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Macbook Air 11-inch
The new 11-inch Macbook Air is one of Apple’s most interesting launches to date. Apple has so far famously refused to enter the netbook game, choosing instead to give users the MacBook Air, a thin and light system that still had a regular notebook’s screen and keyboard. This refresh now gives users a choice of screen sizes, and also marks Apple’s first small-screen offering since the much-loved 12-inch iBook and PowerBook models died in 2006.
The most interesting factor here is that the entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air costs the same amount as an entry-level Macbook. Apart from the obvious size and weight differences, the Air comes with a comparatively slower CPU, only 64 GB of solid-state storage, non-upgradeable RAM, no DVD drive, a metal body, no Ethernet port, and half the battery life. Both offer Bluetooth 2.1 and Wi-Fi N connectivity, and come with Mac OS X and the iLife suite as standard. Surprisingly, the Air’s 11.6-inch screen runs at a higher resolution of 1366x768 pixels than the MacBook’s 1280x800. Buyers will be divided over which one is the better choice for them.
The 11-inch Air is 1.7 cm thick at its thickest point and weighs just a hair over 1 kg, making it easy to slip it into pretty much any backpack, sling, or even handbag. It will undoubtedly be popular with frequent fliers, road warriors, college students and anyone who’s ever suffered shoulder ache from carrying a heavy laptop around every day. It isn’t the most comfortable for extended use though—while Apple promises the keyboard is full sized, we found it a bit too shallow for comfort. The body is also so small that your wrists are likely to rest right against the device’s front edge, which isn’t comfortably rounded off. The trackpad is typically oversized, but is centered to the Macbook’s body rather than to the keyboard, so your palms will drift across it quite often. Finally, the high-res screen is just a tiny bit too cramped.
Connectivity is improved with the addition of a second USB port, thankfully spaced on the right edge so oversized plugs don’t block both ports. There are even stereo speakers, as opposed to the older Air’s single mono one. Our review unit was the more expensive one with 128 GB of storage which costs Rs 12,000 more than the base 64 GB option, so anyone who wants to carry even a regular-sized music and movie library will end up carrying an external hard drive everywhere. One minor inconvenience we found was the lack of a keyboard backlight—something we’ve grown very used to on Apple machines.
In ordinary usage, we found the new baby Air to be a delight. No netbook so far has felt as well-rounded and easy to carry. On the flip side though, the hardware seems to be only just about capable of running OS X; even the simple dock animations sometimes felt laggy. Ordinary tasks such as Web browsing work just fine, but graphics and CPU-intensive tasks performed in iPhoto and Garage Band can quickly bog this system down, so we wouldn’t recommend trying any heavy Photoshop or multimedia work. That said, the solid-state drive affords unbelievably fast boot and shutdown times, and resuming from standby takes barely a second. We didn’t benchmark the Air with our usual Windows-based benchmarks, since it’s unlikely that anyone will dual-boot with only 64 or 128 GB of hard drive space, and the Mac experience depends on tight hardware and software integration (which will be all the more apparent with the impending Mac App Store launch and also when OS X 10.7 releases next year with all its iPad-inspired touches).
The new Air could be representative of Apple’s entire future direction. Eventually, there will be no need for the current MacBooks to exist—if future CPUs get a lot faster without getting hotter, and if SSD prices reach somewhere near par with hard drives, consumers will all choose thin and light MacBook Airs while professionals will still have their beefy Pros.
For now, the 11-inch Air occupies a space that makes it way more than a netbook, but at a way higher price. If you’re looking for something ultraportable just for Web surfing, you’d have to really consider whether the Air is worth the money. On the other hand if you need a Mac for heavy work, the amount you’ll pay for decent upgrades will also get you a much more capable MacBook Pro. The new 11-inch Air is undeniably gorgeous and will win many people over purely for its looks, but is sadly just a bit too underpowered to be recommended wholeheartedly.