MacBook Air Review Part 3: Keyboard and Trackpad

In this portion of my multi-part MacBook Air review I’m going to discuss the laptop’s keyboard and trackpad. Yesterday I mentioned that the MacBook Air is the best laptop I’ve ever used (MacBook Air Review Part 1). One of the major reasons that I call it that is because of its trackpad and keyboard. There are also just enough inputs and outputs to get work done.

In part two of my MacBook Air Review I explained why using a new MacBook Air is Like Driving a Mercedes Benz.
MacBook Air Review Part 4: Blazing Fast Boot, Usable Browser in Less Than 15 Seconds
MacBook Air Review Part 5: What I Don’t Like
MacBook Air Review Part 6: iPhoto ’11 Performance

MacBook AIr keyboard

13″ MacBook Air Keyboard

There’s nothing incredibly remarkable about the 13″ MacBook Air’s keyboard. It’s nearly identical to the chiclet-style keyboard found on the 15″ MacBook Pro. The keys are the same size and they’re spaced the same way. The only visible differences are that the media controls (function row) have been shifted left one key, with the volume up button moving over to F11. The F12 button on the MacBook Air doubles as an eject button and the top-right key is the power button. I’d prefer to have a dedicated power button elsewhere on the MacBook Air than located just north of the delete key.

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I’ve typed for up to 10 hours per day on the new MacBook Air on several occasions without problems. The keyboard is perfectly serviceable and most users will find it more than sufficient. The one disadvantage of the MacBook Air’s keyboard compared to the one found on the MacBook Pro is that its keys are lower profile. This means there’s less travel when you press the keys, which will take some getting used to if your used to squishier keys that feel more like those found on desktop keyboards.

Since the MacBook Air’s base is razor thin there’s not a whole lot of space between the palm of your hands and your desk when typing. The heels of my palms often rub against my desk when typing. This doesn’t happen on the larger MacBook Pro. Keep in mind that I have very large hands, so your mileage will vary.  It’s important to adjust your hands and wrists to prevent injury no matter what computer you’re using, but you will need to take the thinness into account. The keyboard is raked ever so slightly forward.

Like all Macs, the MacBook Air keyboard’s function row allows quick access to commonly used functions, such as Expose and Dashboard. There’s also a full compliment of media controls that allow you to control iTunes and other media applications without switching out of the application you’re currently working in.

While the MacBook Air’s keyboard is sufficient, some will prefer more robust keyboards, such as those found on Lenovo ThinkPads and HP EliteBooks.

Apple’s MacBook Pros come with back-lit keyboards. Unfortunately that’s not the case with the MacBook Air. Illumination is a nice cosmetic differentiator and keeps users from fumbling around in the dark for those rarely used keys and key combos.

The MacBook Air’s keyboard doubles as a vent to cool the guts of this laptop. Hot air rises out of the cracks between the plastic keys and aluminum. Unfortunately, this venting also leaves the MacBook Air susceptible to hazards. The keyboard is not spill or dust resistent. An ounce or two of liquid, which would be flushed through the bottom of laptops with spill protection or retained in a reservoir, would likely fry the MacBook Air beyond repair. Dust and other debris are inordinately difficult to clean out of the MacBook Air keyboard’s crevices. If you’re a clean freak you’re going to want to keep a couple of Q-Tips and some cleaning solution in your MacBook Air’s carrying case.

13″ MacBook Air Trackpad

The 13″ MacBook Air has the same great trackpad found on the MacBook Pro. Its made of glass, making it silk smooth to operate. The multi-touch trackpad can sense pinches, zooms and other gestures, using up to four fingers at a time.

The MacBook Air’s trackpad is quite large, taking up almost the entire height of the deck below the keyboard. It is exactly the same size as the one found on the 15″ MacBook Pro. In fact, the touchable surface area is much larger than the touchscreen found on the iPhone 4.

This trackpad allows users to easily navigate through Web pages, media libraries and large documents with ease. Few users will prefer a traditional mouse to this trackpad after getting used to it.

One thing that will take some getting used to for PC switchers is that this trackpad only has a single button (click). Tapping with two fingers enables right-click, or you can alternatively designate a zone to act as a right click area. Users can gently tap at the trackpad to initiate a click, negating the need to actually press down for a physical click.

There are a lot of laptops that advertise multi-touch capabilities, but I’ve never used one that’s as seamless as the one on my MacBook Air. I even prefer it to the one on my 15″ MacBook Pro since my fingers don’t have to travel quite as far to initiate a touch or tap. Even though part of my thumbs rest on the trackpad as I type, I’ve never had accidental cursor jumps or other errors.

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Stay tuned for more parts of my comprehensive MacBook Air review.

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