This weekend the MacBook Air I ordered arrived. Here is what I think of it:
The MacBook Air is very handsome. The wedge shape looks great, especially when it is closed and charging. The all aluminum body makes its diminutive size seem sturdy. The obssessive in me wants the screen bezel’s width to match the width from the edge of the shallow keyboard indent and edge of the computer. This is a minor quibble for a very nice looking machine. It is hardly surprising, given Apple’s track record.
The major reason I purchased the Air was its size. I am doing lots of work during my commute these days so a smaller laptop in my bag makes a difference. I ordered the 11” model and the size is perfect. It fits in my messenger bag with an iPad and book. The backlit keyboard is full-sized, unlike the Wintel netbooks I have had the misfortune of using. In the Air so much has been stripped away that it feels like the computer is just a keyboard, trackpad and screen.
There are many reasons why using the name ‘Air’ is appropriate for this computer, but the most obvious to me so far is the weight. It does not feel like a heavy work tool. I have owned towers and iMacs that had understandable girth, but now my MacBook Pro feels overweight and will now be serving as my stationary machine, chained to my desk.
This computer is quick. Do not let the lower than average clock speeds fool you. These days speed is in the hard drive. I installed a solid-state drive on my MacBook Pro months ago and found huge speed improvements. This computer came with powered by solid-state memory and feels just as fast. Things have changed in the computer speed game. If a computer has solid state for its disk, sufficient memory, and an average clock speed, it will feel fast and responsive for 95% of tasks. I suspect this computer will slow if I were to do video editing, or intensive graphic production (photomerging RAW files in Photoshop, for example), but my home machine is reserved for that so I have not tested it.
I have written, browsed extensively, and coded with the Air without waiting at all. I am confident that it is fast enough for almost anyone (except gamers, which I am not). Just a warning regarding the solid-state hard drive. It is expensive. Apple offers a paltry 64GB as a starter for the Air and getting more installed will cost extra. Solid-state memory is expensive. The price is falling, but I would not be surprised if the bulk of the cost for manufacturing is still in buying the stuff.
Another reason I purchased the MacBook Air was the battery life. It seems like it keeps going and going. It does not last as long as an iPad but much longer than any laptop I have used before. The default power settings are aggressively conservative so I find myself having to log back in frequently when the display goes to sleep. If this bothered me I could tweak the energy savings. I would not be surprised to see Apple shift to the ARM architecture for its laptops at some point. They have worked very well for the iPhone and iPad and once they are a little faster they will offer even greater battery life to laptops.
One thing that I noticed right away is the display’s greater pixel density. The screen resolution is 1344px × 768px. That might not seem very big, but for an 11.6” screen it’s actually quite a bit. The 15” screen on my MacBook Pro only has a 18% more at 1400px × 900px and my 24” monitor is more than twice the size and only has 55% more pixels at 1920px × 1200px. In order to get all these pixels on the screen they are smaller and closer together. What all this math means is that the screen is sharper. Text is sharper, pictures are sharper, and, despite the smaller screen, more can fit on the screen than other 11” laptops. There is a catch, text is smaller so I do catch myself squinting from time to time. Luckily OS X and most applications allow the user to increase the size of the font if needed.
This makes me excited for the day when high resolution displays will be standard, allowing sharpness that rivals the sharpest man-made media, paper. After using the iPhone 4S’ Retina display I anticipate having that sharpness and clarity on every screen I use.
Due largely to its lack of spinning drives the MacBook Air stays cool, even after extended use. It’s the first laptop I have used that is not bad for the lap.
Microsoft is known as a software company that usually leaves the hardware to somebody else. The MacBook Air is evidence that Apple is primarily a software company as well. The hardware simply delivers software, and then the Air disappears. It becomes invisible, only displaying the task at hand. What a relief.