Hands on the New MacBook Air, Future of Notebooks

The new MacBook Air models introduced Wednesday made quite a splash. There’s a lot of hype around Apple’s latest ultraportables, but after going hands-on with one myself I think the hype is well-deserved. After just a few minutes with the new 11.6″ MacBook Air it’s clear that there’s something very different here and it’s worth every penny of $999, if not more.

I wasn’t all that impressed with the new MacBook Air’s specifications at first. On paper, the sub-2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors, 5-hour of battery life and 2GB of memory don’t exactly turn heads. The specs sounded pretty ho-hum when watching the Apple presentation.

Vincent Nguyen of Slashgear was in San Francisco yesterday and he was kind enough to hand over the MacBook Air Apple gave to him at the recent press conference. Simply put, the MacBook Air represents the future of ultraportable consumer notebooks. It doesn’t have a beefy processors, flashing lights or premium audio. Instead, it has a bunch of features that improve the user experience.

Instant Wake: The MacBook Air can standby for up to 30 days, which means you never have to shut down. When you’re ready to start using a MacBook Air, you simply open the lid and the screen is alive before it’s all the way open. It is indeed instant and it’s wonderful.

Battery Lfie: The 11.6″ MacBook Air is rated to last for up to five hours. I’m not exactly sure what settings Apple tested under, but I’m pretty confident that it’ll meet that mark in the real world. While I was playing with it I noticed that the battery was at approximately 60%. The time remaining mark bounced between three hourse, when I was playing with iLife Apps and five hours when I was just opening and closing browser windows.

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The Display: The display on the smaller model has a resolution of 1366 x 768 pixels and has a matte finish. Sure beats a glossy 1024 x 600 display.

Fast Launching Apps: The 64GB SSD is a little small for my taste, but it adds some serious zip to the MacBook Air. Apps launch almost instantly and are ready to rock before you can even blink.

Keyboard : The keyboard feels like a full-sized keyboard and is not cramped at all. I had no problem typing at my normal speed on the 11.6″ MacBook Air. The body of the 11.6″ MacBook Air is wider (proportionally) than the 13.3″ MacBook Air. If you look at pictures on Apple.com, you’l notice a relatively wide bezel on the smaller MacBook Air. This means the keyboard can be a little bigger than those found on other notebooks with the same screen size.

Weight: It weighs 2.3 pound thanks to its slim body and lack of extraneous components, such as the optical drive. It’s also incredibly thin.

As I mentioned above, the beauty of the new MacBook Air is not in its specs, it’s in its user experience. It addresses many of the hassles mobile users experience everyday. There’s a display that’s actually usable in varied lighting conditions and that has enough pixels to get real work done. Guys like me with big hands don’t have to use a tiny keyboard. Its instant wake and near-instant app launching matches up with many consumers’ mobile use cases, such as having to jump online to quickly complete a task or two during a short break at school or work .

At $999, it is very expensive if it’s going to be a secondary computer, but you might be able to justify the expense by considering how much time it can save you. Another thing to consider is the fact that the 128GB 13.3″ MacBook Air, which comes with a faster processor, is only $100 more than the 128GB 11.6″ MacBook Air.

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The MacBook Air isn’t for everybody and there are certainly cheaper alternatives out there. I still highly recommend taking a close look at the two MacBook Air models before making your next ultraportable purchase.

Comments

    • Xavier Lanier says

      It’s not matte like my 15″ MacBook Pro, but it’s a LOT better than the edge-to-edge glass display models from Apple and others. The screen is very bright, which cuts down on reflections when needed.

  1. Anonymous says

    I honestly can’t think of why someone would opt for the 11″…you get SO much more in the 13″. The only reason I’m going to pass on this is that it converges too much in size closely to my iPad. I have a 15″ MBP only a year old….I considered it…but it would be a waste. I’ve got a ton of resolution on my MBP at 1680×1050…for portability, it’s the iPad. It is a sweet ultralight though…

  2. tivoboy says

    Just picked one up, I am HAPPY to report that it is NOT GLOSSY, it isn’t totally MATTE but WAAAAY better than any of the regular MBP or Macbooks of late. My tell is that when on or off, one cannot SEE their reflection even without light behind you. With the other currnent product, one sees their reflection constantly.

  3. pyrotechnomimus says

    This is my problem. “Hands on the New MacBook Air, Future of Notebooks”.

