MacBook Air 11-inch: Time to Buy a MacBook Air? (Review)

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This is everything Apple wanted the MacBook Air to be when they released it in 2008, and then some. It’s time to come clean. We were a bit reluctant to pick up a MacBook Air at first (we waited a few months before committing), but that was mostly due to the criticism the 2008 model received. It was beautifully thin and lightweight, but it also slow, seemed rather flimsy and had numerous issues that made what could have been our most desired computer of the year, into the one we did our best to stay away from.

Well, it looks like the company has taken the lessons learned from that computer (and from the iPad) and made it into something practical. As someone who writes daily and travels often, the 11-inch Air with the 128GB hard drive (an additional $100) was the best choice.

However, you’ve probably read a few reviews for the MacBook Air at this point, and you’ve read about the high pixel-density and the super-thin, light-weight form-factor of the Air. Rather than retread old ground, we are going to break it into a simple question:

Should I buy a MacBook Air?

Seriously Consider a MacBook Air If…

No doubt if you are reading this, you have read about the techspecs and looked around a bit, but you are wondering if it’s worth the price of admission. First off, if you really want a MacBook Air, be prepared to spend $1199. Trust us, you will thank yourself for spending the extra $100. We’ve read that you can expect about 14GB to be dedicated to system files, etc. from the first time you boot the computer. That doesn’t seem far off as ours currently sits at 108 GB of free space with almost nothing additional installed at this point (Know that the iLife suite was pre-installed, unlike previous Macs we’ve had that include the additional disc as an install option).

Frequent travelers will definitely love the computer, because it’s so thin and light. Most of our friends who have picked it up physically say “Wow, it almost feels like an iPad.” That’s partly because it’s only about half a pound heavier than the tablet and not much thicker.

Durability. Thanks to the solid state Drive, it’s a bit tougher than other Apple laptops. Anyone who has carried around a computer with a spinning hard drive knows that they can be quite easy to ruin. At the very least, stories of damaged hard drives are enough to scare you into being very careful with your laptop. That fear is mostly gone with the SSD. That’s not to say we toss this thing around the room recklessly, but we definitely feel safer when carrying it around.

Writers, bloggers, reporters, editors, etc. definitely look into this computer. It’s great for carrying to press events, sports events, city meetings or anywhere else you may need to take notes. It handles itself surprisingly well for the “wimpy” processor its equipped with, and your shoulders and back will thank you for it (anyone who’s carried their laptop around E3 or CES for a week knows exactly what this is like).

If you at one time owned the PowerBook G4 12-inch and have been looking for that notebook ever since. The PowerBook G4 12-inch was a fairly popular computer. It combined the power and strong build of Apple’s professional-level laptops while remaining portable. To this day, that was one of the best laptops we’ve ever owned, even better than much of the current Apple hardware. This computer feels a lot like that old classic.

If that sounds like you, buy It.


Look elsewhere if…

As trimmed down as the MacBook Air is, we wouldn’t call it a casual laptop. Sorry. It’s not that it’s some sort of elite, professional machine. However, a computer user who is looking for a more consumer-oriented laptop may want something with an optical drive and more storage capacity (for lots of videos, photos, music, etc). Keep in mind that we are using it strictly as a work computer, and for our purpose makes life much easier. Chances are, you will use your laptop for travel, but not to the extent where cutting the computer down by two pounds will make the difference.

Poor vision? The display on the MacBook Air is beautiful. Its high pixel-density keeps things sharp. Unfortunately, it also makes things small. On an 11-inch screen, that means things are very small. Some users may have trouble seeing on the 11-inch MacBook Air, and even lowering the display resolution isn’t the best option. Those users may want to look into a larger laptop, or even a desktop.

You need serious storage. Even at the highest configuration, the MacBook Air can only hold 256GB. At that point, you are getting a $1,500 computer with a lot less power than a similarly-priced MacBook Pro will get you. In addition, while a 13-inch laptop isn’t much bigger than the 11-inch model, it’s almost self-defeating if your main goal was portability to begin with.

If that sounds like you, don’t buy it.


The Verdict

Personally, we enjoy the laptop so much because it brings back the portability we’d wanted from Apple’s laptops. It suits the needs of someone who travels often and doesn’t need the machine to do any sort of heavy computation. Many naysayers will call it an overpriced netbook, but haters gonna hate. It’s definitely our (and by that we mean I, but for some reason we have a tendency to speak in first-person plural) favorite Apple laptop since the 12-inch aluminum G4.

However, those looking for features (storage capacity, optical drive, processor speed, etc) over portability should keep looking. This laptop is not going to provide the hardware you need for the price.

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