervous that I've made the right decision.
Wait and see
The new MacBook Pro looks like a truly gorgeous laptop - it’s just not a MacBook Air with a Retina display and a handful of USB-C ports, which is all I ever really wanted. But don't get me wrong: I can't wait to see how far the newcomer will go in alleviating my concerns.
Maybe I can’t let go of the Air because it’s made such a tangible difference to my career throughout the years. Perhaps it’s because I’m turning 30 in two weeks and have started to half-jokingly utter depressing phrases like “it was better in my day”.
Either way, like the ThinkPad X220 owners back in 2012, it looks like I have no choice but to move on.