Apple's 11.6-inch MacBoook is all the Air I need

MacBook Air

I haven't been this satisfied with a laptop since purchasing a 266MHz PowerBook G3 in February 1999. Apple's smaller MacBook Air is unexpectedly satisfying. By the specs, the little laptop should disappoint. By the experience, it's a delight. I'm simply stunned by how much I enjoy using this notebook -- or should that be netbook?

Design Matters

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Many vendors miss the importance of the out-of-box experience -- the positive emotions a well-packaged, well-designed product elicits and how important the reaction is for the broader brand or for people pining about their satisfaction to others. The best marketer is a delighted customer.

The aforementioned PowerBook was the second Mac I ever purchased, refurbished, from MacConnection. Apple was the first major PC manufacturer to ship laptops with DVD drives; I watched my first DVD, from Netflix, on the notebook. Screen resolution (1024 x 768), graphics memory and other features set apart the Mac portable from Windows laptop alternatives. The out-of-box experience was like nothing I had before it. In my March 2002 review of the 15-inch iMac G4 -- the one with the pivoting arm -- I emphasized the importance of "wow," long before Microsoft used it to market Windows Vista:

Anyone who has used PCs for a long time knows the joy has gone out of computing. The 'wow' experience from setting up that first computer or exploring the vast information riches of the Internet are memories. It is like the first time having sex, only sex is still great other times. Getting another new computer just doesn't reach the same level of excitement or joy. Until now. I cracked open the box on a new iMac in mid March 2002, the midrange model with 700MHz PowerPC processor, 256MB of RAM, 40GB hard drive and CD-RW/DVD combo drive…For the first time in as long as I can remember, working on a computer is fun. And that's doing work. Other activities just get better from there.

Surprising Performance

Fun -- better stated, joy -- is the best way to describe using the 11.6-inch MacBook Air. The delight started from booting up the notebook, which took about 13 seconds. Wakeup is nearly instantaneous. Bootup time is crucial to endearing a positive emotional response about a computer. Who doesn't get frustrated, or even angry, when being forced to wait for the desktop to appear, wait again for the network connection and wait longer still for apps to be useable? I've long asserted that Windows Vista got its bad rap in part because the bootup time was too long. It created the perception, along with annoying security prompts, that Vista was slower than Windows XP. The "wow" Vista marketing promised became "oh noooo!" Microsoft was right to make shortening bootup and wakeup times priorities for Windows 7.

Screen is another measure of satisfaction, and it too often is overlooked by PC OEMs looking to squeeze every penny of margin out of a laptop. The 11.6-inch MBA's display is exceptionally bright, clear and crisp. The 1366 by 768 resolution, at 135 pixels per inch, is just right. The glossy display is considerably more muted than MacBook Pro -- kind of a comfortable midway to matte. The display delights the eyes. Considering that the screen is the main way the eyes engage a laptop, it's surprising how few PC OEMs make the visual experience important enough priority. I actually prefer the 11.6-inch Air's screen to the 13.3-inch model, which resolution is 1440 by 900 pixels. Perhaps dimensions are one reason. The smaller Air is 16:9 ratio, not 16:10 (as the larger Air is).

The laptop is quite speedy, which mystifies considering the meager specs: 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB L2 cache, 11.6-inch LED display with 1366 by 768 native resolution, 800MHz frontside bus, 4GB DDR3 memory, 128GB 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. By the way, I upgraded from 1.4GHz processor and 2GB of memory. I strongly recommend against buying the base configurations Apple's retail stores offer. Apple treats Air as much like a consumer electronics device as computer. Like most CEs, nothing is upgradeable. Buyers are stuck with their configuration of purchase.

At a time when Windows laptops ship with Intel Core i3 or i5 processors for less money, MBA's older, lower clockspeed processor sure looks like a compromise. But that's not my experience consuming Air. The 11.6-inch MBA feels fast. The 128GB sold-state drive absolutely is major reason. But there's more to it. Air is a sum of little tweaks and tucks that maximize performance from the seemingly meager hardware. I'm truly surprised.

Following my first week-and-a-half consuming Air, I used the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro my wife inherited from me. That laptop has a 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor. It feels slow after using Air for awhile. I run the same apps, without compromise or slowdowns. Even photo editing, using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3.2, is quick -- actually quicker than the larger laptop. I disagree with reviewers recommending Air as adjunct to another computer. Perhaps users with specialized demands would need more, but not most people. I've been using the 11.6-inch model as my only PC since November 1st. Happily.