    The future of Notebooks. Really? I own a Sony TZ240 laptop with almost identical specifications to the 11″ macbook Air, and despite the weaker graphics card (which still can’t play games) I can still stream HD video content just fine and do virtually everything else with my 2 GB of RAM running Windows 7 with a SSD on this thing. I have a 2.4 lb laptop instead of the 2.3, but I also have an optical drive, 2 usb ports, an ethernet port, vga (bit before the hdmi being everywhere), and a built in aircard (plus standard dual band wifi-n adapter). Amazing little guy, plus it’s carbon fiber, my cats have tossed this thing, I had a bookshelf fall on it after multiple books, and it’s still kicking. I have a gorgeous screen, and it too is the normal laptop screen that somehow for Apple is Matte because of their super glossy glass screens that have more kinship with mirrors than screens.

    That all said. My sony is two years old. And it still packs a 61/2 hour of use battery in it (I go regularly on wifi 4-6 1/2 hours, usually 4 when doing more strenous things which sometimes even includes Photoshop. I used to use this as my main laptop until my friend brought me to Tablet PCs and my Lenovo X200 line (which has also been upgraded to an SSD). It surprises me that someone in technology would ignore product lines that have been out for years to call something Apple came out with to FINALLY get into that market (with no significant increases in performance) The Future of Notebooks. No, Apple’s just caught up with the present.

    The user benefits that are noted are all things my Sony has, with the exception of the 30 day standby time, of which I neither know how well that technology will work or not, nor did you mention testing it for legitimacy you just quoted Apple, or so it seems. In addition, in your review of this product you mentioned the battery life by looking at the battery indicator… for how long? Most of the battery indicators I’ve ever dealt with (Mac/PC/Linux) all don’t become accurate until after many months of use, until then they fluctuate wildly and in early usage usually give extra long battery time listings. There was no mention of a battery rundown test.

    If this is a first impressions review, than make that claim, and just say, “Hey look, I didn’t test anything here but this is what Apple says.” Better yet, post to Apple’s store’s website.

    A few things for the user that they did do right, like the Flash Drive OS disk, and the fact that they went up to an 11.6″ form factor with wide bezel for the keyboard are all nice, but neither of which are a struggle on my Sony nor things that I would change about it.

    I know people are going to go all goo goo eyed over Apple products, but they don’t need any help from reviews that aren’t really reviews in the media market. If you want to review Apple products, then review it. Spend some real time with the product, and then say, “Hey, yeah, it’s good for these reasons.” It doesn’t sound like you did any of that, you just borrowed it from some guy, played around with it for no more than the 40% of battery life you expressed using (which would be roughly 2 hours of time).

    When I first started reading this site it was often all about Lenovo products, and even Lenovo has small, lightweight laptops, that they’ve had for years as well. It seems strange that the only new thing might be the standby time on the laptop (of which is of limited concern because most people have their laptops plugged in most days or use up their battery throughout the day) and it hasn’t been tested nor is it much of a concievable concern. I’d rather wait on the next Sony X, so long as it sports a dual core atom or a new i-series ultramobile chip. Because it is something that might be the future of notebooks.

    • pyrotechnomimus says

      One more thing, I don’t think the slowdown issue with SSDs and Mac products have been resolved yet, because of their lack of TRIM support. So, getting a new macbook air is likely to have the same problem of an older Macbook Air with an SSD… it’s a time bomb of slowdown. Linux and Windows both support this function and it was widely known that MacOSX did not support it. If, suddenly Apple did support it, they made no mention of it that I can recall in their announcement. Again, another user feature, slow computer use down the road… it’d be nice if they admitted to some of their failures, fix them, and announce when they do fix them. Again, another thing I don’t have to worry about with my Sony and Windows 7. Future of notebooks…

      • Xavier Lanier says

        I used to own a Sony VAIO TZ and I did enjoy it, but ended up returning it because of the price tag. If I recall correctly, it cos about $3,400 with a 32GB SSD. Sony doesn’t sell it anymore because of where the market’s gone because of cost.
        At $999, the MacBook Air is a bargain. Again, it’s not about the specs or horsepower. It’s the user experience that is really impressive here. I can’t stress enough home much bigger the keyboard feels than netbooks, or even other 11″ notebooks like the TZ.
        Does it have shortcomings? Of course it does. It’s rigid, but it’s still on the delicate side.
        The MacBook Pro (15″ Core i7) that I use as my multimedia machine can get 5:30-7 hours of battery life in the real world. The battery meter doesn’t show anything close to the numbers I cited with the MBA. Yes, we’ll have to wait until we get one in to test the new MacBook Air, but I think we’re going to see some impressive numbers, probably beyond the 5 hours quoted.

