Will you buy MacBook Air?

MacBook Airs

It's the question I'm asking myself, so I'll ask it of you. Will you buy one of Apple's two thin-and-light laptops, either the 11.6-inch or 13.3-inch MacBook Air? Apple announced the new computers yesterday. As usual, please respond in comments, or e-mail joewilcox at gmail dot com. Please don't just answer yes or no, but offer reasons why or why not you would buy either of Apple's sleek, thin-and-light laptops.

(For those readers wondering about answers to the question "Which Windows Phone 7 smartphone will you buy?" I'll post today or tomorrow. I waited for international sales to start and for the first reviews to come out (both yesterday). I'm on Microsoft's "frak you" short list, so there are no review units here.)

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I'm asking the "will buy" question as a previous MacBook Air owner. For thinness, lightness, beautiful display and striking beauty, the original Air hugely appealed to me. But I found the Rev. A model to be slow performing under normal conditions and abysmal during San Diego heat (the laptop throttles back to keep cool when the environment is hot). Additionally, I found the hard drive to be too small and one USB port hugely deficient.

More problematic: Hard drive failed not once but twice. First failure occurred after two months, a problem my local Apple Store remedied by -- get this, for unbelievable customer service -- swapping out for a new MacBook Air. That was June 2008. My nearly 89 year-old father-in-law now uses the laptop, which hard drive failed about a month ago. I bought a 64GB SSD replacement, which a local Mac dealer installed for me. I reinstalled the software. By the way, performance noticeably improved after going SSD. Based on my number of MacBook Air Rev. A hard drive failures -- that's two for two -- I'd say Apple's decision to go solid state is wise. I also now have some experience with SSD, which greatly improves Rev. A's performance and startup/resume time.

Apples to Apples

Yesterday, Instapaper creator and Tumblr developer Marco Arment posted an excellent MacBook Air buying primer, which I recommend to anyone considering buying either model. For sure, the cheaper 11.6-inch Air, at $999, will appeal to many people. Suddenly, a beautiful Mac can be yours for one-thousand bucks -- instead of the white-ass MacBook, which is fat by any comparison. Entry-model Air specs: 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB L2 cache, 11.6-inch LED display with 1366 by 768 native resolution, 800MHz frontside bus, 2GB DDR3 memory, 64GB flash storage, nVidia GeForce 320M graphics with 256MB shared memory, 2 USB ports, WebCam, WiFi N, Bluetooth 2.1, Mac OS X 10.6 and iLife `11. Dimensions are 0.3-1.7 cm high, 29.95 cm wide, 19.2 cm deep and 1.06 kg (2.3 pounds) weight. There is no optical drive; it's an optional $79 accessory. The $1,199 model bumps the processor to 1.6GHz and flash storage to 128GB. Memory can be doubled on either model for $100 -- something I strongly recommend, since there really isn't a viable upgrade option after purchase. Claimed battery life is 5 hours.

I wouldn't buy the $999 model because I have an iPad with 64GB storage. The iPad weighs less -- 680 grams (1.5 pounds) -- has a more appealing tablet form factor, touch interface and, until early next year when App Store comes to Mac OS Snow Leopard, more applications to choose from among. Next month, Apple will issue an iOS update adding multitasking, boosting iPad's appeal. From a size and performance perspective, iPad is good enough for me. What about you? Would you buy the 11.6-inch MacBook Air?

The larger, costlier model starts at $1,299. Specs: 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6MB L2 cache, 13.3-inch LED display with 1440 by 900 native resolution, 1,066MHz frontside bus, 2GB DDR3 memory, 128GB flash storage, nVidia GeForce 320M graphics with 256MB shared memory, 2 USB ports, SD card slot, WebCam, WiFi N, Bluetooth 2.1, Mac OS X 10.6 and iLife `11. Dimensions are 0.3-1.7 cm high, 32.5 cm wide, 22.7 cm deep and 1.32 kg (2.9 pounds) weight. There is no optical drive; it's an optional $79 accessory. The $1,599 model bumps the processor to 1.8GHz and flash storage to 256GB. Memory can be doubled on either model for $100, and the are more upgrade options, such as 2.13GHz processor -- $100 on the costliest Air. Claimed battery life is 7 hours.

The 13.3-inch Air appeals to me because of the higher-resolution display; two USB ports means I can attach an external hard drive for my 80GB music library and to store photos and videos. I find the 1440 x 900 resolution really compelling, but I'm concerned the 13.3-inch model wouldn't deliver enough performance for photo and video editing. That said, I woud consider the $1,599 Air -- with memory and processor upgrades raising price to $1,799 -- but it's out of my budget. Hey, I just freelance here. I'm not an employee. There's no limited-time review unit option, either. If I'm on Microsoft's "frak you" short list, I rank near the the top of Apple's even shorter "frak you and go to hell" list. I won't likely be getting the larger model, either. What about you? Would you buy the 13.3-inch MacBook Air?

Apples to Oranges

Buying considerations shouldn't just be comparing Apples to Apples but apples to oranges, too. Sony's $1,299.99 VAIO X comes with 2GHz Intel Atom processor with 512KB L2 cache, 11.1-inch LED display with 1366 x 768 native resolution, 533MHz frontside bus, 2GB DDR2 memory, 64GB SSD, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 500, 2 USB slots, SD/Memory Stick slot, WebCam, WiFi N, Verizon Wireless mobile broadband, GPS and Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit. Dimensions: 0.14 cm high, 27.8 cm wide, 18.5 cm deep and 780g (1.6 pounds) weight. Claimed battery life: 3 hours. From a hardware-to-hardware performance comparison, the entry-level MacBook Air looks to be a better bargain for $300 less or even the same price. The $1,499.99 VAIO X doubles storage to 128GB. Specs are otherwise the same as the lower-cost model.

There are plenty of 13.3-inch Windows laptops to compare with, but not many nearly as thin and light as the MacBook Air. I made weight the more important measure, which brought me back to Sony and its Z series laptops. All the preconfigured models sell for way more than the costliest MacBook Air, but the base configure-to-order VAIO Z is close at $1,799.99: 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 13.1-inch LED display with 1600 x 900 native resolution, 1,066MHz frontside bus, 4GB DDR3 memory, 128GB SSD and Windows 7 Home Edition 64-bit. Computer comes with optical drive, but wireless is costs more. Sony doesn't explicitly identify graphics for the CTO model, which weighs about 3 pounds. The VAIO Z is in most respects the better performer but at substantially higher cost. The point: Apple has aggressively priced both MacBook Air models compared to some -- and in my quick review, many -- thinner and lighter weight Windows laptops.

With that, I ask again: Will you buy MacBook Air? Please respond in comments, or email joewilcox at gmail dot com. Please give your reasons why or why not.

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