Size matters in laptops, where smaller often is better. The 11.6-inch MBA measures 0.3-1.7 cm high, 29.95 cm wide and 19.2 cm deep and weighs 1.06 kg (2.3 pounds). I'm now much more likely to grab the Air and go, something I rarely did with the MacBook Pro. However, while the battery life is good, I don't find it to be exceptional. I typically get a little more than 5 hours, which is about the same as the 13.3-inch MacBook Pro.

Changing Habits

My computing habits have changed since making MacBook Air my primary computer. I now:

1. Work more in the browser. I've abandoned apps like NetNewsWire and Tweetie for Google News and Twitter Websites, among others. I moved to the browser in anticipation of performance issues, but they didn't come. The browser is convenient, and I can easily kill and relaunch apps in two clicks. I'm enjoying the different way of working, although it's fresh, not new. I've merely increased the amount of productivity done in browser.

2. Kiss off Adobe Flash. Not that anyone reading Betanews would know, I agree with Apple CEO Steve Jobs that Flash is a resource hog. My Air's Safari browser came Flash-free, and I'm keeping it that way. I'm rather enjoying not being assaulted by Flash ads on many Websites. For those times when Flash is absolutely necessary, I use Google Chrome, which puts Flash where it belongs -- in a sandbox.

3. Use more external storage. Even with a beefier hard drive, I always use an external disk for my music library, which is closing in on 100GB in size. I had been using a 500GB LaCie Little Disk. I moved up to the Rikiki Superspeed 1 TB USB 3.0 external hard drive; it's backward compatible with USB 2.0.

A few months ago, while looking around an Apple Store, I suddenly thought: "My next laptop will run Chrome OS." That didn't happen. Apple sapped my tight budget for MacBook Air. But Chrome OS is coming. As early as next week, I expect to receive a Google Cr-48 laptop running Chrome OS, which I plan to use as my main machine for quite awhile. I've procrastinated this review long enough. I wanted to finish it while still using Air as my only PC.

Conclusion: 11.6-inch Air is highly recommended for people looking for netbook-like size without netbook performance compromise -- and with money to burn. Base configurations are $999 and $1,199 but optimum configure-to-order option is $1,399. MBA is an investment.

34 Responses to Apple's 11.6-inch MacBoook is all the Air I need

  1. montyaus says:

    Joe,

    Interesting comments, because we all know you are an Apple Lover & a week can't go by without some post regarding one quadrant of the Cupertino.

    However, with that said, like you, I purchased my 1st Mac Book Pro on Black Friday & spent a good hour in the store thinking should it be the MBA or MBP. It all comes down to compromise & what you did was compromise in having to change your habits or usage away from Apps to a browser.

    If, the apple store had allowed me to have a MBA with 4gb ram & step in CPU, I may have switched, but having the ability to walk into the store, get a MBP with 4gb/250gb/2.6ghz config along with 10hrs battery, was a major reason compared to the AIR & it's lower specs in all areas - nice machine it is.

    I have to agree, the 'experience' apple give the end user is second to none & I'm amazed that no other vendor tries to exploit this part of the experience - even the way the devices are all ready to go OOTB is again something which is not experienced in the PC world.

    Overall I'm extremely happy with the MBP, but a MBA would be nice if more options were available from the Apple store.

    Keep us updated on that battery Joe... ;)

  2. rebradley says:

    It's been awhile. I didn't know Joe was still around especially pitching tired topics that no one else would cover. Must be a slow day at Betanews, yes a slow day.

  3. tiburoncito_2000 says:

    Not buying one of these anytime soon. I got a 15" HP with BR, 500 GB Disk, 8 GB or RAM 1 GB video all for $901.00 out the door from Costco and I was surprise to see how easy it was to set up and get W7 running.

    I have a MacBook and I will not make a mistake to get another over-price Apple product anytime in my life. Of course if Apple asks me to write a nice review for each of their products and I can get it for free then I would be a dummy not to do so.

    • Calc_Yolatuh says:

      tiburoncito_2000: As much as I fail to respect Joe's opinions most of the time, your example is a Windows-Laptop-to-Apple-Netbook comparison. At least dig up a Windows machine with 11"-12" screen, like the dozens on NewEgg.

  4. rrode74 says:

    $1200 for a netbook, with a sligtly faster CPU, and a OS that limits the software you can run.

    Joe Wilcox = Sucker.

    Here is a clue Joe, stick a SSD in any computer and it gets faster. Had one in my HP Laptop for over 2 years now, it boots Win 7 really fast. Apps launch in 1-2 seconds, even Outlook 2010.

