Apple's latest notebook, the MacBook Air, is being hailed as the world's thinnest. At well under an inch at the thickest point, the Air offers a thin design coupled with an extremely lightweight package for a notebook that has the same basic footprint as the standard MacBook. The flip side to all of this, however, is the (some say inexcusable) list of features left out, with a staggering price tag that has wallets cowering in fear at the cost of the top tier configuration.
Build and Design
The design of the MacBook Air is nothing short of amazing, when you compare its basic shape and look to a standard notebook. It is so incredibly thin compared to anything else I have played around with, and seems paper thin during use.
With the display open and the notebook laying flat on your desk the palmrest is a pencil eraser's height above the surface of your desk. The real beauty of this notebook though is its clean design with only one visible port connection, with the rest hidden by a magnetic latch cover. The body continues with its sleek look with all rounded and polished surfaces and not even a foot to catch when the notebook is being slid into a bag.
Build quality is nothing short of amazing, and hands down one of the strongest notebooks I have ever felt. When closed the display cover does have some mild flex (give it a break, it's thin), but the real strength is the palmrest and keyboard structure. Formed from a block of aluminum with the internal cavity CNC machined, it is super strong. No flex is present when mashing down on the palmrest, and picking it up with both hands to try to flex the body is futile. Comparing it to a known item like a Thinkpad, it would beat it hands down, with no plastic creaking to boot! You would need to move into the realm of Panasonic Toughbooks to find something that would be an equal competitor.
- Mac OS X v10.5.1 Leopard and Windows Vista Ultimate
- Intel Core 2 Duo P7500 1.6GHz (4MB L2 cache, 800MHz frontside bus)
- 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
- 80GB 4200rpm parallel ATA hard disk drive
- 13.3" glossy widescreen TFT LED backlit display (1280 x 800)
- Intel GMA X3100 graphics (144MB of shared memory)
- iSight webcam
- AirPort Extreme WiFi (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n)
- Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate)
- Micro DVI, USB 2.0 port (480Mbps), Audio out
- Dimensions : 0.16-0.76", 12.8", 8.94" (H, W, D)
- Weight: 3.0 pounds (3lbs 0.6oz actual)
- Integrated 37-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
- 45W MagSafe power adapter with cable management system (6.5oz)
The screen on the MacBook is very nice, with vibrant colors and intense backlight. Black levels are nice and even with very little backlight bleed showing through even on very dark scenes in movies or games. Comfortable viewing brightness during my review was around 15-20%, matching 80% on my Thinkpad. 100% on the MacBook Air is close to the brightness levels that my desktop LCD can reach. Viewing angles of the LCD were above average.
Horizontal viewing range was perfect up until the screen was blocked by metal backing, but vertical viewing range was limited if you went 10 to 15 degrees up or down from straight on.
On the memory front, 4GB of DDR3 memory is found on all but the base 11-inch model, which gets by with half that. SSDs are standard across the board, starting at 64GB for the 11 and going up to 256GB for the top-shelf 13-inch. Intel HD 3000 graphics power the lot and stock processors include 1.6GHz and 1.7GHz Core i5's, though a 1.8GHz Core i7 is available for $100 more.Performance / Battery life
Apple claimed five hours of battery life with wireless enabled, and from my testing I think that would be possible ... under the right situation. With screen brightness at 25%, Bluetooth off, and WiFi on, the MacBook Air got 4 hours and 20 minutes of battery life with above average web activity. Half of this time was spent in Mac OS, with the other half in Vista. If you had very light internet traffic, or even had wireless disabled and were just typing on the notebook you should get five hours or more productivity from the battery.
One huge complaint this notebook gets in my opinion is the integrated battery. Not only can you not swap the battery if it dies while traveling, but to make matters worse the charging speed is abysmal. Our MacBook Air from a dead state would only reach 25-30% after charging for one hour with the notebook turned off. On most notebooks, in this period of time the battery would be well above 50% if not much higher.