      • Xavier Lanier says

        I used to own a Sony VAIO TZ and I did enjoy it, but ended up returning it because of the price tag. If I recall correctly, it cos about $3,400 with a 32GB SSD. Sony doesn’t sell it anymore because of where the market’s gone because of cost.
        At $999, the MacBook Air is a bargain. Again, it’s not about the specs or horsepower. It’s the user experience that is really impressive here. I can’t stress enough home much bigger the keyboard feels than netbooks, or even other 11″ notebooks like the TZ.
        Does it have shortcomings? Of course it does. It’s rigid, but it’s still on the delicate side.
        The MacBook Pro (15″ Core i7) that I use as my multimedia machine can get 5:30-7 hours of battery life in the real world. The battery meter doesn’t show anything close to the numbers I cited with the MBA. Yes, we’ll have to wait until we get one in to test the new MacBook Air, but I think we’re going to see some impressive numbers, probably beyond the 5 hours quoted.

  4. Dan Meyers says

    Everybody is entitle to their opinion, RE pyrotch above, but I have a Dell E4200 with similar cpu
    and memory, and disk space (ssd). The MBA seems to blow the E4200 out of the water in
    every category possible. { robustness, battery life, weight, price, … }

  5. pyrotechnomimus says

    I suppose it depends on where you bought your Sony TZ. I bought mine when it was retailing for $1600 at Office Depot, and then it went on clearance and I only paid roughly $1200. I didn’t buy it with a solid state, especially two years ago because they were over a thousand dollars on their own, I put one in after market. I never purchase from manufacturer websites because it is always ridiculously overpriced. So, for $1600 even, two years old, the technology was close to that of the current line of the MBA.

    I’ve used the MBA in stores, and I like it, don’t get me wrong. My response was based on the idea that the title of the first impressions wasn’t accurate. The Future of Notebooks, my question is how? And my points were, it’s not much cheaper than the Sony I got (with SSD aftermarket even included), plus less battery time, same weight (.1 pounds less), and no disk drive. Was it inevitable that the price would drop? Of course, that was two years ago, and mine actually was 2 1/2 years. Computer prices drop, but the idea/concept of the device isn’t anything new. It’s just finally an ultra-portable in that sub-3lb category, and under 13″ size. Finally. There was no mention of how the customer oriented features were anything new, except as I mentioned the standby time and the keyboard layout, both of which I haven’t found as impressive. Which is fine, I’m glad they did both, but it’s not some awe inspiring new tech… it’s just Apple again catching up with things and marketing it better than the past people who had the same thing years ago. Certainly, Apple does that well, and certainly if someone likes MacOSX better they finally have an option for the kinds of computers I’ve been buying for years. But, it isn’t anything new, and ought not be expressed that way without some caveats.

  6. tivoboy says

    So, just a quick update:
    After using the MBA11 all weekend (this won’t be a daily driver, really for the #1 GF) I can say, the screen is excellent. Great viewing, no glare, nice contrast, brightness is great, crisp and fast. The unit itself is really nice to use, it doesn’t get warm, fans don’t spool up, so light and “airy”. for a web browsing, email writing, movie watching, numbers crunching portable this is really a great – albeit little $$ portable.

  7. John says

    @pyrotech…us

    Sony has always been an excellent h/w company with a mediocre s/w support. Which is why they lost their leading position in so many markets. Let me explain to you why the the air is different from your tz:

    1) Instant on. This is huge for a mobile device!
    2) Touch. I don’t know if you noticed but there is a paradigm shift in personal computing taking place lately, from a point n’ click interface to a gesture based touch interface. It started with the smart phones and now spills over to desktops as well. Jobs is 100% right on this – touch for notebooks and desktops goes via a touchpad and not directly on the screen. Apple’s notebooks are the first machines built specifically for touch with their lovely enormous multitouch pads. They are the first examples of a new era (don’t mention please the windows tablets that came before and failed miserably. These were never designed as touch devices…)
    3) Rigidity. I know the tz was carbon fiber but for some reason it always felt very flimsy to me, especially on the screen compartment. Not very reassuring for an ultra-mobile device you are supposed to throw around. The air in comparison feels much more solid and bullet proof.
    4) Price. Not really fair to refer to clearance prices. So what is a consumer supposed to d?. Wait for Stables to go out of business so that to score a new tz at a reasonable price? Let’s be serious…
    5) Operating system. Tz was a ultra-mobile pc that did not run an os tailored for this purpose. You want to quickly check a PDF or add a couple of lines on your paper and suddenly the poor machine slows down unexpectedly and starts overheating. Why? Because the damn AV decided to update itself. You get the picture.
    5′) Operating system. The new features that they announced for Lion are nothing short of amazing. Good thing is, the Air’s are built to take advantage of these features because they are “touch” machines.

    So yeah, we don’t only count the MHz of the processor and the number of USB ports. That’s what I’m trying to tell you :)

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