In my mind, people who purchase the MacBook Air have should have a clear idea of what they wish to accomplish with it. There’s only one reason you should own a MacBook Air: for the portability. If you’re in transit a lot, and need a capable lightweight computer that’s neither crippled nor cumbersome, the MacBook Air is the perfect solution. Other than that, you’re probably not spending your money wisely.
I’ll take a close look at the latest MacBook Air from Apple, more specifically the $1099 mid-2012 11-inch 128GB MacBook Air released in June 2012. If you’re thinking of getting one, then you’re in luck — I’ll show you everything you need to know about the 11-inch model, how it performs on a daily basis and whether it’s suitable for your needs.
Then at the end of this review — you guessed it — we’re giving it away!
The MacBook Air comes in 4 configurations: two 11-inch models and two 13-inch models starting from $999. Both 11-inch models are identical except for the size of their flash drives (64GB and 128GB) and a $100 price difference. Other than that, 90they both have 1.7Ghz dual-core Intel Core i5 processors, 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3L memory and integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 graphics.
The 13-inch MacBook Airs are priced at $1,199 and $1,499 for the 128GB and 256GB models respectively. Similarly, they’re also fitted with the same integrated graphics and 4GB of memory. However, they sport a 1.8Ghz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor which is capable of reaching 2.8Ghz when engaged in Turbo Boost mode.
As far as competing Ultrabooks go, there are a few. Dell’s XPS 13 Ultrabook is priced at $999.99 and features a slower processor and older integrated graphics; weighing in at 2.99lbs compared to the 11-inch MacBook Air’s 2.38lbs.
There are a couple more choices from HP but I’m more interested in their most compact and portable laptop, and that’s the 13-inch ENVY Spectre XT Ultrabook 13-2050nr which retails for $999.99. Much like its long name, the ENVY is heavier than the MacBook Air at 3.07lbs; and features the same processor (Core i5-3317U) as the MacBook Air. Actually, the similarity doesn’t just end there — they share the same integrated graphics and memory specifications. In fact, the ENVY looks a bit like the MacBook Air as well. Curious.
Samsung’s Series 9 11.6-inch notebook might look like a serious contender but upon closer inspection, it comes with a 1.33GHz Intel Core i3 processor, 2GB of memory, slower integrated graphics, and a whopping $1,199 price tag. Ouch. Do you still think Apple is overpriced now?
Lenovo has 2 lines of Ultrabooks that are probably in the same category as the MacBook Air: their Thinkpad X Series and IdeaPad U Series. From the more interesting series of the two, I singled out the ThinkPad X230 Laptop with Faster Processing (yes, that’s what it’s called). It’s priced at $939 and is fitted with an Intel Core i5-3210M processor, the same Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics, 500GB hard disk drive, and a 12.5-inch screen. In order to upgrade the 500GB 720rpm hard disk drive to a 128GB SSD, there’s a $240 premium, bringing the total up to $1179.
Lastly, I was intrigued with what Toshiba had to offer. Their prebuilt Portege Z935-ST2N02 Ultrabook is almost exactly configured like the MacBook Air. It has the exact same processor, 128GB SSD, and the same integrated graphics. The only differences are the 13-inch display on the Toshiba, 2GB more memory, and a LAN port. Weighing in at just 2.48lbs and priced at $999.99, I’d say it comes pretty darn close.
Which is the most viable option? I guess you would have to decide.
Apple’s emphasis on great designs for their products translated over to their packaging as well. Unboxing any Apple product is an occasion and the MacBook Air is no different. The MacBook Air is snugly packed in a recessed plastic frame within the box, holding it tightly until you lift it up.
Underneath lie the power cables and a small care package. Yeap, more Apple stickers.
You had me at hello.
The MacBook Air was shipped with Lion, and quick start guide takes the new owner through some of the most main features of the operating system. Someone new to OS X would probably appreciate it more than I.
The thing to note at this juncture is, unlike other Macs, Apple doesn’t provide a physical copy of the operating system with the MacBook Air.
In another life, I was a MacBook user. It was probably my most worthwhile purchase. Despite being soaked in coffee, the beast still monsters on and is working until this very day. Instantly, I noticed that the MacBook Air’s wall socket is quite a bit smaller than the MacBook’s. It may be difficult to appreciate the difference in this photo, so take my word for it — it’s also significantly lighter, making it that much more convenient for travel.
The MacBook Air’s design remains unchanged from its previous rendition. The dimensions of its aluminium clamshell unibody are exactly the same. If you look closely, you might spot a change though — the MagSafe 2 connector has now taken on its original design, and is slimmer than its L-shaped predecessor.
USB 2.0 ports have been upgraded to the much welcomed USB 3.0. There’s one port on either side of the MacBook Air.