    Long boot times mean nothing these days. I reboot my computer once a month maybe, and that is from update. Windows 7 comes out of sleep in a second or 2 for me. Even it takes 60 second to boot up that is 1 min a month for me.

  5. ailef says:

    11.6 ? alienware M11X r2, that's a small serious machine.
    the mac book air 11.6 is a gadget.

    • joewilcox says:

      @ailef I should have mentioned Alienware in the post. Opening up a new Alienware laptop is pure joy. Great design, great packaging, lots of power.

  6. extremely well says:

    Not worth the read, actually. I so wish SMF3/AnthonySPT wrote more.

  7. Cosmocronos says:

    Mac Air all yo uneeed? I would rather go with Raquel Welch........

  8. SoundMix says:

    My Asus 11.6 cost me $600, now available for $500, beats every spec Joe has listed for his precious Apple, And it has HDMI and firewire as well. Way to go Joe! Enjoy your Apple, you paid for it.

    • UncleBill' says:

      My new $700 Sony 16" with a blueray burner and HDMI, My wife's new $600 14" Sony with Blueray reader, also with HDMI and our new $375 10" Sony makes me three times happier than Joe'
      Amazing, they worked right out of the box too with Windows 7

  9. tbtb says:

    I am extremely satisfied with this laptop (which I got for just 1149$ from http://amzn.to/bfYQ1L), this really is one of the best laptops that Apple or anyone else has ever made. Get one !

    • rrode74 says:

      ZOMG!!!!! Such a deal! Wake me when they knock another $500 off the price. Windows 7 would run really well on that overpriced Netbook.

  10. johnfinn68 says:

    I'm glad to see someone seeing the worth of Apple products beyond the lower cost and heaped on ports of other portables. Yes, it is about the experience, the culture, the quality, and the design. Sometimes, less is actually more, and Apple has this mix down to an art. Yes, you do pay more upfront, but the user experience is much better for a greater amount of time than any other brand of portable PC. And yes, I own a 13" FrankenMacPro.

    • bigsexy022870 says:

      And how is it better? You mention culture, what does that mean really. Design i can see, and experience is a matter of personal taste. I've owned a mac, and I was not happier then I was with windows. In fact I would give windows 7 the edge in every aspect. I will grant you design. But I should mention we windows users can actually build our own setup and have it look and play exactly how we want it to. Something you can never do.

      • johnfinn68 says:

        Walk into an Apple store, and you will see the "cult of Apple" in it's natural enviroment. "FrankenMacPro" is in reference to my use of the Apple hardware with a Windows operating system.

      • johnfinn68 says:

        And it's sad to see that people in this thread who appreciate Macs get thier post scores lowered until they are hidden by people who don't appreciate Apple products. Score one for the ignorant.

  11. dvferret says:

    Wow, what a really long advertisement.

  12. DaveN says:

    Ignoring the whole point of the article and skipping right to the comment about Chrome, I have this question: if you're going to carry around a device in the laptop format, why would anyone want something so limited? I can understand living with the limitations of a smartphone, iPad, or other tablet due to increased portability and easier use while on the go. But if you're going to deal with the inherent limitations of a laptop - size, weight, keyboard - why not have something that will run a real app, store data, play a DVD, sync your mp3 player, work without a network connection, etc?

    I'm ignoring cost here, in a post that started out about a $1400 netbook.

    And say what you want about streaming media, if you're going to stream movies or music to a Chrome laptop, be prepared for your Verizon bill to come in a box.

    • bigsexy022870 says:

      I agree. The chrome laptop seems like a joke. I am unsure who if any would want such a thing when so many better alternives are out there.

  13. bigsexy022870 says:

    So Joe likened a new computer to his first time having sex. How is it that this doesnt surprize me. Joe always has to go over the top. I agree flash's time is over. Unless they mannage to totally rework the code that is. Divx just proved that with the release of Divx HiQ. Which shows a outside company can with ease create a better engine then adobe can. I have no use for the macbook air or any mac. The performance Joe likes so much comes from the SSD drive. Hard drives are the major bottleneck in any pc these days. Of course they cost alot of money. I would need at least a 1tb drive to even make it work. I got alot of stuff. Plus I install alot of games. Sure i can install then on another drive. But that defeats the reason of a SSD.

    I'm confussed why Joe ever considered a Chrome OS laptop. It's little more then a idea at this point. Sure it's out there in beta. But who really is gonna use these things. It's not gonna play Black Ops now is it.

    It's good to see Joe happy about something. But he might be a little to happy. Every time i build myself a new pc i am happy to be sure. It's faster and better at games and such. But I fail to see how I should liken the experience to sex. If anything the joy hasnt gone out of computing it's just that it's not as ground breaking as it was with windows 95. That was a major shift in the way we percieved computing. Thus it was amazing. Since then the experience has improved, but aside from a prettier UI, much of it change has come under the hood.

    • Calc_Yolatuh says:

      No, Joe likened this machine to the first laptop he had sex with (266MHz PowerBook G3). Which was also the first time he had sex. Only now his Mac fetish has turned to a sort of laptop-pedophilia.

  14. ladylust says:

    1,199.00 and cant even play blu-ray, dvd or even a cd... Sad....

    I dont want to hear you can buy an external USB blah blah blah..

    No thanks, thinner is not always better. I would hate to drop this thing 1 foot off the ground. A Strong wind can kill this thing.

    I laugh at people with Macs. Apple is good at 1 thing and thats taking crap and making it look nice, and raise the price by $500.00. I can get the same spec'ed laptop for A LOT cheaper and for 1200 bucks? I can get a laptop that would make that thing look like a calculator.

    But but its thinner, lighter, it has a apple logo on it. Ok you have that, and ill get a slightly thicker laptop that can actually play disc media and have a boat load of extra cash in my pocket to buy those DVD's, CDs, and Blu-Rays that this cannot play out of the box.

    whocares how thin it is, really? we are paying more for less plastic? Has it come to this?

    Apple should stick to Ipods and Phones, even there they are loosing ground to Droid pads and phones.

  15. smchristie11 says:

    I think it is great that the MBA works well, it should for $1300.
    Esp. considering you can buy an actual hard-core gaming laptop for $1300 from ASUS with a real dedicated 1GB video card and core i5 CPU 4GB of ram and blue ray player etc.
    The Gaming Asus has a regular hard drive though, which actually runs a bit faster than the SSD in the MBA, for anything other than database work.

  16. smchristie11 says:

    Sorry I was wrong, for $1,199.00 you can get the gaming Asus laptop with Intel Core i7 Processor 6GB Memory 640GB Hard Drive, ATI 5870 1GB GDDR5 Video Card (dedicated memory not shared) and High-definition LED-backlit 17" screen.

  17. bigsexy022870 says:

    http://www.dell.com/us/p/alienware-m15x/pd?refid=alienware-m15x&~ck=mn

    For 1199.00 ALSO you can get a Alienware gaming laptop. Even if you dont play games it's smokin fast at everything. Plus it actual plays dvds and burns them. Plus Apple may look cute, but this looks badass. It may not be thin, but it's packed with real power.

  18. ghostface147 says:

    So a couple of days and you still haven't corrected the Macbook mispelling?

  19. Bladeforce says:

    And so as I would expect ALL the Microsoft trolls come out in force because somebody has the gall to say they personally have found a laptop that does everything they need and suits them. What a sad life these Microsoft trolls lead, oh hang on! Ballmer has just jumped off a cliff lets all follow him...

  20. Neemobeer says:

    I know I sound like just another troll but seriously if these mac enthusiasts took the time to research the spec's and costs difference between a PC and mac they might get it. The people that I know that prefer Mac like to point out "oh well mac doesn't have viruses". Yes they do not anywhere near a Microsoft box but hey $30-50 a year and hey guess what I don't have any viruses either... If your really hell bent on the whole Mac thing go buy a cheaper laptop and throw a distro of Linux on there. It's free and thats what Macs' OSs are built from. Sorry to say it but all Apple crap are toys...

  21. Neoprimal says:

    First of all...there are netbooks (erm, netbook-like size, I guess?) that don't perform like netbooks for about 75% of the cost of this device. So you're paying for the Apple logo and OSX really when you buy the MBA for the size and 'power'.

    All people need to do is a little research. The Acer Timeline series for example, are just as thin and light and as juiced up if not more so that the MBA.

  22. Calc_Yolatuh says:

    So...it's a high-end netbook for twice the price of an actual high-end netbook. Okay. It has between 1/2 and 1/3 the battery life of a high-end netbook. Okay. So....how well does it run Windows?

    On the Flash side, shy not just install the damned plugin anyway? Just disable it in Safari, and use either Firefox with ClicktoFlash or Opera with "On-demand Plugins" enabled. You won't lose anything, and many more sites will actually work.

  23. Hollywood__ says:

    I think Joe needs to be adored while using it in public by other Apple crotch sniffers....

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