Over on the right side of the MacBook Air, you find the second USB 3.0 port as well a Thunderbolt port. The 13-inch model will sport a memory card reader, which sadly couldn’t fit into the 11-inch MacBook Air.
Reviewing the MacBook Air
I’ve read several reviews of the MacBook Air where the writers criticised the quality of the aluminium body. From my experience, I’ve found the metal unibody to be rather durable. Naturally, it will wear with use but it isn’t as drastic as it was made out to be. If you are the sort of person who takes care of your belongings, the MacBook Air will be just fine. If you’re used to throwing things and bumping stuff around, then you might want to invest in a case (although that might defeat the purpose of its slim design).
Again, if you are thinking of purchasing a MacBook Air, you must remember what it was made to do. The MacBook Air was primarily designed to be lightweight, and ideally for people to have access to a full-sized computer while always on the go. So the MacBook Air needed to be portable, and it should be able to operate longer between charges — and that is where it excels.
The 11-inch MacBook Air uses an Intel Core i5-3317U processor, which is categorised as ultra-low power yet is able to the necessary processing ability when its needed. You might not want to use for system-intensive processes like rendering video because again, it wasn’t designed for that. I’m not going to benchmark the MacBook Air because I haven’t got anything to compared it with, and that’s not what most MacBook Air users do with it. We use it, for everyday tasks — and that’s what I’m going to do.
During my review, I used the MacBook Air for MakeUseOf-related duties; and that included a lot of browsing, image editing, emailing, and editorial-type tasks. Basically, lots of typing and going online — there, I said it. Coming from a MacBook, I could immediately feel the new, springier keys introduced into the MacBook Air since 2011. They are not as soft as I expected, and is definitely more tactile. I’m not entirely convinced that I prefer it over the older, softer keys but they’ve proven to be quite accurate to type with.
Being an old-school MacBook user, I’m still fumbling with the glass multitouch trackpad. Multitouch is great, but personally, I’d rather just use one finger, or two at the most. Swiping up and down with 4 chubby fingers on the tiny trackpad is not something I enjoy doing. The trackpad is also quite a bit more resistant to clicking so I had to press much harder than I thought was needed. I guess it would help prevent accidental clicks so I can see some reasoning in that.
Using the MacBook Air as I normally would, with the display brightness set to about 3/4 of the way up, the keyboard backlit to a nice glow and WiFi enabled, I managed to squeeze over 4 hours of usage out of the battery. The 11-inch MacBook Air is fitted with a smaller battery compared to the 13-inch model, and is reported to operate for 5 hours with WiFi enabled; so I’m pretty happy with the results. In my mind, over 4 hours of carefree usage with the display’s brightness set to a precarious level is a good thing. I might even be able to stretch it to over 5 hours if I went super-eco mode on it.
For a such a small laptop, it has a set of decently performing speakers. They are much louder than anticipated.
Living with the MacBook Air
Usually, a laptop has to be plugged in to a power source 90% of the time. With the MacBook Air though, it’s quite the opposite — I had it running on its battery 90% of the time. The only time it’s plugged in is when it needs to be recharged. It’s so convenient to have a laptop with the portability of a tablet.
The only thing I don’t like about the 11-inch model is its 11-inch screen. It’s fine for surfing and watching videos but when it comes to data processing or image editing, there’s just not enough screen estate. I usually work with a triple-monitor setup, so using the MacBook Air does feel slightly suffocating. However, I would gladly acknowledge that the MacBook Air is not my primary workstation, and if I needed to sacrifice screen estate for portability on occasion, it’s not something worth fussing about.
Does the lack of an optical drive and network port frustrate me? Not so much. Optical drives are never used in my day-to-day activities. And personally, I don’t think we should be using DVDs or CDs when we have much more capacious USB flash drives anyways. The lack of a network port did irk me at one point. I had to spend more time on large file transfers over WiFi when it could have been done in a fraction of the time by using a cable. Again, it was not a regular occurrence.
Potential MacBook Air owners really ought to know what the MacBook Air is designed for before purchasing one. If you’re planning to use it as your primary computer, you would have to understand that it’s not the fastest, most powerful, most upgradeable laptop you can buy. In fact, it cannot be upgraded. The configuration you purchase it in will remain so for the next 4-5 years, or until you get a new one.
However, if used in the right setting, the MacBook Air can be a saviour. Its portability means that you don’t even have to think twice about shoving it into your bag. It’s a fully capable, full-sized computer, so you’ll have full access to OS X and all of your applications as you normally would. It’s also able to last 30 days in sleep mode, and coupled with the SSD, recovering from sleep mode is faster than ever.
MakeUseOf recommends: Buy it, only if you travel a lot.
Now, we’re giving this MacBook Air away. Join the giveaway, only if you travel a lot. Actually, I’m kidding, so go for it!
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